Ratatouille: How a Humble French Dish Became An International Sensation | Cooking With Jade

Ratatouille: How a Humble French Dish Became An International Sensation

4 MINS READ
Ratatouille: How a Humble French Dish Became An International Sensation

Alright, quick show of hands: who here has seen Ratatouille? As a chef and lover of French food, that movie holds a special place in my heart. I’ve honestly lost count of the number of times I’ve seen it (slash forced my friends to watch it–at least I whip up some good French food to go with our viewings). Perhaps because of its association with a movie about French fine dining, the film’s namesake dish has become synonymous with gourmet cooking. But did you know that ratatouille has humble, peasant origins? Here’s how it all started…

What Is Ratatouille?

What is ratatouille, exactly? It’s not just a fun dish to say, or hard dish to spell. It’s a flavorful, if somewhat labor-intensive, vegetable stew that should be in every vegan chef’s repertoire. It’s a brightly colored dish, as pleasing to look at as it is to eat. The stew’s bright colors come from its array of vegetables: eggplant, zucchini, bell, peppers, onions, and tomatoes, to name a few. While French cooking is often seen as heavy and buttery, this dish is light and acidic, which is one of the reasons I love it so much. While it is often served over rice or pasta, a good, crusty French bread will work wonders for sopping it up.

Ratatouille

Ratatouille’s Origins

Ratatouille originated in France’s southern region of Provence, much like the Herbs de Provence I mentioned in my previous article. More specifically, ratatouille comes from the city of Nice (pronounced “Neese”, although it is definitely nice). As my travels confirmed, Nice is a vibrant and flavorful city responsible for many classic French dishes, most of which are designated by the adjective, nicoise (you might have heard of salad nicoise).

While ratatouille has graced many a fine French table – and at least one fine film – it is a humble dish, invented by impoverished French farmers in the 18th century. Like many great dishes, it was meant to help people stretch their budget. Leftover vegetables were stewed for hours to give them new flavor and life. Since meat was a luxury, you won’t typically find it in traditional ratatouille preparations. What worked for French farmers still works for budding vegan chefs in New York: it’s one of my go-to’s when I need an affordable, healthy, incredibly flavorful meal.

A Dish That Has Captured Our Hearts

These days, ratatouille has moved way beyond the peasant farms around Nice: it’s become a staple dish at restaurants in France and French restaurants here in the States (and around the world, for that matter). I’ve seen it at casual French bistros, and the absolute chicest gourmet restaurants. Does ratatouille owe its popularity to the Disney movie? It certainly didn’t hurt the dish’s reputation. But a dish this tasty was bound to find an international audience one way or another. And while I appreciate a good fancified ratatouille, nothing beats the classic preparations I was privileged to eat during my time in France. 

Ratatouille

Top 5 Ratatouille in Paris

While ratatouille is a Provencal dish, there is certainly no shortage of it in Paris. Since it was one of the few purely vegan French dishes I encountered in Paris, I ate my body weight in the delicious stew. Keep in mind that this is a seasonal dish, featuring summer vegetables. Luckily, I was in Paris at just the right time to fully enjoy it. Here were some of my favorites:

Chez Janou

This classic French bistro specializes in the food of Provence, which – for our purposes – means exceptional ratatouille. Like many of the dishes at this inviting, laid-back eatery, the ratatouille is prepared in the classic style. And there is an excellent wine selection to wash it down with. This spot warranted a return visit from yours truly.

Chez Janou

Le Citrouille

Located in the 6th arrondissement (essentially, district–see my Paris city guide for more info on the layout of this great city), Le Citrouille also makes a killer ratatouille. The restaurant’s name translates to “the pumpkin,” so perhaps it should come as no surprise that this cozy bistro has a way with produce. 

Le Citrouille

Le Bistro des Augustines

If this list seems very bistro-heavy, it’s because ratatouille is classic bistro food. And this bistro near the River Seine (in the famed Latin Quarter) does the dish justice. I suggest grabbing an outdoor table and drinking in the city. Otherwise, you might think you’ve been transported to the farms of Provence after biting into this delicious ratatouille.

Le Bistro des Augustines

Vaudeville

This beautiful eatery has to be one of my favorite restaurant spaces in Paris. The opulent Art Deco building – which dates back to 1918 – is as colorful and eye-catching as the ratatouille itself. And, believe me, that’s a tall order. 

Vaudeville

Le Sanglier Bleu

Le Sanglier Bleu (“The Blue Boar,” maybe one of my favorite restaurant names ever) is known for its creative, modern takes on French classics. But the playful modern twists don’t obscure the timeless taste of the ratatouille. This is a great place to eat before hitting the town. After all, the Moulin Rouge is just steps away. Resisting the urge to burst into song…

Le Sanglier Bleu

Rekindling My Ratatouille Obsession

My trip to France reminded me just how much I love ratatouille – the movie and the dish. While I certainly had some gourmet vegan meals in the fancy food capital of the world, I came home craving the simple, vibrant flavors of ratatouille. Now, if you’ll excuse me, Zelda and I have a movie to watch.

If you enjoyed this article or have suggestions on how we can improve it, please leave us a comment below. Also, make sure to check out other articles I’ve created or stories I’ve written about food culture – here.


Subscribe
Notify of
guest
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Special News

Subscribe to the recipe community

By subscribing, you accepted the our Terms & Conditions
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

This will close in 0 seconds

AI Avatar
Ask me cooking questions!