Paris Tacos y Burritos

tacos

It’s kind of funny because the two times I went out with two different French friends for Mexican food this week, they practically wiped the table clean. Both said after eating, “Daveed…j’ai encore faim.” (“I’m still hungry.”)

The first time was at Cactus, where my friend (who I am pretty sure has .5% body fat) wolfed down his burrito and the aforementioned declaration of hunger, proceeded to order three additional tacos and eat them in rapid procession, then eat dessert as well – plus a handful of chocolates he had stashed in his pocket.

And the other night, when I was at the tiny counter at El Nopal by myself, eating a burrito which I kept spooning an overload of hot sauce on after long day spent tasting chocolates and pastries (hey, someone has to do it…), another voice in Paris replied to my excited tweets via Twitter, “…amazingly each (burrito) I taste in Paris gets better and better.”

The Mexican food in Paris is no longer seen – as a French friend once pointed out to me, touching his stomach and feigning being fed to an uncomfortable bursting point – “way too much.” Although I’m afraid to say it, because it might get taken away from me…it’s becoming normal.

chips & guacamole

These tacos and guacamole and chips were from lunch last week at Itacate. Like El Nopal, the food seems to be toned down in terms of spiciness for local tastes (and it was fun to sit alone at the counter and watch people in the neighborhood poke their heads in and ask “What is this cactus taste like?” (sic) and so forth, with some deciding not to stay, perhaps to hit a place with more familiar fare. But there were plenty of others coming by, enough to keep the tiny kitchen humming, and grabbing a few tacos to enjoy while perched on the edge of the Canal Saint Martin to enjoy a springtime dinner en plein air.

True, there’s a little bit of an educational curve that I guess needs to happen. At least according to Boca Mexa.

how to eat a taco

Certain foods are acceptable to eat with your hands – the end of a baguette, asparagus, a croissant, and macarons. Other foods are interdit to touch – hamburgers, (knife and fork only, please), chicken legs, bananas and raspberries, butter, and apparently, bagels. (Yes, I saw someone eating one with a knife and fork.) So Boca Mexa has devised some posters and flyers with bilingual instructions on how to attack a taco.

paris burrito burrito

I’m pretty good at it now, although I used to have some accidents back in California. Because Mexican food is a precious commodity in Paris, I eat leaning over a plate so as not to let a single grain of rice or chunk of guacamole hit the table, or my lap. (Although I don’t like to eat off either, I’d probably make an exception nowadays.)

burrito

The fellow making the food at Boca Mexa took it upon himself to explain to me what composed a burrito, and how a taco was made. Even though I wanted to go behind the counter and make one for myself, I let him explain it to me because I like the way Mexican ingredients sometimes get translated into French. And because sometimes they don’t quite translate, I find it amusing to hear the explanations and discussions that ensue.

The two keys to ordering Mexican food in Paris are these: Tell them you want it authentique. I found if I say I want it piquante, or épicé (spicy, or spicy), they still tone it down to keep things benign. Telling them you want it “authentic” means you want it the way they make it at home, either in Paris – or better yet, back home in Mexico. And always, always, always request the hottest of the hot sauces available. Hold your ground and don’t let them talk you into anything less. And get extra chiles wherever possible too, right from the start. If they try to give you a few dinky slices of them, start crying until they give you more. Desperate times call for desperate measures and although crying hasn’t worked for me at my bank or city hall, I do have better luck in restaurants and chocolate shops.

With the strong showing of Candelaria and Rice and Beans, and Chipotle now in Paris, Parisians are going have to get up to speed on how to eat Mexican food. If anyone needs a lesson, I’m happy to oblige. And surprised at their capacity, I’m going to ask my French friends to teach me how to eat more Mexican food than I currently do. Although I’ve been getting pretty good practice at that this week on my own.



For addresses, see Mexican Restaurants in Paris.

63 comments

  • LOL! I love the sign demonstrating how to eat a taco! That’s hilarious!

