Contemplating the Pan Dore @ Mama’s on Washington Square

Stay Golden. The Pan Dore @ Mama's on Washington Square, San Francisco: Sourdough French toast, thinly sliced apples, and a sweet lemon-butter sauce.

Although my kitchen Spanish is pretty sharp these days, I’ll admit that it took some googling to decode the etymology of Mama’s delicious pan dore, pictured above. The word pan, of course, means “bread” — I did know that much already — but the word dore had me stumped. I eventually concluded that the dish must take its name from a conjugation of the Spanish verb dorar, to gild, or in the culinary realm, to make golden brown. As a word geek, the term “pan dore” got me thinking about some of the world’s other aliases for French toast, many of which point to meager beginnings. In France, for instance, this same dish would be called pain perdu, or “lost bread,” heeding the frugal idea that stale bread can be resuscitated with just a little egg batter and a short stint on the griddle. In Great Britain, their “eggy bread,” or better yet, “gypsy bread,” is also known as “Poor Knights of Windsor” (or just “poor knights,” colloquially), acknowledging a dietary staple for the impoverished Medieval military. This same “poor knights” theme appears in several other European countries as well: fattiga riddare in Sweden, arme riddere in Denmark and Norway, armer ritter in Germany, vaesed rüütlid in Estonia, and köyhät ritarit in Finland. My favorite alias for French toast, however, has certainly got to be Switzerland’s fotzelschnitten, which means “rascal’s slices” in Northern Swiss dialect.

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