The Other Fast Food: Kebabs

Doner Kebab

Typical Doner Kebab (Wikimedia Commons)

Before fast food, there was street food.

One of the most prolific street food items throughout the Middle East is the kebab, a flatbread sandwich filled with meat sliced from a rotating spit. If you’ve been to Europe since 1990 (and perhaps found yourself out at a late hour with one too many drinks in your system) you are probably familiar with the kebab, sold from tiny shops stuck in between electronics stores and Laundromats, displaying that golden tower of slowly rotating mystery meat prominently in the front window.

I have grown to love the Parisian Kebab, the majority of which are Turkish and come with a generous pile of frites stuffed into the center and smothered in a mayonnaise-based white sauce, modifications that have acted as a sort of “hybridization” to appeal to French customers. Like pizza and now the hamburger, kebabs have grown in popularity and shops have grown in number as globalization intensifies the flow of cultures, people, and objects throughout the world. But unlike pizza or hamburgers, both of which have Continue reading

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The Angry French Farmer, a National Legacy

Protesting may well be France’s national sport. And of the many groups who excel (daily) in this endeavor, French farmers may just be the best.

Over the past few days, French farmers have taken to dumping tons of produce and piles of manure outside of government buildings and in public squares in protest of the Russian embargo on Western imports and economic downturn in the agricultural sector as a whole. This kind of agricultural protest is not new; the French Revolution itself was fueled by farmers fed up with high taxes and terrible living conditions. In fact, the French farmer protest seems to be a relative constant throughout history, which is not surprising considering Continue reading

Restaurant Wars: France vs. the World

Croque Madame, Le Nemrod, Paris - French Dining

Croque Madame – Le Nemrod, Paris

France is in the midst of a modern-day culinary revolution.

From 1960 to 2008, 160,000 French cafés went out of business. McDonald’s and other fast food restaurants are growing in popularity, while traditional restaurants are falling amidst claims of poor quality and staggering prices. So what’s happening to the French restaurant as we knew it, and what does its future look like?

The restaurant as a modern institution can be traced back to post-revolutionary France. Cooks and guildsmen formerly employed by the French monarchy found themselves in need of a new occupation. They began cultivating a dining experience that served the civilian population with the same finery and sophistication previously exclusive to aristocrats, an appropriate response to the revolutionary creed of the time. Restaurant dining became a statement of democratic freedom from an unjust monarchy, a demonstration of equality and fallen feudal barriers. From these deeply political beginnings, it is not surprising that the restaurant, in France and around the world, has persevered as an institution that seeks to convey a certain image – one of prestige, luxury, and social collaboration. However, a new kind of restaurant has developed in the modern world: “fast food” provides us with consistent, cheap food served quickly and oftentimes taken to go.

This shift in the nature of restaurants has affected French dining culture deeply. Once considered the gold standard of culinary experiences, French restaurants are now Continue reading