Global Gourmet

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
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.

Cantine California. Photo by mathouschka via Instagram

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.

Queue for Le Camion Qui Fume. Photo by domib341 via Instagram

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).

Photo by millykr via Instagram

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.

Photo by big_fernand via Instagram

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.

Photo via Lo Zio's Facebook page

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.

Photo by pizzadiloretta via Instagram

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.

The kitchen is open at Frenchie To Go. Photo by seventywine via Instagram

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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Thousands of Tunisians gathered in the capital of Tunis

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Bertrand Hauger and Anne-Sophie Goninet

👋 Laphi!*

Welcome to Monday, where post-Merkel Germany looks set shift to a center-left coalition, San Marino and Switzerland catch up with the rest of Europe on two key social issues, and a turtle slows things down at a Japan airport. Meanwhile, we take an international look at different ways to handle beloved, yet controversial, comic books and graphic novels characters.

[*Aymara, Bolivia]

💡  SPOTLIGHT

European debt? The first question for Merkel's successor

After Sunday's elections, Social Democrat candidate Olaf Scholz looks likely to become Germany's next chancellor. Already during the campaign, neighbors across Europe have been watching and listening to his every word.

Last week, the man who has served as German finance minister met in Brdo, Slovenia with his European counterparts. And of particular interest for those in attendance is where Scholz stands on the issue of debt-rule reform for the eurozone, a subject that is expected to be hotly debated among EU members in the coming months.

France, which holds its own elections early next year, has already made its position clear. "When it comes to the Stability and Growth Pact, we need new rules," said Bruno Le Maire, France's minister of the economy and finance, at the meeting in Slovenia. "We need simpler rules that take the economic reality into account. That is what France will be arguing for in the coming weeks."

The economic reality for eurozone countries is an average national debt of 100% of GDP. Only Luxemburg is currently meeting the two central requirements of the Maastricht Treaty: That national debt must be less than 60% of GDP and the deficit should be no more than 3%. For the moment, these rules have been set aside due to the coronavirus crisis, but next year national leaders must decide how to go forward and whether the rules should be reinstated in 2023.

The debate looks set to be intense. Fiscally conservative countries, above all Austria and the Netherlands, are against relaxing the rules as they recently made very clear in a joint position paper on the subject. In contrast, southern European countries that are dealing with high levels of national debt believe that now is the moment to relax the rules.

Those governments are calling for countries to be given more freedom over their levels of national debt so that the economy, which is recovering remarkably quickly thanks to coronavirus spending and the European Central Bank's relaxation of its fiscal policy, can continue to grow.

The rules must be "adapted to fit the new reality," said Spanish Finance Minister Nadia Calviño in Brdo. She says the eurozone needs "new rules that work." Her Belgian counterpart agreed. The national debts in both countries currently stand at over 100% of GDP. The same is true of France, Italy, Portugal, Greece and Cyprus.

Officials there will be keeping a close eye on the German elections — and the subsequent coalition negotiations. Along with France, Germany still sets the tone in the EU, and Berlin's stance on the brewing conflict will depend largely on what the coalition government looks like.

A key question is which party Germany's next finance minister comes from. In their election campaign, the Greens have called for the debt rules to be revised so that in the future they support rather than hinder public investment. The FDP, however, wants to reinstate the Maastricht Treaty rules exactly as they were and ensure they are more strictly enforced than before.

This demand is unlikely to gain traction at the EU level because too many countries would still be breaking the rules for years to come. There is already a consensus that they should be reformed; what is still at stake is how far these reforms should go.

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive. That having been said, starting in January, France will take over the presidency of the EU Council for a period that will coincide with its presidential election campaign. And it's likely that Macron's main rival, right-wing populist Marine Le Pen, will put the reforms front and center, especially since she has long argued against Germany and in favor of more freedom.

Rome is putting its faith in the negotiating skills of Prime Minister Mario Draghi, a former head of the European Central Bank. Draghi is a respected EU finance expert at the debating table and can be of great service to Italy precisely at a moment when Merkel's departure may see Germany represented by a politician with less experience at these kinds of drawn-out summits, where discussions go on long into the night.

Regardless of how heated the debates turn out to be, the Stability and Growth Pact may well survive the conflict unscathed, as its symbolic value may make revising the agreement itself practically impossible. Instead, the aim will be to rewrite the rules that govern how the Pact should be interpreted: regulations, in other words, about how the deficit and national debt should be calculated.

One possible change would be to allow future borrowing for environmental investments to be discounted. France is not alone in calling for that. European Commissioner for Economy Paolo Gentiloni has also added his voice.

The European Commission is assuming that the debate may drag on for some time. The rules — set aside during the pandemic — are supposed to come into force again at the start of 2023.

The Commission is already preparing for the possibility that they could be reactivated without any reforms. They are investigating how the flexibility that has already been built into the debt laws could be used to ensure that a large swathe of eurozone countries don't automatically find themselves contravening them, representatives explained.

The Commission will present its recommendations for reforms, which will serve as a basis for the countries' negotiations, in December. By that point, the nature of the coalition that will lead Germany should be clear, which will offer an indication of how intense the fight over Europe's debt rules could become — and whether the hopes of the southern countries could become reality.


