food / travel

Putting The French In Fast Food

Quality matters even if you want to eat-on-the-go, and pay less. Paris is putting its touch on fast food by improving offerings like kebabs, as well as handing out haute cuisine for the masses.

A kebab from Grillé
A kebab from Grillé
Stéphane Davet

PARIS — No matter how many hungry stomachs it has satisfied, that rotating vertical grill has caused so many cases of indigestion that it is now usually approached with caution. But outside the Grillé restaurant, on rue Saint Augustin, an upper-class artery of the French capital, people are lining up with different expectations in front of the meat cylinder for a different kind of döner kebab.

In a restaurant made up of blue and white tiles, office workers and merry hipsters drool over the wheat and spelt bread spread out and baked under their eyes, while the carving of the veal on the rotisserie marks the beat, before being grilled again and deglazed with lemons. Herbs, spices, raw vegetables, cream and horseradish or tomato sauce, sweet onions and hot peppers all complete the warm bread pocket, rolled-up to be eaten on the spot.

More expensive (8.50 euros) and not as copious as the “gyro,” which is dear to teenagers, this sandwich brings refined gustative pleasures that the Ottoman specialty is not accustomed to providing. If Grillé is the first to experience the gourmet kebab, this small restaurant, which opened in July 2013, is part of a fledgling movement in Paris to change the approach to fast food.

Long a synonym of urban stress, tight budgets and junky ingredients, fast food is now part of the general obsession to eat better. “I got the idea after eating delicious kebabs in the Middle East,” remembers Fred Peneau, who co-founded Grillé with Marie Carcassonne and the famous French butcher Hugo Desnoyer. “Why not have the same in Paris?”

At the time, Peneau was the associate of the chef Inaki Aizpitarte at the Chateaubriand, in the 11th arrondissement of Paris, a pioneer restaurant specialized in a new generation of “bistronomy.”

“What I kept from the Chateaubriand is the desire to bring a chef's touch to the kebab,” he says. Before the long assembling of the grill (five hours’ work), the slices of veal breast are first marinated in a mixture of lemon, rosemary, garlic, olive oil and tamari sauce (traditional Japanese soy sauce) that helps the meat caramelize.

“Contrary to tradition, we splay the kebab like a roast,” he explains. Grillé will soon offer a pork version.

Food truck influence

Before this high-class kebab, the burger was probably the first fast food star to undergo a revolution. Two years ago, a first wave of Parisian food trucks (such as Le Camion Qui Fume and Cantine California) had infused new values into this symbol of the food-processing standardization.

Because Paris' city hall restricts food trucks’ activities, these McDonald’s competitors have largely shifted to fixed storefront locations. The hysteria for burgers has faded quite a bit, but the grounds for a successful business are solid, according to the long lines outside newcomers such as Bioburger (in the 9th and 2nd arrondissements) or young institutions such as Blend (2nd arrondissement) or Big Fernand (9th arrondissement).

The latter, where the welcome is as warm as its hamburgers are flavorful (such as the Alphonse and its milk-fed lamb, Savoyard tome cheese, grilled eggplant, coriander and slightly sweet sauce), is set to launch a spacious restaurant in Neuilly, a wealthy suburb just west of Paris, and may even take on New Yorkers on their own turf. Let’s just hope Big Fernand will have resolved the problem of the irregularity of its fries: sometimes crunchy, other times greasy and soggy. This crucial flaw is common to so many of these restaurants (including Grillé), that their cooks might want to spend some time in Belgium to gain experience where fries originated.

But for now, the small Big Fernand headquarters (and its branch, Little Fernand, specialized in hotdogs) will remain along the rue du Faubourg-Poissonnière, which has become a sort of “quality fast food lab" in Paris. Not a week goes by on this long street without a new restaurant opening and aiming to quickly give tasty food at relatively low prices that the neighborhood’s employees and yuppies are looking for.

Bagels, sandwich shops, ravioli bars, pizza counters, Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese, Lebanese, Vegetarian or Jewish-Tunisian snacks (for the past 32 years, the picturesque Bob de Tunis, in the rue Richer, 9th arrondissement, has been devoted to serving fricassees, sandwiches, fritters and fish balls of an unbeatable quality/price ratio).

The menu lists are endless and original, often high-quality, like at Lo Zio’s, who offers his own version of the piadina, a specialty from the Italian region of Emilia-Romagna, relatively unknown in France, made up of a flatbread (almost like a Mexican tortilla) stuffed with a mix of cheese, cooked meats and grilled vegetables.

