If you’re planning a trip to France, you’ll want to make some room in your travel budget for a delectable delicacy. Undoubtedly you will encounter their national dish – the crêpe. So what are crepes? Crepes are a paper-thin pancake usually served as a dessert, but crêpes with savory filling can also pass for a meal.

Part of France’s History

One of France’s most popular dishes dates back the 12th century, when buckwheat was rampant throughout the region of Brittany. The tough terrain made it difficult to grow almost anything else so locals used buckwheat as much as they could. Because of this, classic French crêpes are made with buckwheat. (As of the 20th century white flour often replaces buckwheat when used for dessert. Traditionalists usually disapprove of so-called crêpes de froment.) A name developed from the Latin word crispus, which means “curled.” The dish is so significant that in France, February 2nd is known as le jour des crêpes, or “the day of crêpes.”

While versions exist in many other countries (such as the tortilla or the blintz), the French are serious about their crêpe. Cooks spread thin batter onto an extremely hot pan so the dough cooks in a minute or less. Filling is added and the dough is either rolled up or folded over. It’s more often than not served with toppings.

In present day, crêpes are sold across France in crêperies. While crêperies might take the form of street vendors or stalls, they’re also found in upscale cafés or restaurants.

A Versatile Treat

Even though the basic dish consists of dough and a filling, the crêpe has evolved over the centuries. They’re popularly known as a dessert with ingredients such as Nutella (a chocolate-hazelnut spread), ice cream, nuts, bananas or other fruit. Toppings often include maple syrup, lemon juice, and whipped cream. Savory alternatives range from cheese, eggs and ham to mushrooms, asparagus, even ratatouille.

Some types of crêpes have their own names. The crepe Suzette originated from a dinner party in 1895 at a restaurant in Monaco. To impress a prince and his date Suzette, Chef Henri Charpentier added orange and brandy to a crêpe, then lit his creation on fire. The “Mille crêpe” refers to a version with many layers, as “Mille” translates to “a thousand.” Yet another version called a “Cherry Kijafa” crepe involves cherry filling and wine sauce.

No matter how you like it, you’ll be able to find the crepe of your dreams on your next trip to France.