The West

Sacrebleu, burgers on the menu
Hamburgers served from food service vans are all the rage among residents of Paris.

Frog legs and coq au vin are typical French cuisine, but they are losing ground to the current favourite among young Parisians: the American-style hamburger.

Currently, premium hamburgers served from food service vans are all the rage among residents of Paris and visitors to the city.

Long lines of mostly young people form in front of the food lorries wherever they go. People sometimes wait for up to an hour and a half for their burgers. The supply often runs out before they're all served.

It's surprising that in a country known worldwide for its sophisticated cuisine that people would show such affection for a simple hamburger, but it isn't a joke.

A few years ago fast food was an abhorrent topic in discussions about French society, but it's crept in and now Parisians are licking burger sauce from their fingers at nearly every corner of the city.

Beyond fast food chains a new trend has started to emerge: The desire for burgers with fresh, healthy and organic ingredients. Cooks working in the food lorries are taking care of this hunger by making numerous stops every week at various plazas in the French capital.

The typical customer is between 20 and 30 years old or is an expat. They are willing to pay up to three times the price of a meal at a burger chain for a meal from a food lorry, and the cooks can hardly keep up with the demand.

On a recent Tuesday afternoon more than 100 hungry people waited patiently at a little white truck at the market on Place de la Madeleine.

As the smell of sautéing onions and cooking oil wafted in the air, everyone was drooling over the same thing: a homemade burger from Kristin Frederick, founder of the Le Camion, Qui Fume, which in English means the smoking wagon.

Frederick brought the tradition of popular food service vans from California to the French metropolis, but she actually learned haute cuisine at a Paris cooking school.

She and the other cooks use fresh ingredients - tomatoes, lettuce, mushrooms, real Cheddar cheese and sliced onion. The burger is placed in a fresh bakery bun and then the other ingredients are piled high.

Hand-cut strips of potato sizzle nearby and cheesecake waits in a refrigerator for people hungry enough for dessert. The line moves at a snail's pace. The people standing in it - whether they are bankers, students or retirees - are all equal.

"A speed of 10 metres per hour is not unusual," said Guillaume Duchene, who works about nine kilometres away in the city's financial centre at La Defense. "My lunch break is tight, so I took a moped today in order to have some chance of getting back to work on time."

The burger Duchene eventually got was one of about 200 burgers sold that day. He was among the lucky ones. Just before 2pm, local time, Frederick cries "Sorry" from the hatch. The last six people in the line couldn't be served after waiting 45 minutes.

"I haven't worked a shift yet in which there were burgers left over," said Frederic Fediere, who works in the mobile eatery. It wouldn't be possible to prepare more than 200. Frederick and her colleagues are barely able to finish cutting the vegetables in the time they have.

A regular burger with fries costs euro 10 ($A11.88), which is cheaper than the cost of a hamburger in a nearby restaurant, Fediere said. Around the corner the price of a hamburger is euro 14.

Burger mania in Paris has grown through the modern means of Facebook and Twitter. Le Camion, Qui Fume uses those services every day to inform customers where in the city it will be doing business.

The message goes out to more than 8000 followers on Twitter. The rest is word of mouth.

Cantine California, another food lorry, also uses Facebook and Twitter to let its followers know where it will be serving the tacos, Californian dishes and organic meats it specialises in.

The burger business is also booming in the upscale district Saint Germain about one kilometre from Place de la Madeleine.

"Everyone loves delicious meat," said Christian Laval, manager of Ralph's, a restaurant in the Ralph Lauren store. "The Ralph's Burger is our signature dish and it distinguishes our restaurant."

The meat is exclusively from Ralph Lauren's Double RL Ranch in Colorado. The sandwich comes with ranch-style fries, pickled vegetables and garden lettuce.

The cooks at the designer store's restaurant fry up about 25,000 such hamburgers every year. They are especially popular among American expats living in Paris and tourists from the US. About half the clientele is in one or the other of those groups.

At a table in Ralph's a glass of California red wine - Twin Oak Robert Mondavi - is served with the burger, a tantalising culinary cross-section of American cuisine. On especially warm days young women like to order a glass of champagne on the rocks instead of red wine, Laval said.

"Like in a swimming pool, you know?" said Laval. The treat has a high price: euro 43 for champagne and a hamburger. With a wink Laval said the price isn't a problem for people who have money.

The West Australian

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