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WHAT DO THE Australian H.S.P., the Tanzanian Chipsi Mayai, and the French Tacos have in common?
Their common ingredient is chips in English, chipsi in Swahili, pommes frites in French, and, increasingly around the world (including France), french fries.
We’ve already celebrated the H.S.P., the Halal Snack Pack. I’ve been enjoying Chipsi Mayai, the Tanzanian egg and french fries omelette. And I’ve just learned about French tacos from Lauren Collins’ “The Unlikely Rise of the French Tacos,” The New Yorker, April 12, 2021.
Here are tidbits on this tasty use of french fries.
The Basics: A French tacos (the singular, despite the “s”) has little to do with a Mexican taco, apart from both starting with a tortilla of some sort. The flour tortilla of a French tacos adds french fries, meat, cheese, and sauce. A typical Mexican taco’s corn tortilla also has meat, cheese, and sauce, perhaps some shredded greens, but no fries. The nearest Mexican equivalent to a French tacos would be a Mexican burrito, a stuffed, wrapped flour tortilla.
A Rhône-Alpes Origin. Lauren Collins says, “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.”
Wikipedia writes that, since January 1, 2016, Rhône-Alpes is part of the new region Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes. It is located on the eastern border of the country, towards the south…. Its capital, Lyon, is the second-largest metropolitan area in France after Paris. Rhône-Alpes has the sixth-largest economy of any European region.”
Snacks, en Français. “ ‘Snacks,’ “ Collins explains, “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.”
A Product of les Banlieues. “The earliest innovators of the French tacos,” Collins says, “were probably snack proprietors of North African descent in the Lyonnais suburbs [banlieues] (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).”
The O’Tacos Success Story. “In 2007,” Collins writes, “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.”
An “Identitarian” Food. Collins observes, “The fashion weekly Grazia calls the 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’).”
Ideological Ramificaitons. The French tacos also has ideological ramifications, based on its popularity in the banlieues. Collins notes, “More than a vessel for meat and cheese, the tacos affirms the cultural power of suburban youth, particularly Muslims, previously relegated, for lack of halal fast-food options, to endless orders of Filet-o-Fish.”
Collins continues, “The far-right leader Marine Le Pen continues to rail against halal meat, and the interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, expresses his ‘shock’ at the presence of halal aisles in supermarkets, but the popularity of the French tacos speaks for itself. As the documentary Tacos Origins boasts, echoing the rapper Médine, ‘The banlieue influences Paris, and Paris influences the world.’ ”
A Pomme Frites Remembrance. It was a Paris Motor Show trip, with American journalists billeted at a hotel just off Avenue des Champs-Elysées. The arrival day was free, so journalist pal Jean Jennings (likely Lindamood back then) and I took a walk to help reset our jet lag.
Returning to the hotel, we had snacks and refreshments in its quite elegant restaurant. Partly for fun, partly for comfort food, we ordered french fries with sufficient savoir faire to say, “des pomme frites, s’il vous plait.” And perfectly formed pyramids of french fries arrived.
No ordinary fries, those. I suspect the hotel does not offer French tacos—as yet. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2021