Pizza is also undergoing a fresh rejuvination. Pizza di Loretta is one of the best of the new by-the-slice trend, known as "al taglio." The owner, David Azoulay, pays tribute to his Roman mother, because it is in the Eternal City that these large grilled rectangles, sliced and sold by weight (from 4 to 5 euros per slice), were popularized.

The base is deliciously thin and crusty, yet somehow soft. As for the toppings, the quality of the products makes the difference once again. A must-taste: the surprising potato-pizza, flavored with rosemary and truffle oil.

Get Frenchie

This commitment to simple dishes, easy to make, carry and eat, often mean these restaurants are devoted to a single product. The Sunken Chip (10th arrondissement) is one of the rare fish & chips in Paris, opened last year by the Englishman Michael Greenwold, a young chef from the “neo bistrot” Le Roseval.

Often launched by restaurant novices, these businesses’ menus are often richer when they are managed by confirmed cooks. It is the case with the Frenchie To Go, which belongs to Gregory Marchand, who was the head chef of the restaurant Frenchie before launching this American-inspired diner-deli. Here, customers can devour on-site or take-away hotdogs, pulled pork, lobster rolls, fish & chips, or pastrami sandwiches until they are licking their lips and fingers.

It is also the case with the Pointe de Grouin, which belongs to the chef Thierry Breton, who is colonizing the rue de Belzunce (10th arrondissement) — as Gregory Marchand is colonizing the rue du Nil (2nd arrondissement). Between his two restaurants, Chez Michel and Chez Casimir, which are deeply rooted into the Parisian “bistronomy” history, the chef succeeded in opening a “hors d’oeuvre bar,” as a response to the stakes set by the renewal of fast food.

Thanks to tokens (“snouts”) obtained in an automatic distributor, the customer can walk up to the huge counter of an open kitchen and order a heap of French-style tapas and eat them at any pace he likes, in a very friendly atmosphere. The homemade bread guarantees amazing sandwiches (from 4 euros), but the customer can also savor, seated or standing, with his fingers or a fork, the chef’s delicatessen, salads, sausage rolls, seafood, snouts coated with breadcrumbs, grilled lamb or woodpigeon, that Thierry Breton prepares in front of everyone. Just like a kebab chef would do.

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January 22-23

  • Navalny saga & Putin’s intentions
  • COVID’s toll on teenage girls
  • A 50-year-old book fee finally gets paid
  • … and much more!

🎲 BUT FIRST, A NEWS QUIZ!

What do you remember from the news this week?

1. Which two words did U.S. President Joe Biden use about possible scenarios in the Russia-Ukraine standoff that upset authorities in Kyiv?

2. What started to mysteriously appear on signs, statues and monuments across Adelaide, Australia?

3. What cult movie did U.S. rocker Meat Loaf, who died Friday at age 74, star in?

4. What news story have we summed up here in emoji form? 🇬🇧 👱 💬 💼 ❌ 🥳 🦠

[Answers at the bottom of this newsletter]

⬇️  STARTER

Toxic geopolitics: More than ever, we need more women world leaders

The world is watching the Russian-Ukrainian border. Russian President Vladimir Putin threatening an invasion finds an ally in Iran’s Ebrahim Raisi, united against their common enemy: the United States. Back in Washington, U.S. President Joe Biden — marking his first year in power with painfully low approval rates (higher only than Donald Trump’s) — sends his Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, to Kyiv to reassure President Volodymyr Zelensky who worries that France’s Emmanuel Macron might undermine Ukraine. And we haven’t even mentioned Xi Jinping!

It’s an endless theater of world leaders beating their respective chests — and they have exactly one thing in common: they’re all men. It’s by now a decades-old question, but worth asking again: What would happen if women, and not men, were running the world? Would there be less conflict, more prosperity? More humanity?

In 2018, the World Economic Forum released a study that showed that “only 4% of signatories to peace agreements between 1992 and 2011 were women, and only 9% of the negotiators.” The report shows that in several conflict zones in the world in recent decades, citing Liberia, Northern Ireland and Colombia, women have been instrumental in achieving peace.

In Colombia, where 20% of peace negotiators for the 2016 peace treaty were women, Ingrid Betancourt, herself a victim of the 50-year conflict, has announced her candidacy for the May presidential elections. Differently from previous bids, where she focused on fighting environmental abuses and corruption, Betancourt now is putting gender issues at the center of her political agenda. Bogota daily El Espectador questions whether the former hostage will be able to ride this important political wave, with feminist movements flexing their muscle around the region demanding more rights.

In Italy, next week’s elections for the head of state are monopolized by infamously misogynous former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who is hoping to be elected for the seven-year, honorary function. There is no official candidacy, but Berlusconi’s name and that of current Prime Minister Mario Draghi are the two getting the most attention. Italian feminist writer and intellectual Dacia Maraini writes in La Stampa that, yes, the very fact of electing a female president will be progress for the country — and by the way, there are plenty of women qualifed for the job.

