The History of the Croque Monsieur Sandwich (And Where to Find the Best Ones in Toulouse)
The more time one spends dining out and exploring food culture, the easier it gets to sometimes forget about the old and true comfort foods that never fail to brighten our mood. France’s most famous sandwich, the croque monsieur, is one such dish.
On the surface, it’s nothing more than a warm ham and cheese sandwich. But the croque monsieur is a perfectly harmonious and delightfully decadent sandwich, and its preparation is something of an art.
Simple to prepare? Sure. But don’t let its simplicity mislead you, the perfect preparation of a croque monsieur is an art.
Today we explore the colorful history of this most satisfying of sandwiches and offer our suggestions for where to find the best croques monsieurs in Toulouse.
And if you’re in Toulouse and hoping to explore the local cuisine, consider joining us on one of our popular Victor Hugo Market Tours.
A history of the Croque Monsieur
The first mention of the croque monsieur in print couldn’t be more appropriate. The dandy of the sandwich world makes its first appearance in none other than Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time).
Yes, sharing the pages with Marcel’s famous Madeleine (previously discussed in our Foods to Try in France blog) is our croque monsieur – simple food done so exceptionally well that it can comfortably be served in high-end establishments alongside local bistros.
Its origins were humble. Bistro owner Michel Lunarca popularised the dish in the early 1900s as a simple snack for busy Parisiens. Especially meaning ‘mister crunch’, the sandwich is a new riff on an old theme.
Made with baked or boiled ham, Gruyère cheese, pain de mie (soft sandwich bread), and béchamel sauce, the croque monsieur is either fried or oven baked after preparation. The sandwich offers the ideal blend of textures: the crispy bread complimenting the gooey melted cheese and béchamel sauce.
Its ingredients are rich enough to satiate one’s hunger, but the dish is not so big as to leave you bloated. It remains a satisfying lunch or light evening meal more than a century after its creation.
And if imitation is the greatest form of flattery, we can see just how beloved the croque monsieur really is – it has spawned an array of variations.
The Croque Madame and other variations
Most famous of all the croque monsieur’s variations is unquestionably the croque madame. The name dates to the 1960s, though it’s safe to assume that the croque madame was being prepared much earlier. It features all the same ingredients as its predecessor but features a poached or fried egg on top.
Other popular versions include the croque auvergnat (with Bleu d’Auvergne cheese) and the Croque norvégien (with smoked salmon replacing the ham).
As with most classic dishes, the croque monsieur’s versatility has guaranteed its longevity. It remains an ideal pallet on which to indulge a range of cravings, with countless ingredients either complimenting the traditional recipe or making excellent alternatives.
Where to get a Croque Monsieur in Toulouse
With Toulouse being the foodie city it is, it should come as no surprise to learn there are many excellent places to get a croque monsieur in Toulouse. Below, we pick three of our favorites.
Offering a croque monsieur with truffled white ham and Comté cheese, Maison Sarment is one of our regular go-to places in Toulouse.
This stylish wine bar on Place des Carmes is featured on our list of Best Wine Bars in Toulouse and guarantees quality. If part of a large group, you can reserve their cellar and even arrange tastings with their sommelier.
In the summer, enjoy their outdoor seating and relish the good weather with your wine.
⬩17 Place des Carmes, 31000 Toulouse
L’alimentation Bar à Vins
Another choice from our list of favorite wine bars in the city, L’alimentation Bar à Vins offers a relaxed atmosphere and is notable for championing exciting local wineries and food producers.
Their take on the croque monsieur is one of the best we’ve tasted and features brioche, white ham, and Brie de Meaux. As we said above, the croque monsieur is nothing if it isn’t versatile.
But there’s a lot to be said for simple things done well and the L’alimentation Bar à Vins get all the flavors balanced just right with their croque monsieur.
⬩24 Pl. de la Bourse, 31000 Toulouse
If you’ve ever wished for Michelin-starred fast food, this is the place for you! A whole menu of specialty croques monsieurs created by 2-star Michelin chef Michel Sarran!
Our favorite is the Croque Gascogne, made with duck confit, potatoes, sheep milk cheese, bechamel sauce, garlic, and parsley, grilled in duck fat.
Croq’Michel also offers delicious vegetarian alternatives to the croque monsieur.
⬩41 Rue des Filatiers, 31000 Toulouse
This brings an end to our exploration of the croque monsieur. If you have any questions about this blog or our services, please get in touch.
Fancy continuing your exploration of French food? Read our Beginner’s Guide to French Cheese.