I’ve wanted to blog for a while now about fast food in France, saving my random photos and observations for a time when I’d have enough material to warrant one. I figured eventually I’d receive a sign from the heavens that it was time to pull the trigger on it. This sign has arrived.
But we’ll get to that later.
During my very first visit to Paris I remember being shocked to find, in a sleepy suburb outside the capital, a Pizza Hut of all things. Back then I naively assumed the French had never heard of junk food, but there it was, in all its mega-chain splendor. Sure its drab stature was slightly elevated by the exotic French pronunciation of Peet-sah Oot, but it was just a bit too much familiarity for my liking and I felt a small pang of American guilt for having invaded an otherwise innocent culture, one that probably could’ve enjoyed a perfectly happy existence without having their pizza crust injected with extra cheese.
Nowadays, after continued exposure to the Starbucks and the KFC’s and the Coca Cola’s, I’ve come to terms with it and conceded that it’s not a big deal to allow a few US establishments in as long as it doesn’t get out of hand. Plus for a European, maybe sipping a Frappuchino against Manhattan-themed wallpaper offers a certain cool factor.
Truth is Parisians get busy like anyone else, and fast food can be handy in a pinch no matter what your national anthem. McDonald’s – or Mac-Doh as they pronounce it here – is fairly prevalent and meets the need. In general the feel and menu are the same as their American counterparts, but there are always a few differences that remind you’re on foreign soil. A unique branch next to the Saint-Lazare train station entices with a façade of carved wood and potted flowers that seems to affirm “I’m a charming country cottage and definitely not a harbinger of child obesity”:
Another fun divergence springs up during their annual Monopoly promotion. Property names peeled off a simple soda cup seem somehow fashionable and chic:
Suddenly the daydream of who might be waiting for you on the Boulevard de la Villette begins to intrigue; the prospect of hopping on a 19th century steam-engine at Gare Montparnasse and chugging across the French countryside in a top hat makes a burger & fries that much more interesting.
There aren’t any Burger King’s to be found; McDonald’s primary competitor comes from a local-bred chain called Quick — a name that informs (or maybe warns?) the clientele of exactly what they’re getting. You think its name would also have a French pronunciation, but instead they keep it trendy by saying the word exactly like we do. The restaurant template is the same, but the fact that it’s French-owned peeks through in a few different ways. Portions are usually kept small. Fries always come purposely unsalted to keep things a bit healthier, with optional salt packets located near the other condiments. They also get more creative with merging the two cultures together on their menu. Best case in point was their recent December limited series:
A burger with a slab of goose organ…surely that’s gotta be an only-in-France type of event. Fois gras always makes a grand entrance during the Christmas season, and I’ve actually become a fan, even if it does require a constant forgetting that its English translation is literally “fatty liver”. But putting it on a burger? That’s an adventure for another time. Wait till I’m on a 19th century steam-engine from Gare Montparnasse and chugging across the French countryside in a top hat – then ask me.
Finally, the most intriguing and wonderfully strange difference between France’s fast food and the rest of the world as we know it is Quick’s new product starting Jan 31st. It’s the sign from the heavens that confirmed it was time to write my fast food post, and it came in the form of…a Darth Vader burger!
Are you feeling equal parts repulsion and curious excitement? Join the club. This hot new handheld comes to us in time for an upcoming theatrical release of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace in 3D, which I won’t be going to see. I will, however, absolutely be going to Quick to eat a black cheeseburger. How could I not? A Vader sandwich is just too unique to pass up. And you know what, screw it, I’m feeling dangerous – throw some fois gras on that badboy while you’re at it. I’m going over to the Dark Side baby.
*(For a related post written shortly after this one, read this.)