  • I take great pleasure in imagining Parisians learning how to carefully tear away the foil, centimeter by centimeter, from their overstuffed burritos. I still always succeed in making a giant mess by the time I get to the bottom, a knife and fork doesn’t sound so bad…

  • Elizabeth: I’ll have to admit, I was somewhat pessimistic about what kind of success these Mexican places would have. But they’re doing very good business and are usually packed at mealtimes. Plus, as mentioned, my French friends have attacked the food like there’s no tomorrow.

    !Ay, caramba!

  • David, you are the cutest! A coworker mentioned he is spending the next week in Paris with his “person.” I suggested your blog, then walked over and stood behind him to make sure he found the “My Paris” section.

    He was blown away at what great suggestions, ideas and sensibility you had. He printed a copy and will be off to Dulles Airport with it in a few hours. Thanks so much for writing such a fun read!

  • True… Authentique gets the job done in my favorite indian restaurant in Toulouse also ;-)

  • Bananas eaten with a fork? Burgers? Bagels? That’s fascinating! Love the cultural orientation sign on how to eat a taco. Keep up the good work. When you have time come check out “Five Things Never to Say to Food Editors.” I was actually kind of surprised…..

  • I would love to see someone try to eat a hamburger with a knife and fork… we have ‘burgers with the lot’ here in Sydney – and you need your hands to hold the whole thing together whilst you dislocate your jaw to make sure you get some of the pineapple, egg, patty, beetroot, cheese, lettuce, tomato.. and the rest! Maybe we should get some signs printed here too!

  • Wow, a lot of hilarious mental images are forming in my head after reading this… I’m in Austin at the moment and have been eating Mexican non-stop… it’s so interesting that Paris is open to it, given how “traditional” it tends to be…

  • I can’t imagine that it could get any better than great Mexican food in Paris!

  • David, my good friend Anissa highly recommended Cielito Lindo, another Mexican restaurant in Paris, have you ever eaten there? She was raving about the food! Here is their facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/CIELITO-LINDO-Restaurant-mexicain/184407971227

  • I love guacamole of any description, but that looks particularly good!!!

  • This is actually pretty funny because I have a friend from France living here in Los Angeles who is absolutely in LOVE with Mexican food – tacos specifically. He can’t get enough and likes the spiciest only; not to mention it must be authentic. He likes to tell the people selling them that if they brought it over to France, they’d become very popular and rich!

  • When I was in India, my cousins (all Indian) thought it would be fun to take me to a restaurant that served “American” food. The place they took me to had two main specialties: pizza and tacos. The pizza was made with paneer and mutton, and the tacos were filled with peas and okra. Suffice it to say, Paris seems to have a better grasp on Mexican food than Delhi, even if, in Delhi, Mexican food seems to considered American food.

    Bonus: The waiters at the restaurant all wore red vests with a fringe, and their belts were festooned with holsters containing toy pistols. The counter at the fake bar boasted barstools with seats shaped like saddles, and there were swinging saloon doors that led to the bathrooms.

  • I get sooo excited about Mexican food. Even when it’s bad it’s still good. When it’s good it’s simply amazing! You just can’t go wrong with it. I’m always smiling after a burrito or fajita.

    Glad to hear the Parisians are loving it. They’ve got good taste after all. Supposedly. Don’t they?! So I was told anyway.

  • Risamay: Candelaria is great, although it’s so popular that it’s hard to get in. I think they need to open a larger venue!

    Elizabeth: For a long time, that wasn’t necessarily true. But happily, things are changing..

    Estelle: Have not been there. Another one to add to my list.

    Claire: I got served a hamburger once, and it only had the top part of the bun…not the bottom! (Perhaps they heard my accent and didn’t want me to pick it up and ruin the look of the dining room?)

  • Whereas I may tire of so many “types” of cuisine if I had them everyday, Mexican cooking is just not one of them. Between the cheese, the spices, how can one go wrong!! I suppose as I at times have to import certain regional foods here in the US in order to make some of my favorite dishes, if I lived there I would have to have my own stash of dried chili’s and the like.