There was also a woman politician making the news this week for actually getting elected: Maltese conservative politician Roberta Metsola, became the new European Parliament President after the death of Italy’s David Sassoli. And yet the election of the first female president of the EU’s legislature since Nicole Fontaine in 2001 has been widely criticized by female politicians — primarily for Metsola’s stance against abortion rights. "I think it is a terrible sign for women's rights everywhere in Europe," French left-wing member of the European Parliament Manon Aubry told Deutsche Welle.

The women who have risen to power in history (Margaret Thatcher, anyone?) don’t necessarily make the case that gender is the silver bullet to fix politics. Still, after watching all the toxic masculinity on the world stage this past week, we can rightfully demand fewer men.

Irene Caselli

🎭  5 CULTURE THINGS TO KNOW

• Record-breaking online concert of Mahler’s “Symphony of a Thousand”: More than 100 musicians from around the world will take part today in a performance of Mahler’s epic 8th symphony consisting of 1,200 elements, including a double chorus, children’s choir, a full orchestra and an organ. The event is a culmination of a year of work; all artists recorded their parts in isolation besides the children’s choir. Tickets can be purchased here.

Yearly Japanese festival will set a mountain on fire: Today, the grassy hillside of Mount Wakakusayama in Japan will go up in flames as fireworks go off in the background as part of celebrations for Wakakusa Yamayak. The origin of the festival isn’t totally clear, but might relate to border conflicts between the great temples in the region or to ward off wild boars.

• New insights into antiquities taken by the Nazis: Scholars are looking into how German forces during World War II looted artifacts such as on the Greek island of Crete. Nazi officials pillaged these valuables for their own personal gain, but many were also destroyed, which is why researchers around the world are hoping to gain greater insight into this often overlooked aspect of German occupation.

Exhibition of Beirut’s restored artwork: The Beirut Museum of Art has inaugurated the exhibition “Lift” featuring 17 paintings by Lebanese artists that had been damaged by the port explosion in 2020, and have since been restored as a result of a UNESCO initiative.

The world’s first vegan violin tunes up: Berries, pears and spring water are just some of the natural ingredients relied on for the construction of the instrument by English violin-maker Padraig O'Dubhlaoidh. Traditionally, animal parts like horsehair, hooves, horns and bones are used, especially to glue pieces together. The £8,000 instrument is sure to be music to some animal lover’s ears.

🇷🇺  NAVALNY SAGA & PUTIN’S INTENTIONS


One year ago anti-corruption lawyer and politician Alexei Navalny was detained in Russia, marking the effective end of domestic opposition to Russian president Vladimir Putin. In the time since, more than half of the former coordinators of Navalny's headquarters fled Russia. Even Navalny's name is forbidden: Putin never says his name, calling him "this citizen."

At the same time, Navalny’s imprisonment and the de facto end of the opposition have changed Russia. The fear of persecution, the lack of alternatives and the total censorship and propaganda have caused Putin's ratings consistently downward.

An aging leader with no successors, no enemies and dwindling popular support is finding it increasingly difficult to explain why he must continue to rule forever. In such a situation, there’s nothing quite like an external threat to fuel the raison d’être of the authoritarian regime. In Putin’s eyes, the perfect threat right now is NATO expansion, and the perfect enemy is its neighbor Ukraine and its attempts to join the military alliance. Whether Russia's president is ready to engage in a real war is the great unknown, but its aggressive and uncompromising foreign policy — like his disposing of Alexei Navalny — is the latest legitimization of his increasingly absolutist rule now into its third decade.

Read the full story: What The Alexei Navalny Saga Tells Us About Putin’s Intentions On Ukraine

🇨🇴  FROM HOSTAGE TO POTENTIAL HEAD OF STATE


Íngrid Betancourt spent more than six years as a prisoner of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) terror group in Colombia, an experience that is sure to play a role in her recently announced presidential campaign. Betancourt, who is 60, is running as part of the Verde Oxígeno and is the only woman in the Centro Esperanza Coalition (CCE), a centrist alliance.

Betancourt could be a boost for the coalition and embody its goals of transforming, overcoming polarization and, as its name indicates, giving hope to Colombia. In particular, the centrist candidate who in the past has been largely focused on anti-corruption and environmental protection, has said she will make women’s rights a cornerstone of her campaign.

