In Frankreich wie in Italien, wenn auch Fast Foods gut vertreten sind, bleiben sie eine Art kulturelles Tabu, das mit Raubtierkapitalismus, amerikanischem Imperialismus und einfach nur schlechtem Essen assoziiert wird. Deswegen habe die Tendenz, “unterwegs zu essen”, “noch nicht das Niveau erreicht, das in Nordamerika oder sogar in Großbritannien zu beobachten ist”.
Trotzdem mischen seit nun mehr als 10 Jahre die Tacos français auf einer rasanten Art und Weise den Markt mit: “Die französischen Tacos sind zweifellos das Produkt, das den Markt für Außer-Haus-Verpflegung in den nächsten zehn Jahren bestimmen wird.” Nicht zuletzt weil sie – so die Mode-Wochenzeitung Grazia – sehr schnell zu einem “identitären Essen” für französische Jugendliche geworden sind.
Was sind sie aber? Warum sind sie so wichtig als Trend? Tacos français sind “Kurz gesagt, eine ziemlich gelungene Mischung aus Panini, Kebab und Burrito”, heißt es im Mitteilungsblatt der Stadt Vaulx-en-Velin, einem Vorort von Lyon, in dem die französischen Tacos geboren wurden… oder auch nicht. Wahrscheinlich waren die ersten Erfinder der französischen Tacos Imbissbesitzer nordafrikanischer Abstammung in den Lyoner Banlieu. es gibt viele Geschichten, aber keine, außer der von der unvorhersehbaren kulturellen Vermischung, scheint hundertprozentig zu passen.
Sie sind wichtig, denn anders als der Döner scheint der Tacos frei von den Stereotypen, die den Döner als ein scharfes politisches Symbol umgeben. Sie sind zwar Fast Food, sie sind aber in Frankreich kreiert worden. Mehr, sie sind eine Kreation der Provinz, sie haben in den letzten fünf Jahren die Hauptstadt erobert und sind zu einer Quelle des Stolzes für eine Gruppe von Menschen geworden, die viel französisches Essen kochen und konsumieren, aber nicht oft die Anerkennung für ihre Kreation bekommen.
Als Emblem des Vorstadtstolzes aber sind sie auch eine Quelle des Ärgers für einige mexikanische Gastronomen in Frankreich, die darin eine Form der kulturellen Aneignung, ja sogar eine Schändung sehen.
French tacos are tacos like chicken fingers are fingers. Which is to say, they are not tacos at all. First of all, through some mistranslation or misapprehension of its Mexican namesake, the French tacos is always plural, even when there’s only one, pronounced with a voiced “S.” Technically, the French tacos is a sandwich: a flour tortilla, slathered with condiments, piled with meat (usually halal) and other things (usually French fries), doused in cheese sauce, folded into a rectangular packet, and then toasted on a grill. “In short, a rather successful marriage between panini, kebab, and burrito,” according to the municipal newsletter of Vaulx-en-Velin, a suburb of Lyon in which the French tacos may or may not have been born.
In the American imagination, French cuisine can seem a static entity—the inevitable and unchanging expression of a culture as codified by Carême and Escoffier and interpreted by Julia Child. Bœuf bourguignon, quiche Lorraine, onion soup, chocolate mousse. Although these dishes remain standbys, alongside pizza and couscous and other adopted staples, French cuisine can be as fickle as any. The latest rage has nothing to do with aspics or emulsions. What are French people eating right now? The answer is as likely to be French tacos as anything else.
The precise genesis of the French tacos is the subject of competing folklores, but it’s commonly agreed that it was invented sometime around the turn of the twenty-first century in the snacks of the Rhône-Alpes region. “Snacks” are small independent restaurants offering a panoply of takeout and maybe a few tables: snack bars, basically. Typically, they sell kebabs, pizza, burgers, and, now, French tacos. The unifying concept is the lack of need for a fork.