    What would the Parisians make of the Ethiopian restaurant that opened up nearby me? There are NO utensils at all! One MUST eat with fingers!

    (and I can’t help but be reminded of the Seinfeld episode of George eating the candy bar with a fork and knife…)

  • I’ve been having a debate with my foodie coworkers in Boston who insist that nopale (or prickly pear cactus paddles) is an extremely exotic ingredient that no one outside the southwest (and transplants like me) would ever eat. I’m going to show this post to all of them… If it’s popular in Paris, it _must_ be gastonomically acceptable, right?

    [Nopale is so good for you, too... I've read it can lower cholesterol]

  • *gastronomically*

  • Do they make crispy or soft tacos in Paris?

  • I am loving that you have written about Mexican in Paris.

    I’m studying abroad this Fall in Strasbourg and though I’m usually all about living the life of where I’m at, from food to lifestyle, Mexican food is one of those things that I love dearly.

    So thank you for this devotion to Parisian Mexican restaurants, I will be coming to Paris more than I had planned. :)

  • I had a boyfriend with Australian parents who NEVER ate anything with their hands. The first time I fed them, I served them sandwiches, and they sat there politely with their hands in their laps until I realized that they were not going to eat them unless I supplied them with silverware.

    It was fun watching them peel and cut up their fruit with a knife and fork.

  • We lived in Paris for a year, and the thing we missed most was Mexican food. Though we had a “Mexican” place nearby, it tasted nothing like what we knew (the spices were just plain weird.) First meal when we landed in Chicago was Mexican–we just couldn’t wait!

    Glad to hear the French are learning. At the time, “Tex-Mex” was the rage, but it basically meant Crapplebee’s. This is great to hear!!!

  • Funny, there’s so much Mexican food to discover here in Los Angeles, I can only imagine trying it in Paris!

    The Mexican food I learned about in the American midwest and Pacific Northwest are nothing like the various regional Mexican foods I’m learning about here in Los Angeles.

    If the Parisian Mexican food is created by Mexicans, rather than created by Americans targeting American tastes, I bet it’s really good. If it’s Taco Bell – well, Meh.

  • Oh, and my LA son, studying in London, recently cooked some chile verde for his flat-mates, and found fresh tomatillos in London!

  • haha! i love your section on ordering it ‘authentique’, it sounds like the hoops you have to jump through to get it hot in the northwest! i’m originally from the southwest and i tell you what i miss most is the authentic mexican food. i’m glad that parisians are catching on! i hope it is done right, although it would be interesting to see what kind of fusion food the french would come up with. hopefully it would be better than the bean sprout burrito with mild salsa (ie ketchup) they’ve come up with up here.

  • I’m curious about the corn tortillas in the first photo. Do you know if someone makes them in Paris or if they are shipped in? Are the owners/chefs Mexican or Parisian? To what do you attribute the rising interest in Mexican cuisine? Sorry, full of questions. But when I lived in Paris in the late 80s there was just one sad Tex-Mex restaurant that didn’t know the meaning of “authentique.”

    Also, love the sign!

  • When I lived in Paris I got a kick out of watching the French eat chickent legs, hamburgers and French fries with a fork — but asparagus with your fingers? I swear they’re just putting us on!

  • Why do I get the feeling that Parisians are a bit backward when it comes to other cultures?
    Its seems like your implying that with all the comments about them not knowing how to eat Mexican food?

  • g: When I was at El Nopal, they have tomatillo salsa. So of course, I asked where they got the tomatillos. They said they were tinned, with a bit of regret. I’ve considered bringing some fresh ones back from the states and making a batch of salsa myself. But maybe some enterprising farmer will plant a few rows to supply this new crop of Mexican restaurants – and me.

