Picture this: You're a second-century chef in Ancient Rome, just jotting down a few of your favorite recipes and you're alllllllllmost finished when you remember, "Aliter dulcia!" Or, "another sweet dish." That perfect use you found for uneaten bread, leftover milk and eggs.
A little bit of honey and hot damn! It is the bombest breakfast food -- you'd bet your stone tablet the emperor himself would eat it.
Cut to the 14th century and your simple dish has spread across Europe. The Germans call it "Arme Ritter" or "poor knights," and so do the English and Nords, while the French introduce "tostées dorêes" which eventually becomes "pain perdu."
"Pain perdu" means "lost bread," and if we can give the French any credit it's because this is the first accurate description of what French toast actually is and why it came to be so popular. When bread goes bad (or, gets lost), you can still soak it in a mixture of milk and eggs, fry it and eat it.
It's a poor man's best friend and a rich man's indulgence.
French toast has come a long way since 1332. We put fruit in it, top it with syrup, chocolate, whipped cream, jelly, butter -- hell, we turned it into a freakin' cereal! But the way we came to know it as "French" toast can only be traced back to local legends.
1724, Albany, N.Y. Innkeeper Joseph French discovered "lost bread" in his own kitchen. The guests absolutely loved it, so French made it a staple on his menu. Despite his successful career as a caretaker, housekeeper and amateur chef, French never really learned how to write. Hence, "French toast" and not "French's toast."
One thing led to another, word spread faster than a positive Yelp review and before Americans knew it, we were crediting our far-off friends to the east with a dish as old as time itself. And, as we often do, we made it our own.
Today, you can't find a breakfast joint in the States that doesn't offer French toast.