France and Mexico fought a war over pastries. 

  • San Juan de Ulua, Mexico
San Juan de Ulua, Mexico
Chronicle/ Alamy Stock Photo

After Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821, its political environment was unstable, and its relationship with France — another European colonial power — was tense. These tensions came to a head in 1832, when a group of Mexican army officers went into a pastry shop outside Mexico City. The shop was owned by one Monsieur Remontel, a French national. The officers helped themselves to every pastry in his shop — after confining the owner to a room, according to some sources — and then left without paying. Afterward, Remontel demanded an enormous sum of 60,000 pesos as compensation from the Mexican government — about 60 times the total value of his shop.

Remontel wasn’t the only Frenchman to lodge such a complaint. Foreign nationals living in Mexico at the time, including a large population of French residents, started to complain about property damage sustained during civil disturbances, and sought redress from the Mexican government, with no success. Remontel became a kind of poster child for the growing demands, and in 1837, the French government got involved. France drew a hard line, demanding that Mexico pay a total of 600,000 pesos or prepare for war. The Mexican government couldn’t pay, so the French navy instituted a blockade at Veracruz, the main Mexican port along the Gulf of Mexico. After seven months, French soldiers escalated by firing on the fortress of San Juan de Ulúa and occupying the city. France eventually withdrew after being guaranteed payment through Great Britain.

Officially, the conflict was called the first Franco-Mexican War, but it became known derisively as the Pastry War in Mexico. Though the conflict may sound petty, it had a major influence on Mexican history. During the war, troops were led by Antonio López de Santa Anna, the former president of Mexico who was disgraced after losing Texas to the United States. Santa Anna lost a leg fighting the French (it was amputated after being injured by cannon fire), and the incident restored his public reputation. He went on to become president of Mexico seven more times.

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