    Gilda: At El Nopal, they make their own on the counter, using a small rolling machine. Am not sure where the other places get them, though. Some of the Arab markets carry corn tortillas (which aren’t very good), but perhaps there’s a market for fresh, hand-made corn tortillas – those thick, irregular ones – in the future.

    Anna & La Rêveuse: Since there really hasn’t been a geographic or cultural connection to Mexico, France has remained at a distance from the great food of Mexico. Plus the complexity of spices and flavors isn’t necessarily in sync with local tastes.

    However over the past few years, I’ve noticed a big opening up in terms of both trying new things, and keeping things more authentique, rather than adapting foreign dishes to Parisian tastes – Canned corn on pizza, rice (and canned corn) on salade Niçoise, butter in paella, and other things (kind of like the way croissants have been split open and turned into vehicles for sandwiches in the United States). It’s been an interesting development and perhaps the popularity of the internet and such, has helped to open more windows to other cultures.

  • I’m pretty sure that it is prickly pear grows wild here in southern Spain but I didn’t realise that the paddles were edible. I’m also pretty sure I’ve seen nopales in tins..
    No Mexican food around here unless I cook it, but then the spanish don’t usually go for spicy foods. They love Chinese food though, so much that I think the Chinese are taking over!

  • I always tell my students during orientation week that by the time their study abroad semester is over, they will kill for a burrito or perhaps even tear up at the first sight of Chipotle when they land back in the US. They always laugh at me. And then, two months later, they slowly come into my office to confess that they haven’t had just one dream about Taco Bell, but many.

    Sadly, we have a dearth of Mexican opportunities in Brussels. The only option is ChiChi’s (ouch.). The only decent place is a 30-minute commute over to Leuven for a restaurant that is happily owned by Spaniards. But what I can’t get over is the insane price of Mexican food here. 16 euros -minimum- for a burrito?! That’s just criminal! I hope the prices aren’t that insane in Paris, but I’m glad to hear that there’s a burgeoning burrito scene there. It sort of makes the hour train ride down tempting…like, right now.

  • Actually one of my favorite Mexican restaurants is right of off Bd. St. Germain in Paris called Fajitas. I was surprised how wonderful the food was and some of the best margaritas to be had.

  • I don’t recall there being any good Mexican restaurants in Paris when I lived there 20 years ago, so I’m glad to hear things have changed. Here in the NY metro area, I have to say that Mexican food is pedestrian at best, and I haven’t really found any that’s worth the time it takes to get there (if you have any good suggestions, I’d love to hear them). Out in CA, though, that’s another story altogether. They’ve got the real stuff there, and it’s *fantastic*.

  • Oh goodness, I think it looks yummy! At least they don’t have the context of those ridiculous supermarket “taco kits” like we do here in the States…

    The only thing authentic about hard, U-shaped shells and packets of seasoning mix is the “authentic” desire to pitch it all in the trash… blegh!

  • This the first I have heard of Mexican food in Paris. I will be in your great city at the end of May. However, I am already dreaming about the croissants, the cheese, the bread, and so much more. With that said, I won’t rule out a really, really good burrito! I will let you know my exact dates and hopefully we can re-connect!

  • This is wonderful news that Mexican food is becoming widely available, even in the capital of haute cuisine! I love the instructions for how to eat a taco. Mexicans would find it laughable, but then, they wouldn’t necessarily know how to eat coq au vin, unless they could put it in a tortilla and cover it with salsa — which doesn’t sound like a bad idea.

    Kathleen

  • When I saw the title of this post, I seriously did chuckle because Paris and Mexican food seem so in-congruent but the food sure looks good and why not? The sign is nothing short of adorable though I have to chuckle that it’s not also in Spanish!

    Chipotle? REALLY? They started in Denver and I can recall driving to their ‘only’ location years ago and now…the boys have done good! I like their attention to fresh and locally sourced products and it will be interesting to see if one of their burritos are enough for your friends; I find it enough for two meals.

