Here's What French Toast Is Called In France

Some food names appear to have an obvious meaning until you dig deeper. If you thought French toast was named after its country of origin, you'll be surprised to know that its history doesn't trace back to France. Nor do the French merely call the dish toast; instead, it goes by the name pain perdu, which translates to "lost bread." The name is fitting, since the dish is traditionally made using stale bread, salvaging it into something tasty, as Wonderopolis explains. The source further notes that unlike in the United States where French toast is served as a sweet breakfast, the French eat it for dessert.

So if it didn't get its name by being the breakfast of choice in France, where does this filling meal come from? The first record of a recipe akin to French toast comes from Ancient Rome in the first century AD, according to The Kitchen Project. The source shares the original recipe from the Roman cookbook "Apicius," where it is labeled as "another sweet dish." Much like at present, it was made by soaking crustless white bread in milk and beaten eggs, frying it, and drizzling honey on top.

Its popularity didn't fade with the fall of the Roman Empire, and Food Timeline indicates that a similar dish was commonly made by Medieval cooks. However, the dish wasn't only made to use up stale bread, and many old recipes incorporated expensive spices, a hint that the dish was a luxury (via Food Timeline).

How did it become French toast?

The Kitchen Project describes one theory regarding the name, which suggests that French bread was used to make original versions. While there's no doubt that French bread makes an excellent rendition, the dish dates back far before the 19th century, when the bread is believed to have been invented (via French Affair).

One legend tells the tale of Joseph French, a New Yorker in the 1700s, who served the dish but missed the apostrophe when adding it to the menu (via Frenchly). However, earlier records indicate that French toast was already in print in England in 1660, explains Frenchly. The source points out that in Old Irish, the verb "to french" means to slice, another potential explanation. Finally, Frenchly suggests that the name might also be influenced by the extra appeal of implying a dish is French in origin, thanks to that country's reputation for fine food.

Around the world, different versions and names for French toast are common. In England a similar dish was known as the Poor Knights of Windsor, though their rendition includes sherry (via Cook's Info). Nowadays, says Wonderopolis, you'll hear it called eggy bread, gypsy bread, and French fried bread in Britain. Meanwhile, Spain and Portugal have their own version, called torrija and rabanadas respectively (via Food & Wine). It's no surprise that the dish is popular since it uses old bread to make a decadent meal which you can customize with a wide range of toppings.