American (Cheese) in Paris
In case you had any doubts about the colonizing reach of American food culture, rest assured that it’s alive and well. Food trucks, those nomadic quasi-restaurants that have roamed streets from Manhattan to West LA in recent years, have now arrived in Paris. A front-page article in the New York Times yesterday documented the newfound popularity of food trucks in the City of Light, which are run primarily by American chefs and serve primarily American food. As Julia Moskin wrote, “Among young Parisians, there is currently no greater praise for cuisine than ‘très Brooklyn,’ a term that signifies a particularly cool combination of informality, creativity and quality.”
Cheese takes center stage in many of the treats offered by these food trucks. Tacos and cheeseburgers are especially popular, fetching anywhere from 10 to 30 euros. A phrase on one truck, Cantine California, announces triumphantly and in English, “Real Cheese.” Cupcakes are another novelty; the same truck frosts theirs with Philadelphia brand cream cheese.
The patrons of these trucks particularly adore cheesecake—a dessert that has sometimes struck me as more French than American. When I studied abroad in Paris, a friend from Alsace informed us that he made sure to visit the Cheesecake Factory every time he came to the US. My notoriously picky 16-year-old host sister also favored cheesecake, one of the few American treats she liked (besides peanut butter and cocoa cereal).
With so much outstanding cheese available in Paris, one wonders why the French would ever stray from their beloved Brie and Camembert. Yet having spend four months in Paris myself, I can understand why expatriates would yearn for the comfort-food cheese of their homeland. My friends and I brunched several times at a diner-style restaurant in the Marais called Breakfast in America, where a shiny silver toaster sat on every table and cheesy fried egg sandwiches were the order of the day. We cooked macaroni and cheese with lardoons every time we had a dinner party. One friend missed the melting power of American cheese and was somehow able to find wrapped single slices in a grocery store. (In France, however, it’s more aptly called ‘processed cheese.’) Even with artisanal chèvre on the table every night, it’s possible to get homesick for the yellow stuff.