  • I had a friend who lived in Paris for years, and whenever she came home we’d hit Mexican restaurants immediately. She found one place with tacos and burritos, which always had a line, but after waiting one time and getting a taco with Brie for the cheese, she gave up. Moving back here, she said at least she’d get real Mexican. I’m forwarding this to her.

  • I am afflicted with a disease: I must try every Mexican restaurant I encounter on my travels. Even though I’ve had some horrendous “Mexican” meals (Eindhoven, Tel Aviv, Rome, Barcelona, Nepal, Sydney…), it’s worth it when I come across the true gems (Hong Kong, Tokyo).

    When I lived in Japan. I set a (stupid) goal to eat in every Mexican restaurant in the country. At 23 places, I still did not make it through all of them, and they ranged from complete disasters (one place charged about $3 per nacho, and several others were unrecognizable as Mexican) to among the best I’ve had anywhere. The Mexican chef at my favorite was once caught at the airport coming back from a visit home with two suitcases full of smuggled fresh chiles. The place made the best chicken mole (black) I’ve had anywhere on the planet.

  • Oooohhh! That’s how I felt after eating Korean in Paris, somewhere in the 15th with two Korean friends. The portions were so daintily portioned that I’m still trying to figure out how they managed to plate such tiny amounts of kimchi! It tasted pretty good, but definitely didn’t feel Korean.

  • David,

    Today I made your German Choc. Cake recipe, but I shrunk it and made Mini-German Chocolate Cakes, for Easter! Thanks for your great recipe! I bake your recipes more than any other chef/cookbook/ magazine because the always come out perfect.

    You can see them on my blog. I hope you approve :)

    -Jordan

  • When I lived in Paris many moons ago, I remember making guacamole (I found corn chips somewhere) and margaritas for French friends. They were AMAZED.

  • Issues with heat aside, I am definitely jealous of those little tacos with the nopalitos that are so good. I live in the desert southwest and they are not a common item on menus here of all places, unfortunately.

  • Wow, Mexican food. That hasn’t actually made it to Mongolia yet. I’m envious. And avacados are $20 each, so I don’t picture myself eating guacamole any time soon!

  • I just made a note to myself to eat mexican food this coming winter that I am in Paris. I actually saw one in R Mouffetard but don’t know if it’s any good. Thank you for the recommendations!

  • I love how your blog always reminds me of what it’s like to miss the things you grew up with. When I was in Paris, I fell in love with the baked goods and desserts, people (gasp!) and art and could have lived there just for that… what stopped me from flying over immediately was realizing how much I depend on non-French foods like Mexican food. Well, now they seem to have solved that! So here I come!

  • PERFECT article for passover (g)

  • I’m glad to know that if we were to come to Paris with our 3 kids, they’ll have some place that they already love to eat. My children love Chipotle, and (they and their father) eat at it at at least once a week. I’m sick of it myself!
    And that is why we won’t be making any trips to paris any time soon!

  • When I lived in Europe, many years ago, there was no Mexican food in Paris and a sorry Mexican restaurant in London. We would go to London to get our Mexican food fix. The best way to get the really hot salsas is to ask for the employee sauce (provided there are Mexicans working there). I’m glad you are not having to go through withdrawl from your “addiction”. Buen Provecho.

  • I would have literally KILLED for good Mexican while living in France (’03-’07) and visiting Paris every month. I literally made a bee line for the first Mexican food restaurant I could get my hands on whenever I went back home to the Bay Area for a visit! Now that I am back in the U.S. and do annual trip (or trips) to Paris, I can’t justify taking one of my precious meals at a Mexican restaurant, but when I move back to France/Paris in the future I am bookmarking this blog post as a reminder!

  • Thank you so much for posting advice about coffee and Mexican food. I’m moving for grad school, and I know a decent cup of coffee and a burrito will be a nice change every so often and make me feel much more a la maison.

  • Hilarious! The last time that I was at Cactus (which I’m not wild about – they don’t get the concept of being able to put anything you want on your burrito – why does it have to be beans OR grilled peppers & onions?) I listened with much bemusement hearing the staff explaining to the Frenchies how to eat their burritos. I love the idea of written instructions too, hahaha!

