Is French toast actually French? If not, then where does the name ‘French toast’ actually come from?

French toast as the most ‘Instagrammable’ breakfast is not only delicious but also the perfect accompaniment to coffee among breakfast or brunch lovers.

The earliest records of French Toast recipes can be traced back to the Roman Empire. After the Middle Ages, it began to spread across various European countries. The original intention behind it was to prevent food waste. Stale bread that has hardened can be softened and easily consumed by soaking it in milk and then frying or baking it. 

The same recipe have been found at the court of Henry V in the 15th century when the so-called ‘lost bread’  became popular there. The term didn’t appear in England until the 17th century. This fits with a theory about French fries that the name ‘French’ does not refer to the country of origin of the dish, but to the verb ‘to French’, which means ‘to slice’ in Old Irish. So ‘French toast’ is like ‘sliced toast’.

Also, although the name ‘French Toast’ includes the word ‘toast’, the commonly used bread types in traditional recipes are not the typical white bread but rather brioche, challah, or baguette.

Since making it involves soaking the bread slices in an egg and milk mixture before frying, it requires selecting thick and sturdy bread. For a perfect texture, you can even leave fresh bread out for a day to let it naturally dry and become slightly hardened, which allows it to absorb the mixture better and prevents it from falling apart during cooking.

Once it is cooked, it can be served with various toppings such as fruits, cream, ice cream, and jam.

To make delicious French toast, besides choosing good quality bread, another important factor is to control the ratio of bread slices to the soaking mixture. Too much liquid absorption can result in a soggy and collapsed final product, while too little liquid can make the fried bread too dry and hard to swallow. The perfect one has a crispy golden-brown crust and a soft and fragrant interior.

Apart from the traditional version, it can come in different varieties. One common type is savoury French toast, which follows a similar preparation method but replaces cinnamon and vanilla extract with salt and black pepper in the soaking mixture. It is often served with ketchup or mayonnaise as the accompanying sauce.

Savoury French toast

Hong Kong also has its own distinctive version of French toast called ‘Sai Dor Si’,  which is its transliteration in Cantonese. Hong Kong-style French toast is a fusion of Western cuisine and local flavours. When it first arrived in Hong Kong, it was similar to the common versions found abroad and was mainly served in upscale restaurants and hotels using imported ingredients, making it quite expensive. However, in the 1950s, it started appearing in local Hong Kong-style diners.

Sai Dor Si

To make it more affordable, the Hong Kong-style uses cheaper white bread instead of higher-end bread, and the soaking mixture is simplified to an egg mixture. The cooking method transitions from pan-frying to deep-frying or using butter to enhance the taste. Often, the white bread is sliced into nine smaller pieces for better texture. Deep-frying is a significant characteristic of Hong Kong-style French toast, giving it a crispy golden-brown exterior.

Nowadays, common condiments for the Hong Kong-style include honey, maple syrup, peanut butter, and butter.

Although French toast goes by different names like Sai Dor Si and is accompanied by various toppings such as whipped cream, fruits, or mayonnaise, it always brings a burst of happiness and joy.