Zut alors! Baguettes are out, burgers are in. Le hamburger is the dish of the day in the land of haute cuisine…
It seems that the self-proclaimed kings of gastronomy (that’s the French, of course) have fallen for the humble hamburger. According to food marketing group Gira Conseil, the burger is hot on the heels of the classic ‘jambon beurre’ (ham sandwich) – today in France, almost one sandwich out of every two sold is a burger.
During a six-month spell working in Paris in 2012, I quickly came to realise that the French (or Parisians at least) had far more of an appetite for fast food than I’d thought. I’d heard so much about activist farmer José Bové’s campaign against ‘malbouffe’ (junk food) – and even dedicated a whole school project to it – so why was it that there were never any free tables in McDonalds? And, for that matter, why was there so much Coca Cola in my office?
The burger in particular appears to have struck a chord with this nation of food lovers: “Protein between two slices of bread – the French love it,” said Bernard Boutboul, head of Gira Conseil. “The explosion of burgers is coming from restaurants. It’s affordable and chefs want to show they can make a quality burger.”
I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by these reports – after all, our friends across the Channel have a reputation for their fine bread and cheese, and steak haché is a familiar sight on restaurant menus. What’s more, I’d seen the signs for myself: just around the corner from my workplace on Rue du Faubourg Poissonnière, the original Big Fernand ‘atelier du hamburgé’ (burger workshop) was the most popular lunchtime destination on the block. Having opened in January 2012, it was relatively new at that time, and without fail there’d be a queue snaking out of the door.
The bold Big Fernand brand has since spread throughout Paris and beyond – there are nine branches in France (six in Paris, one in Nantes, Lyon and Lille), as well as joints in Hong Kong and London. It’s a meat lovers’ haven where moustachioed men in check shirts serve up quality patties with a regional French twist – basically, they’ve put a French spin on the high-end burger trend.
This French import recently opened its doors in Fitzrovia, serving up the same hamburgés which have made such a name for themselves in France. Expect such Gallic-themed patties as Le Bartholomé on a thick beef patty (cooked to your liking) piled high with raclette cheese, smoked bacon, confit onions and barbecue sauce, and Le Victor, a veal burger topped with mild blue Fourme d’Ambert, confit onions, and a sweet house sauce. The signature fernandines (smoked paprika chips) are the perfect side.
This is hardly ‘malbouffe’, though – instead, it’s what’s known as ‘fast-food haut de gamme’ (premium fast food), which is an ever-growing part of the fast-food market. Rapidly-expanding Five Guys also falls under this category, and rumour has it that the Virginia-born chain will be opening its first branch on French soil in the capital this year.
That said, it’s not just top-of-the-range patties that have ticked the French’s fancy. It’s no secret that not-so-high-quality US giant McDonald’s has experienced fantastic commercial success in France, and its competitor, Burger King, has also begun tackling the French market with 21 openings in 2014.
Whoever said the French don’t like fast food?
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