Decoding the French menu isn't always easy, especially when it's handwritten on a blackboard like this one.A Paris chalkboard menu – appearances can be deceiving! (Daxis)

Years into my love affair with Paris, I’m still making ridiculous rookie mistakes. I suppose it’s time to accept that France will always have the upper hand, but it still stings.

My most recent humiliation is horse-related. Or at least, I thought it was.

Please note that I was a horse-obsessed child, so equine-related topics are particularly touchy for me. As a child, I would sometimes dress in riding garb for no reason at all. And while I was waiting for my parents to break down and buy me a real horse (never happened), I would drag garbage cans into the backyard and ride them, periodically switching from one member of the “herd” to the next. On any given afternoon, people in the house could gaze out and see me whipping a particularly stubborn garbage can with my riding crop.

Decoding the French menu is an art, especially when it has things like steak à cheval on it, which is simply steak with a fried egg on top.Steak à Cheval (L. Richarz)

So when I first moved to Paris and started noticing “steak à cheval” on menus around town, I was wary. I knew there was a historical precedent of eating horse meat in France, but it seemed quite inhumane in this day and age. Nonetheless,  I assumed it was some kind of trendy gastronomic revival, and who was I to question the local gourmands? So I kept my mouth shut and simply avoided the dreaded horse steak when confronted with it.

Recently, I was visiting my boyfriend’s family in Brazil. One night, we sat down to dinner and I was presented with a traditional dish called bife a cavalo (in Portuguese), which translates to “horse-riding steak” or “steak à la horse.”

“Horse?” I asked, panic rapidly setting in.

“No, it’s like steak à cheval in France,” G explained.

“Sooo….. horse?” I wondered again.

It was at this point that I realized I’d been operating under a serious misapprehension, and it took the collision of three cultures for the truth to surface.

Decoding the French menu is an art, especially at bistros and brasseries that serve classic French food, like this one with outdoor seating.Tyrolian Andy

No wonder the French had seemed so lax about all that presumed “horse-eating”—they weren’t eating horse at all. It turns out that steak à cheval (or bife a cavalo) is merely a cut of beef with a fried egg on top. It turns out the French aren’t as barbaric as I thought! And it turns out I’m kind of an idiot.

I shudder to think what other misconceptions I’ve been carrying around all this time, but I have a feeling the truth will win out. Paris will see to that.

Related Links:

Written by Tory Hoen for the HiP Paris Blog. Looking for a fabulous vacation rental in Paris, Provence, or Tuscany? Check out Haven in Paris.


Tory Hoen

Tory Henwood Hoen has been published by New York Magazine, Vogue, Condé Nast Traveler, Bon Appétit, Fortune, and others. She was Creative Director of Brand at M.M.LaFleur, where she founded the brand’s digital magazine, The M Dash. Her debut novel, The Arc, is available in bookshops near you and online.


  1. But they do have special butcher shops for horse meat called Chevaline. Often inconspicuous looking places not as fanciful as the regular boucheries. Somewhere to shop on the downlow?

  2. It’s good that you can poke fun at yourself. Different cultures have different ideas about what to eat. I’ve learned not to be judgmental about individuals or countries eating preferences. I grew up in the south and a lot of people turn up their noses a bit at our “cuisine”. It’s all in what you are used to eating. It’s like the old Zen saying, “There is nothing right or wrong, but thinking makes it so.”

  3. Cute story but the French do butcher horse. As identified by the horse head out front of the butcher shop 🙁

  4. In my young and carefree days traveling the grand tour, I enjoyed a wonderful butterfly filet of horse and found it to be sweet and delicious. As a carnivore I have eaten many a creature that I knew and raised myself, one gives thanks to the gift of the life taken.

  5. It’s a fun story…and I am sure I’ve been guilty of many cultural misconceptions of my own! Still, I am not sure why eating horse is “barbaric” while eating cow is fine? Cultural biases aside, it’s the same thing, isn’t it? As a meat-eater, I ask this in all sincerity, not as a judgement.

  6. Haha!!! This is awesome! I would’ve thought the same thing 🙂 Thank you for clearing this up for people like me. Someday, when I go to Paris, I will not have any reservations about ordering the horsey steak 🙂

  7. But……whereas “steak à cheval” isn’t really horse, the French DO eat horse meat to this day. You can find several ‘boucherie chevaline’ in various locations around Paris (they normally have a sculpted horse’s head, or several above the door). And it’s not really that rare or exotic, check out the viande section at any monoprix or carrefour – a popular brand comes on a red-gingham colored tray, vacuum-sealed. Probably more information than you want, but it’s a very lean meat, quite tender, and slightly sweeter than beef…

  8. I don’t quite understand why one would have an aversion to eating one animal and not another…what is really the difference here between a horse and cow? Is your affection for horses really a solid and logical reason to eat the flesh of a cow when you won’t eat the flesh of a horse? They both have the same capacity for pain and suffering…one is not somehow less of a living animal than the other…makes no real sense to me.

  9. What a cute & honest story dahhling! Particulary enjoyed your childhood fantasys riding trash bins! too funny indeed.

  10. I do hate to disappoint you, but although “steak à cheval” does not mean horse steak, the French still eat horse meat. You can still horse butchers (boucherie chevaline) scattered around Paris, on markets and in the provinces. Horse meat (I’m not saying I condone or agree with this – I personally don’t buy it) is considered the most healthy of all red meat. The one and only time I ate it, I was told it was beef and was not happy when I discovered I had been duped!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *