An American-Style Food Truck in Paris

The side of the Cantine California food truck

One thing was not like the others at the Marche Raspail on Tuesday. The Cantine California truck stood out amongst the market’s other stalls and tables. Nestled in amidst display cases of fine cheeses, baskets of freshly harvested vegetables, and tables filled with assorted necklaces and bracelets, was a big brown truck with an outline of a bear and persuasive food descriptors and buzz words written in English (fresh cut fries, organic meat). The smoke coming from the truck filled the small market with the aroma of a hot grill in action. Some stalls dealt with a customer or two, some began to pack up for the day. Yet the line to order tacos and burgers continued to grow as the lunch hour progressed.

I asked the truck’s founder, Jordan Feilders, if the line was longer than normal as a result of publicity from a New York Times article on Monday talking of American-style food trucks migrating over the Atlantic to Paris. He said yes, and the fact that the truck ran out of both chicken and forks attests to that. After I paid for my tacos de carnitas with black beans (10 euros), Feilders also said to me, “I’m surprised that so many people in Paris read The New York Times.”

Cantine California is an interesting cultural experiment. French eaters have long disdained much of what the food truck craze stands for: informality, eating with your hands, convenience. It is not fine dining. Yet here is a truck in the middle of a Paris weekday lunch hour, offering tacos and burgers with a California flavor and turning the heads of the more traditional diners sitting outside at bistros and cafes lining the boulevard around the market. At the same time, the Times article says that in Paris, “tres Brooklyn” has come to be stand for creative and cool. This is an indication that, at least among the hip crowd in Paris, the food truck trend may actually succeed and grow. Regardless of the form that a meal takes, the people will come to appreciate the substance: the meal itself at this truck is phenomenal. The meat is organic, the tortillas are fresh, the cooks work hard to prepare each order with care. This is not fast food. This is very good street food with quality ingredients prepared quickly and consumed in an informal manner, at standing cocktail tables scattered in front of the truck and next to the vegetable stall.

For the first time in my stay in Paris, when I ate in this atmosphere I didn’t feel like an outsider. I recognized the tacos on my plate and knew what to do with them. Others around me took my spot as the Other, as the Outsider: Fielders had to coach a few locals on how to properly hold a taco, how to tilt one’s head to eat it, and on the fact that a taco does not require a knife and fork. I heard a lot of English while waiting in line, but also a lot of French. I saw a few businessman types getting an order of three or four boxes of tacos, presumably to bring back to the office. Ultimately, I saw something truly innovative on the streets of the culinary capital of the world. I was a part of it, and felt at home in it. I felt like this is a tradition I can proudly claim and represent.

My tacos de carnitas

The menu

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