    As for tomatillos, I regularly tote them across the Atlantic, always praying that it won’t be the day that those douaniers decide to get off their coffee breaks and actually check my suitcases. I would love to be that enterprising farmer who decides to grow them here…too bad I live in a Parisian apartment!

    And yay for Chipotle’s arrival…this is the news of the year!!! Any idea when exactly they will be opening?

  • A Californian friend of mine told me about Candelaria, haven’t been there yet. Rice and Beans was fun, although I’ve only been there once.

    CHIPOTLE, really? What’s your source? I had a case (14 bottles) of Chipotle tabasco sauce imported a few months ago and we’re almost out. I love that stuff. I found chipotlefan.com and have used its recipes to introduce my French relations to “American” mexican food. Although I still get the occasional “Comme même” when I say “C’est un peu piquant mais pas trop…”

    I’ve planted sweet corn and Poblano, Jalapeno and a few others in the garden this year in hops of having a spicy late summer.

    Thanks for the posts, I just found your blog while looking for a kosher dill recipe. Gotta wait for the cukes to grow for that one, though.

  • So exciting to read about your Mexican Food adventures in Paris….. too funny how people are so against eating with their hands. Doesn’t it make it a more complete experience? A few weeks ago the Sushi Chef at the Westin in Whistler told me to eat my sushi with my hand and to just use a “little” soy….. Food perceptions!

  • Making some mental notes for the day we get to Paris and I get the urge for Mexican food. I hope the French continue to embrace Mexican cooking; tacos and burritos are just the beginning.

  • When I lived in Paris in the early ’90′s I took French and Brazilian friends to a Tex-Mex place in the 5th, can’t remember the name. But, they said the same thing….they were still hungry and next time they were going to order the T-Bone Steak.

  • That’s the way I eat my sushi, with hand and just a bit of low sodium shoyu. Dunno why it tastes better that way. Besides I’m less likely to drop the darn thing!

  • You forgot to mention eating Indian Nan with a fork and knife too!
    I grew Tomatillas (4 plants) on my balcony two years ago but only got enough to make about a batch and a half of salsa. I keep meaning to arrange for my in-laws to plant them in their garden in the countryside where there there would be room for a lot more, but so far I haven’t gotten around to remembering to do it early enough in the season. Will have to remember it next year.

  • I am currently living in Bordeaux, France. Being an American, I find myself identifying with everything you say in The Sweet Life in Paris. My friends and I laugh out loud because we too will change out of our ‘Sunday worst’ (aka yoga pants and a sweatshirt) just to take out the garbage. I wish so badly that we could come to your book signing in Paris, sadly, I have to work this weekend. But that is not why I’m writing this. I am writing because we have been CRAVING mexican food. I long for a burrito and chips and salsa. We have yet to find any mexican food in Bordeaux that will satisfy our cravings. So for now, I have to live vicariously though you!

  • i like Taco Bell I live in SFA and Mexican isn’t very good, cuba isn’t either

  • Your post made me laugh. We had a French exchange student stay with us for a month last summer and took her to a BBQ/potluck. She must have eaten an entire taco salad someone brought. We couldn’t ask her what she wanted for supper the rest of her stay, because it was always “Taco Salad”. She was so excited to take the recipe to her family in France!

  • I always make tex-mex food for French visitors here in Virginia – I can’t say it’s authentic Mexican, especially as there are plenty of different regional cusines in Mexico anyway: it’s a BIG country. But friends & family alike always appreciate the food. I taught my sister how to make tortillas.

    David, you said there was no cultural connections between France and Mexico. Not totally true. There was a brief French Intervention in the 1860s’ (lasted 5 years or so) when the French helped establish the Second Mexican Empire. Did not last, but you can see the French influence in a few Mexican dishes – meringue & custards and the like. Did not flow the other way though…