This fun French expression is used to say you are eating a quick bite (generally reserved for busy people at lunchtime or theater goers who won’t have time for a proper meal before a 7:30pm show, for example. The phrase has been used since the early 19th century, and literal meaning in English is « eating on the thumb » which is a reference to the way workers, soldiers and laymen would probably handle their food. A piece of bread or cheese and a knife, used to cut of bites and put them directly in the mouth. This kind of situation would mean eating without a table. I can imagine all those Eiffel tower workmen seated on the giant metal beams, eating their bread and sardines with only a knife.
The place I love to go to eat when I need to have something « sur le pouce » actually does allow us to eat at tables, with forks AND knives! Oooo! Fancy! 😉 But they are VERY small and the entire restaurant is smaller than my living room. But it is delicious, and they have lots of customers, a good sign as to how well you can eat there.
Minh Chau on 10 Rue Verrerie 75004 Paris serves up Vietnamese food, no frills, no questions. You can eye the food in the window while they make it right in front of you. You grab a table if one is available, order when they look at you, and eat with your elbows pressed to your ribs so you don’t jab at your neighbor. It is a simple concept, and simple food. The concept is : you are hungry…you eat, and it’s cheap. You can fill your belly for 6 euros.
I enjoy watching the neighborhood locals come in and chat with the lady (chéri and I call her Mme Nêm), I guess they like to feel recognized and she gives them special attention with a friendly 5 second chat about the weather or the food. Of course the food. Everyone that goes there loves that food! It’s comfort food. They have these nêms that are over TWICE the size of regular nêms!!! OMG! I love those nêms man. Sometimes if the restaurant is full and there is no space, I will take a nêm to go and wander around munching on it in absolute bliss.
It is a dairy free environment and I believe it is gluten free too, neither are intentional though, it’s just the type of food they serve.