Despite its name, French toast did not come from France. The sweet breakfast dish — which Americans love to dunk in syrup and sprinkle with powdered sugar — is known by different names and recipes around the world and was invented long before France even existed.
Myths about the origin of French toast point to an American chef by the name of Joseph French, who is said to have created the dish in 1724. But most believe that the name came from the fact that it was most likely popularized in America by French immigrants. Historians aren’t sure of the exact origins of French toast but trace it back to a cookbook written in fourth-century Rome, where it was called pan dulcis. In fact, before the French called French toast pain perdu, they called it pain a la Romaine, meaning “Roman bread.”
Centuries later, French toast has spread to many cultures, each of whom have created their own unique recipes that we bet your mom never made you. Irish toast is a take on French toast that is a little bit different than most — the Irish don’t eat the bread. Instead, bread is dunked into a dish full of whiskey, then thrown in the trash. The whiskey is then drunk from the dish. In Morocco, French toast is made by slicing flatbread into long pieces, dusting it with powdered sugar, and dipping it into syrup for a sweet finger food. And Italians enjoy their French toast in sandwich form, where one slice of bread is spread with ricotta cheese, drizzled with honey, and sprinkled with sliced almonds and a bit of cinnamon, then topped off with a second slice.
Bread or no bread, dunked in syrup or not, French toast is beloved across the world.
Pain Perdu — France
Pain perdu literally means “lost bread” in French, referring to using up day-old bread before it goes stale. In France, thick slices of bread are soaked in a sweetened, vanilla custard mixture, then fried in butter and often topped with powdered sugar, whipped cream, or berries.
Hong Kong-Style — China
The Chinese love their French toast soaked in butter. To make it Hong Kong-style, they coat the slices of bread in two already-beaten egg yolks, then fry the soaked bread with many cubes of butter. After the bread is fried to golden-brown, it’s topped with another large cube of butter and drizzled with condensed milk or golden syrup. Sometimes peanut butter or jam is spread on the slices of bread.
Haley Willard is The Daily Meal's assistant editor. Follow her on Twitter @haleywillrd.