Force Fed

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.)


  • I have no idea what to say about this but I will ask that you please take a photo of this creation and post it on your blog. I personally don’t eat fast food and I live in the states so I definitely do not eat it while visiting family in France. Enjoy…I guess:).

    • I will definitely follow up with a photo of the real thing when the time comes Sophia. Providing I survive long enough to get to a computer. Thanks for reading!

  • A black burger?! Wow, I’m sure my boys will want to try that! We don’t eat often in MacDo or Quick but it’s true that it can be handy. I’d miss it if they all closed down.

    • Yes I imagine it’s even more handy when you’ve got a couple of boys to feed on the fly. Thanks for the comment Sarah.

  • Does the “Suprême Foie Gras” burger come with a coupon for 25% off your first angioplasty? Talk about an unholy alliance of French and American culture! The “Dark Vador” concoction does look intriguing, though. I wonder how they achieved that lovely pain noir color. Anyway … thanks for a charming and amusing réportage. I look forward to your follow-up post, after you’ve been to the Dark Side (and back). Cheers!

    • Thanks Heather. I love this “unholy alliance” phrase, haha…I need to add that one to my lexicon! Food coloring must be the only trick here, but how dark is it in real life? Is the bread black on the inside as well? Will it stain my fingers? I can’t wait to find out and report back.

    • Haha, other people have noticed the teeth angle as well; apparently that’s diced mozzarella. I find myself wishing for a green Yoda bun, but maybe I’m getting a bit too greedy. Thanks for reading Lee!

  • I love Quick, they do come up with the most wonderful things and I am very sad not to be in France to witness the Dark Vador weirdness first hand! I’m also rather partial to a trip to Flunch, their steak-frites is always super tasty.

    • I haven’t tried Flunch yet, but now you’ve got me curious. Btw I always wondered if their name was a morphing of “French lunch”… what do you think?

    • I think awesome and strange exactly sums it up, Phil. And whatever sort of sales they end up doing, you can add a few of my euros to that number cause I need to see this thing in person!

  • Love it!

    And what about McDo going green in Europe? I guess I never noticed this color change last year when I was back and only opened my eyes this time around. They changed the red for green. I wonder if it’s to promote a more eco-friendly image – nous aussi, on est bio!

  • Vegans use black beans along with cocoa in their brownies–perhaps the black bun is made with the same ingredients? Actually, that would be a pretty healthy combo. But you’re probably right that black dye was used for a most (un)wholesome effect. Yuck!

    I also agree with you that the invasion of American fast food in France feels sacrilegious. Although, I don’t eat the stuff here in the U.S. so it wouldn’t be a problem for me to avoid it if I lived there.

    But I don’t. Live there. DARN!

    • Indeed, if this bread is colored by anything resembling healthy, I’d be quite surprised. Even torching the buns till they became lumps of charcoal would be a more nutritional blackening method than whatever they’ll be using. But clearly I’ve started a narrative her that needs to be concluded, so I’m willing to put everything on the line (including my colon) by purchasing this thing and documenting the experience. Stay tuned!

    • Yeah, good call David. I had noticed the green too, and definitely appreciate the direction they’re going in. In my opinion the French aren’t too keen on bright colors popping out from their architecture; they’re a bit offended by it. The Eiffel Tower is brownish/beige, the public street toilets are brownish/beige, the Haussmannian buildings are subdued…and I think half of the city still pukes when they see the Pompidou Center. And also just from a marketing standpoint those new Mac Do colors feel more modern and adult.

      Btw I have to say once again: fantastic Xmas post on your blog. Sometimes folks don’t realize how much time & thought it takes to make a good post, but I can see you really put a lot into this one. Well done. If any of my readers are reading this, check out David’s latest post!

  • Can I please just add 2 little things to this great post?
    1) Fast Food in France is just NOT FAST and Quick is not Quick either.
    2) It has been many years since I graced them with my presence, but when travelling up and down the country with a little person on board McDohs with it’s kiddie soft play areas, clean toilets and decent coffee was a perfect place to stop and for that I will be forever grateful!
    ps thanks for stopping by my place, I have popped over once or twice, again thanks to Ashley!

    • Ha, so true Jacqui – the word “fast” doesn’t mean the same thing here. I’m still trying to adjust to that on a daily basis!

      Thanks for your additions to the post, they’re always welcome. Thanks for reading and happy blogging on your end.

  • I’m dying to know what that black burger tasted like. I will have to live vicariously through you, though, since I don’t eat red meat and I I personally boycott Quik. Just like you said, name says what you probably get.
    The foie gras burger does look at bit tasty, though. I do admit that I have been to McDo since moving here. I have no excuse for it. I just had to confess. It was however in my moments of weakness for those oh so salty, fattening, taste fries.
    Excellent post, as always! Cheers (can you see me tipping my top hat to you?)!

    • Thanks Ashley. The burger comes out at the end of this month and I’ll surely post about my adventure with it. Have you had any strange reactions from the French about your anti-red meat diet? It’s like when I used to refuse wine and got every sort of bewildered/offended/curious reaction possible; it just doesn’t compute in their brains.

      • Hi Corey-no curious reactions about the anti-red meat thing but I definitely get the same reaction you did when refusing wine. I’m not a wine drinker at all and when I tell that to any one here they just give me a funny look and say, “You don’t drink wine?? You’re in France and you don’t DRINK WINE??”. Then I say no and they all tell me I’m missing out. Oh well, c’est la vie :)

      • Yeah it’s funny: even though I’ve now chosen to start drinking wine, now I get the same weird look after I say one glass is enough. “You’re in France and you only drink ONE GLASS?” Gotta love it.

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