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French Food War: Chocolatine or Pan au Chocolat!

If you’re lucky enough to have a decent bakery in your neighborhood or enjoy visiting coffee shops, then you may have enjoyed one of these delicious French pastries —  rich, unforgettable, chocolate-filled pastries that will have your tastebuds singing with pleasure.

If you haven’t, just imagine layers of sweet, flaky pastry melting in your mouth, complemented by the slightly bittersweet, salty, dark chocolate that is inside. It’s a heavenly treat. Enjoyed with a great cappuccino in cafes all over France and across the world, it is a delectable classic. But what is it called? Pan au Chocolat or Chocolatine?

If you haven’t enjoyed this wonderful traditional pastry, it is well worth seeking out a good cafe or gourmet bakery and sampling this treat. There is a reason it provokes such passion and debate, and it comes down to a semantic battle in France. Chocolatine or Pan au Chocolat? The naming rights are heated and stirring the nation.

What is its true name? The French would never simply refer to them as chocolate-filled croissants — that will not do at all. They are a standalone pastry in a category of their own. Depending on where you are in France, they are known by two different names, and you may risk offending locals should you slip up and use the wrong one.

Well, you may cause a raised eyebrow or two or be corrected. As is the case with any national dish, the name evokes the heart of the matter, and it seems like this national debate has reached great new heights.

It has reached the highest level of French society. The country is divided over the name of one of its national treasures: the famed, buttery, flaky pastry filled with mouth wateringly delicious melting chocolate. What is its true name? The debate has reached parliament with conservative MPs proposing that the French word “Chocolatine” be officially added to the dictionary and national food regulatory bodies.

To paraphrase Shakespeare, will the chocolate-filled croissant-like pastry taste as sweet if known by a different name? About 40% of the country, mostly the Southwest region, refers to this delectable popular treat by the name Chocolatine. Internationally, and for the majority of the country, Pan au Chocolat is more common. So why the debate?

Well, it is a debate that has been raging for about as long as these creations have been made. The origin of Pan au Chocolat has been traced to an Austrian who came to France in the early 19th century. This Viennoiserie is a sweet roll with dark chocolate inside. August Zang introduced this sensation to the French when he opened his boulangerie (bakery) at 92 Rue Richelieu.

It was originally more similar to the crescent-shaped croissant but evolved to become the rectangular-shaped treat. Pain au Chocolat is the generic name for any French-style bread or pastry filled with chocolate — a common school treat for French children or a breakfast snack.

Thus, Pan au Chocolat came to be the name used for this treat. In the Southern Aquitaine region, it is suggested that English visitors asked for “chocolate in” pastry, which evolved into the term “Chocolatine.” Others suggested that the roots may come from the word Chicolatina, an Occitan word. This is the language of Catalonia, Spain, and is spoken in parts of the Alps.

While a British fry-up is a tradition, with eggs, bacon and tea, the French are far more likely to have coffee (enjoyed in bowls) with bread or sweet pastries. Ex-French president Nicolas Sarkozy even said that it is a French child’s right to enjoy Pan au Chocolat. This was centered around a debate over religious festivals and the availability of these traditional foods. In fact, at that time (2015), French commuters were even given out free Pan au Chocolat as a response to the president’s provocative remarks.

Such is the passion of the French and their national love of this delicious baked treat. The debate may rage on for some time, but we can assure you — whether you prefer Chocolatine or Pan au chocolat — this is truly a culinary treat that you need to savor. It has even inspired a song. In the 1950s, Joe Dassin had a hit with “Le Petit Pain au Chocolat.”

It told the story of a lovelorn baker, and it’s not every day that a pastry inspires a hit or such a controversy regarding its true name. Either way, it is delicious, decadent and a favorite of both children and adults alike.

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