The earliest innovators of the French tacos were probably snack proprietors of North African descent in the Lyonnais suburbs (suburbs in the French sense of public housing, windswept plazas, and mass transportation, rather than the American one of single-family homes, back yards, and cars). You could trace it back to a pair of butcher brothers, inspired by a dish their mother used to make; or perhaps it was a short-order cook, experimenting with a cheese sauce for a pizza-dough wrap; or maybe the French tacos is a take on mukhala’a, a North African stuffed pancake. There are many stories, but none, except that of unpredictable cultural mixing, perfectly tracks. “France is a country that, for decades now, has been urban, industrial, and diverse,” Loïc Bienassis, of the European Institute for the History and Cultures of Food, told me. “The French tacos is a mutant product, France’s own junk food.”
The trade publication Toute la Franchise recently declared that “the French tacos is without a doubt the product that will drive the market for dining out for the next ten years.” Chain restaurants have proliferated: New School Tacos, Chamas Tacos, Le Tacos de Lyon, Takos King, Tacos Avenue (which used to be called Tacos King before a trademark spat broke out). Such is the success of these chains that, according to a French economics magazine, some are “turning fat into gold.” The owner of one snack near Lyon started out making cheese sauce for his French tacos in the kind of saucepan you might use to heat up soup; now he uses twenty-litre stockpots.
In 2007, Patrick Pelonero was working as a drywaller in Grenoble. He often ate French tacos for lunch, so, during the construction off-season, he took thirty thousand euros in savings and opened a French-tacos shop. Eventually, he joined up with a pair of childhood friends to create O’Tacos, which now has two hundred and thirty locations in France. Pelonero had never been to Mexico, still hasn’t. “But I’ve watched a lot of series about tacos on Netflix,” he said, speaking from Dubai, where he currently lives. (In 2018, the Belgian investment fund Kharis Capital acquired a majority stake in the brand.) Pelonero likens the French tacos to the iPhone. “One day it wasn’t there, and the next day it was, and nobody knows how they lived without it,” he said.
O’Tacos, not to be confused with U’Tacos, outranks McDonald’s France on Instagram, where it generates a cheeky mix of tacos-centric memes and plastic-tray portraiture. (A much liked post this fall featured a photo of Brigitte and Emmanuel Macron, cheering wildly at a soccer match, with the caption “My mom and me when we see my dad come home with a bag of O’Tacos.”) One of the chain’s early marketing coups was the gigatacos challenge. The customer pays eighteen euros for a five-and-a-half-pound tacos, filled with five different meats (merguez sausage, ground beef, chicken nuggets, grilled chicken, and chicken cordon bleu). If he can eat it within two hours, without using utensils, he gets it for free, along with a moment of celebrity and plenty of jokes about his next trip to the bathroom. For birthdays, the gigatacos becomes a cake, candles staked into its floury, corrugated expanses like flags on the surface of the moon.
In France, the kebab has long been a pungent political symbol. In 2009, for instance, the Socialist Party proposed a listening tour of France’s housing projects, calling it “the kebab debates”; in subsequent years, several right-wing mayors tried to limit the number of kebab restaurants in their cities. In 2013, members of the far-right Front National made a nativist slogan of “Ni kebab, ni burger, vive le jambon-beurre” (“Neither kebab nor burger, long live the ham-and-butter sandwich”). In both name and image, the tacos bypasses the stereotypes that surround the kebab. The tacos-chain aesthetic is sleek and spare, gesturing toward globalized consumerism rather than toward any particular cultural heritage. “The plurality of the product, its influences from everywhere, make for a multicultural or acultural product,” Marilyne Minassian, a master’s student, wrote in a 2018 thesis on the French tacos.
The fashion weeklyGraziacallsthe French tacos an “identitarian food” for French adolescents. It has a certain glamour, appearing, for instance, in a song by the rap group PNL (“J’vendais l’coco,j’graillais l’tacos”; “I sold the coke, I scarfed the tacos”). A popular French YouTuberrecently ingested two gigatacos in one sitting, drawing more than two and a half million views. Seizing the opportunity for a career transition, the rapper Mokobé (b. 1976) has launched TacoShake, offering French tacos and milkshakes (which are the French tacos of sweets, in that you can put pretty much anything in them). Some two thousand people showed up for the opening of a branch in the Paris suburb of Vitry-sur-Seine.