Some stories are too good to be false...
March 3, 2010 9:42 PM Subscribe
[CulinaryEtymologyFilter] Can anyone explain the origins of the word ratatouille? I heard an explanation once, but suspect it's false...
posted by molybdenum to Food & Drink (11 answers total)
Many years ago, someone told me a story about the origin of the name ratatouille (the French vegetable stew, not the movie). It's a neat story, and it went like this:
In 1870, during the Franco-Prussian War, the Prussians laid siege to Paris, cutting off their food supply. The food shortage was so severe that it forced the Parisians to, among other things, raid the Paris zoo for meat, and start serving rat dishes, like rat paté. One inventive chef found that he could make rat palatable by stewing it with flavorful vegetables, like tomatoes and zucchini. The resulting dish was called ratatouille, and became popular enough that it persisted even after the siege was lifted, sans rat. But the name stuck and gave us the dish we have today!
It's a great story to tell at parties, but I recently discovered that it has the unfortunate flaw of being false. At least I think it's false. The whole thing about the siege of Paris, and rat paté, and raiding the zoo is true. But I can't find any references that cite this event as the origin of the term ratatouille. The etymologies I've found claim it comes from the French verb touiller, to toss / coat food. But it could be a pun, rat (same word in English and French) + touiller. Researching this is difficult now because any search for 'ratatouille' and 'rat' of course returns all links about the movie. :)
Has anyone else heard this story, or something to definitively put it to rest?