France’s Fast Food Problem

It’s hard to make it there, says a very interesting article in today’s Wall Street Journal (the article is behind a pay wall, I think). Evidently everything from processed cheeses to tomatillos to corn fit for human consumption can be very hard to come by. That’s a big frustration, certainly for foreign food chain operators, but also for food truck entrepreneurs seeking to pull off higher-end versions of American and British lunchtime staples. Where do you get pastrami in Paris? Who knows?

Personally I’m conflicted about French fast food. On the one hand I’m a great believer in innovation and think that people should be able the foods they want. A typical American, in other words. Right now a lot of young urbanites in Paris want access to fast foods (albeit in upscale versions) since like office workers everywhere they’re busy and don’t have time for table service in the middle of the day.

On the other hand it seems a bit of a shame. I think many Americans, while we like to make fun of stuffy French attitudes toward food, also admire the way the French have managed to stave off modernity for so long and stick to their culinary guns. It’s part of the reason so many of us like to go to France! So I suppose, reading the article, I didn’t have great sympathy for the vendors who had a hard time finding the right beef for their Philly cheese steaks. All that changed when I read about the guy who couldn’t find good hot dogs. I’m a born and raised Chicagoan. Access to top quality hot dogs, I believe, should be a universal human right. Can the U.N. intervene here maybe?

18 thoughts on “France’s Fast Food Problem”

  1. What’s behind a lot of it, beyond palates, is a fierce protection of French farmers and I respect that.

    1. Yes, being from a family of farmers, I’d have to say that’s important! Thanks, Rainey! 😉

      – Joe

  2. I live in Nantes, France, and and have been for 8 years. The processed cheese claim is bogus; you can find it in any supermarket (as “fromage pour croque-monsieur” or “pour hamburger”) and it has been available in bulk in both of the pro-only restaurant supply chain stores I’ve been to (Metro and Promocash if anyone’s interested).
    However, the other two claims are correct. I haven’t had fresh corn in almost 7 years, the last time being when I was home in Toronto at the right time of year.
    I don’t know why the person cited in the article was surprised to not find tomatillos; they’re pretty much totally unknown anywhere where there isn’t a Latin-American population of note, which is to say everywhere in the world apart from North and South America (and they’re not very well known in Canada outside of large metropolitan areas). It’s sort of like being surprised that durian isn’t readily available in Oslo.

    EDIT: Having now read the article, I realize that they don’t actually say that processed cheese is difficult to find in France.

    1. True enough, Phanmo, I got breezy with the prose. Though it seemed to me they were having trouble finding the right ones with the right melt point…I might have been reading into that, it’s a big issue for some of my clients! 😉 But thanks for the insider info!


      – Joe

      1. Tomatillos are Mexican (and the North part of Central America), you cannot find them in any other of the Latin American cuisines. Tomatillos and poblano peppers are very hard (if not impossible) to find in the rest of Latin America, which is a shame for those of us who love Mexican food.

  3. Hi Joe,

    I haven’t read the WSJ article (pay wall!!), but I urge you not to think of Paris as representative of the whole of France.

    In real France (outside Paris), life goes on at its usual slow pace. There may be more “MacDos” in la province (= back of beyond for snooty Parisians!) than a few years ago, but traditional foods are still very present in everyday life, at home and in restaurants.
    Some is good, some not so much, but the French way of life is alive and well and living outside Paris.


    Claudine (in rural France)

    1. I’m very glad to hear that, Claudine! We in the States do tend to think that Paris is France, and you’re right that it’s a very important distinction. A good friend of mine is in the vicinity of Bordeaux right now, he is reporting many good times and fine meals. I hope he brings me some cannelé molds!


      – Joe

    2. That’s a case in point. When I read reports about Berlin (especially in English-language publications) I usually think that they haven’t been written about the country I live in – and my place in GER isn’t exactly backwards, either (but I still can get corn ifit’s in season). This thinking must be so common because it fits into a paragraph.

      1. That’s alost certainly where the bureau is, but that’s interesting. I can certainly understand the confusion!

        Do you ever eat corn on the cob like we do in the States? I’m told that’s not done in you part of the world!

        – Joe

  4. I dunno. There’s something about the French clamoring for processed cheese that I find baffling. But I guess the issue here is having the option.

    1. They’ve had it for a long, long time. Laughing Cow is a great example. When I was in France in college, lo those many years ago, I remember being quite surprised by it. Lots of people like it!

      – Joe

  5. BAH! I would gladly live in a world with no McAwfuls and its cousins. If they want a food truck meal whats wrong with a crepe? Quick to produce and ready for a million combinations of quality fillings. If I could I’d go there myself. The truck would be painted to look like the space shuttle & would be titled “Crepe Canaveral”.

    1. Oh man, the punning. I have a brother-in-law who’s an unstoppable punster. Most days I want to kill him. 😉

      – Joe

  6. Wow really? I feel the pain of finding stuff, the fresh corn here doesn’t hold a candle to what I’d get in Kentucky, I could eat that stuff raw off the cob. And don’t get me started on the hotdogs here, most have a strange texture short of the super expensive ones, or the ones you get from a food cart type (IE in a bun, fast food)
    That or just really grilling the cheapies, but I’m not one for black dogs. :/

    1. Being a Midwesterner born and raised, I don’t know what I’d do without corn come late summer. Lack of hot dogs, though, that would put me over the edge. They must have some sort of decent sausages there, no?

      – Joe

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