Read the full story: Ingrid Betancourt, A Hostage Heroine Reinvented As Feminist For President

♀️ 😔  YOUNG WOMEN FACE THE BRUNT OF THE COVID-19 MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS


A growing number of studies around the world show that COVID-19 and lockdown restrictions have prompted a disproportionate increase in mental health illness among teen girls. These include rising suicide rates among adolescent females in the United States, Germany and Spain and a higher prevalence of anxiety and eating disorders in Israel. But why are women being disproportionately impacted?

There’s a range of reasons. In India, for example, young women had increased difficulty accessing education resources when schools went online and shared a disproportionate burden of household tasks as opposed to their male peers. Around the world, social media also played a significant role; without access to in-person socialization and hobbies, young people spent more time online, often comparing themselves to others, impacting feelings of self-worth. The situation is particularly dire given the challenges of accessing mental health support resources during the pandemic.

Read the full story: Why The COVID-19 Mental Health Crisis Is Hitting Teenage Girls The Hardest

💡  BRIGHT IDEA


Norwegian mobility company Podbike has announced that Frikar, its four-wheeled enclosed electric bike, will soon hit bike lanes on home turf. The futuristic-looking vehicle does require the user to pedal, which powers a generator and drive-by-wire system that keep the Frikar running — with a speed limited to 25 km/h.

#️⃣ TRENDING

“Mãe De Bolsonaro” is the top query on Twitter in Brazil, after news that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s mother Olinda Bonturi Bolsonaro had died at age 94.

😄📚 SMILE OF THE WEEK

Photo of the new President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola

New President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola

Philipp Von Ditfurth/ZUMA


London’s legendary bookshop Waterstones Gower Street tweeted a photo of a letter from an anonymous user confessing to having forgotten to pay for their books some 48 years ago. Owing approximately £100 ($136), adjusted for inflation, they had sent through £120 ($163) to make up for their tardiness. Touched by the kind gesture, the bookshop reciprocated by donating the money to the largest children’s reading charity in the United Kingdom.

👉   OTHERWISE ...

Dottoré! is a weekly column on Worldcrunch.com by Mariateresa Fichele, a psychiatrist and writer based in Naples, Italy. Read more about the series here.

Bucket of tears

I’ve been thinking and thinking about a patient of mine since yesterday. His name is Giovanni.

Psychiatrists, you might not know, are quite often asked the same unanswerable question: "Why does one become insane?”

When I was younger, I searched and searched for an answer, losing myself in scientific explanations about synapses, neurons and neurotransmitters.

By the end of my studies, I’d realized that the only thing that was clear was that I’d been clutching at straws to justify my work and give it a semblance of scientific dignity. In the years since, I’ve forced myself, in defiance of the authority of my position, to reply with a laconic but honest: "Sorry, but I don't know."

So when Giovanni asked me that same question, he was not happy at all with my answer. “Dottoré, how’s it possible that you don't understand why I became crazy?”

When he tried to ask me again one day, I tried a different response:

"Giová, do you cry?"

"No. Why?"

"Imagine that the tears that you don't shed, that you force yourself not to shed, because that's what you've been taught to do, all end up inside your heart. The heart is an organ that pumps blood, which brings nourishment and oxygen to the whole body. But over time those diverted tears accumulate to the point that the heart begins to pump them instead of your blood. Slowly your body becomes sick, but the part that suffers the most is your brain. Because tears don't contain oxygen and nourishment, just sadness."

I expected a reaction to this fanciful explanation, but instead Giovanni kept quiet and eventually left.

The next time I saw him, he said: "Dottoré, I've thought about it. I know you told me about the tears to make me feel better, but maybe you’re right. Because sometimes I feel that I have a lake, more than a heart. But it takes a very powerful pump to pump out all that water, and my heart alone cannot do it. And now that you've explained to me how I became crazy, can you also tell me if I'll ever get better?"

"Do you want another story or do you want the truth?”

"This time, I’d rather have the truth!”

"The answer is always the same then. I'm sorry, Giová, but I don't know this either. But I can tell you one thing for sure. I'll help you slowly, slowly with just a bucket. Because the truth is, not even I have that pump."

⏩  LOOKING AHEAD

• Italy's parliament will convene Monday to begin the process of voting for a new president to succeed Sergio Mattarella for a seven-year term.

• Qualification games for the 2022 FIFA World Cup will be held from Jan. 27 to Feb. 2 for South, North and Central America as well as Asia. Argentina’s national team will not be able to rely on superstar Lionel Messi, still recovering from COVID-19.

• Next Thursday will mark 100 years since Nellie Bly died. The American journalist is known for her record-breaking 72-day trip around the world in 1889, inspired by Jules Vernes’ book Around the World in Eighty Days


Keep reading... Show less
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