Tobias Kaiser, Virginia Kirst and Martina Meister / Die Welt

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

Social Democrats narrowly win German elections: Germany's center-left party claimed a narrow victory in the federal election, beating the CDU party of outgoing chancellor Angela Merkel by just over 1.5%, according to preliminary results. SPD leader Olaf Scholz has claimed a mandate to form a government with the Greens and Liberals, in what would be Germany's first three-way ruling coalition. Germany's capital city Berlin will also get its first female mayor.

Switzerland says yes to same-sex marriage: Nearly two-thirds of Swiss voters approved the proposal to legalize same-sex marriage in a referendum, making it one of the last countries in Western Europe to do so.

San Marino voters back legal abortion: More than 77% voted in support of legalizing abortion up to 12 weeks of pregnancy in San Marino in a historic referendum for the predominantly Catholic tiny city-state, which was one of the last places in Europe that still criminalized abortion.

COVID update: Australian authorities announced they will gradually reopen lockdowned Sydney, with a system that will give vaccinated citizens more freedom than the unvaccinated. Meanwhile, Thailand will waive its mandatory quarantine requirement in Bangkok and several other regions for vaccinated travellers in November. In Brazil, a fourth member of President Jair Bolsonaro's delegation to the United Nations has tested positive to COVID-19.

Power shortages in China spread: Tight coal supplies and toughening emissions standards have led to power shortages in northeastern China, forcing numerous factories including many supplying Apple and Tesla to halt production.

Strong earthquake hits Crete, at least one killed: An earthquake of magnitude 6 struck the Greek island of Crete, with reports that at least one person was killed and several injured after buildings collapsed.

Turtle causes delays at Tokyo airport: A wandering turtle forced the Tokyo Narita airport to close its runway for twelve minutes, delaying five planes, including an All Nippon Airways plane featuring ... a sea turtle-themed fuselage.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"Neck and neck," titles German daily Augsburger Allgemeine about the tight results of the federal election, which according to preliminary results, is set to be won by the center-left party SPD led by Olaf Sholz by just over 1.5%. It was the country's tightest race in years, and will likely lead to long, complicated negotiations to form a coalition government.


💬  LEXICON

Magal

On Sunday, hundreds of thousands of Muslim pilgrims from Senegal, but also from elsewhere in Africa, Europe, and the United States, converged to the great Mosque of Touba, as part of the Grand Magal. The annual pilgrimage, a Wolof word meaning celebration, marks the date French colonial authorities exiled spiritual leader and founder of the Senegalese Mouride Brotherhood Sheikh Amadou Bamba.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Cancel Tintin? Spotting racist imagery in comics around the world

From the anti-Semitic children's books of Nazi Germany to the many racist caricatures of Asian, African or Indigenous people in the 20th century, comics have long contained prejudiced, sexist and xenophobic stereotypes. These publications have been rightfully criticized but some are pushing back, saying that this kind of unwarranted "canceling" threatens freedom of expression. Here are examples from three countries around the world about how people are handling the debate and sketching the future of comics.

🔥📚 The Adventures of Tintin and The Adventures of Asterix both emerged in French-speaking Europe during the 20th century and quickly developed global audiences. But the comic books have also been called out for controversial depictions of certain groups, including North American Indigenous peoples. And as Radio-Canada recently reported, one group of French-speaking schools in Ontario found the texts so offensive that they decided to go ahead and burn the books. The report, not surprisingly, stirred up a pretty fiery debate on the issues of free speech and what some refer to as "cancel culture."

🤠 In a more progressive model for rethinking cartoons with long — and complicated — legacies, Lucky Luke in France is taking a different direction. Telling the story of a cowboy in the Wild West, the series is notably lacking in terms of diversity. But in 2020, well-known French cartoonists Julien Berjeaut (known as Jul) and Hervé Darmenton (known as Achdé) took on the challenge of a more inclusive Lucky Luke. With its 81st album, Un Cow-Boy Dans Le Coton (A Cowboy in High Cotton), they changed the perspective to focus on recently freed Black slaves.

🇯🇵 Outside of France and Belgium, Japan arguably has the largest market for graphic novels, or manga, which first developed in the late 19th century. And like their European counterparts, certain manga titles have been accused of using racist tropes. One example is the character Mr. Popo, a genie from the popular Dragon Ball series who has been cited for having offensive features. In the meantime, more and more mangaka (creators of manga) are expanding beyond these traditional representations, including in their depictions of women, who are over-sexualized in many mangas.


➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"Still now, I am terrified."

— In mid-August, Afghan news anchor Beheshta Arghand interviewed Mawlawi Abdulhaq Hemad, a high-ranking Taliban representative, for TOLOnews. A historic moment for the female presenter, just days after the Islamic fundamentalist group took over Afghanistan. Now exiled in Albania, Arghand tells the BBC in a moving testimony why she had to flee to Albania and how she, like many in her country, has lost everything.

📸  PHOTO DU JOUR

Thousands of Tunisians gathered in the capital of Tunis yesterday to protest against what they see as a coup organized by President Kais Saied, who recently fired his Prime Minister and extended the freezing of the Parliament. Saied has also since introduced two exceptional measures that strongly reinforce both his executive and legislative powers. — Photo: Chedly Ben Ibrahim/NurPhoto/ZUMA (Read more here)

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin, Clémence Guimier & Bertrand Hauger


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We are grateful for reader support to continue our unique mission of delivering in English the best international journalism, regardless of language or geography. Click here to contribute whatever you can. Merci!
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