The French Tacos
A French taco, also known as a “tacos lyonnais” (taco from Lyon), is a fast-food dish usually composed of a grilled flour tortilla folded around a filling of French fries, cheese, and meat. It is currently a real phenomenon that has become a fast-food reference in France.
But what is a French taco? Why does this dish create a worldwide controversy? And how do non-French people react to this craze?
What are French Tacos?
“Le tacos français” known by English speakers as French tacos are the brother of the Mexican taco, but revisited with a French twist. According to local urban legend, the first French tacos started in the mid-2000s in Vaulx-en-Velin (a city in the suburb of Lyon) and quickly became popular in the area.
It’s a tortilla wrap filled with a choice of meat, fries, and melting cheese sauce. Everything is carefully wrapped and grilled.
When talking about French tacos, one may eventually think of the French chain O’Tacos. Although considered a taco, this dish is closer to a San Diego-style pressed burrito.
The main ingredients of the French taco are:
- The meat (grilled chicken breast, nugget, ground beef, cordon bleu, sausage, merguez, falafel)
- The French fries by default stuffed inside the taco
- Other ingredients for the filling: this list is not exhaustive, because tacos can be composed of any food (cheese, mushrooms, grilled vegetables, egg, bacon, ham, …).
- Tortilla wrap
For the sauces, we generally find :
- Classic sauces: Ketchup or Mayonnaise
- White sauce: creamy-white cheese sauce called
- American sauce (a mixture of ketchup, mayonnaise, and mustard)
- Barbecue sauce
- Algerian sauce (made with mayonnaise, cumin, garlic, Harissa)
- Andalusian sauce (tomatoes, peppers, etc.)
- Pepper sauce
There is also a sauce supplement (mustard, Tabasco, ketchup, mayonnaise, barbecue) which means that you can add a sauce of your choice, in addition to those already present in the tacos.
The whole thing is wrapped in a flour tortilla. It is then served warm on the grill when using the Panini grill or the grill. The majority of French tacos made in France are sold as halal and therefore do not contain pork to satisfy customers of the Muslim faith.
The stores will offer you these types of tacos: 1 meat tacos (medium), 2-meat tacos (large), and 3-meat tacos (extra large). Depending on the size, the amount of meat and tortillas will vary. The 3 meat tacos will usually have an extra tortilla. Since your imagination is your only limit when making tacos, it is possible to order French tacos with multiple extras. Those with a big appetite can add, for example, bacon, turkey, Boursin (industrial French cheese), mushrooms, or sauce.
French tacos conquer the world
The French taco has started to spread all over the world and has about 250 shops in Western Europe alone. It has even managed to conquer Africa and a French territory located in the Indian Ocean, Reunion Island. O’Tacos alone has nearly 100 restaurants and plans to pass the 200 mark.
Grenoble or Lyon: where does the French taco come from?
Numerous documents state that the French taco started with a chef from a kebab shop in Vaulx-en-Velin who was not satisfied with the taste of Mexican tacos and wanted to create his own recipe: ground meat in a patty folded on itself, all topped with a sauce. It was only in 2007 that O’tacos stores were opened in Lyon.
However, both Lyon and Grenoble claim to be the home of French tacos. When investigators decided to investigate the subject, they focused on Vaulx-en-Velin. However, even if the first French tacos would not be born in this city near Lyon. The Lyon region is undoubtedly the best in this domain.
To know the true origin of this delicacy, it is necessary to go back in time. This return to the source has led to a conclusion that is now accepted by everyone: the French taco was first created around the 21st century in the French region of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes. The French taco would thus be invented by French cooks of Maghreb origin in the suburbs of Lyon.
Later, it is said that it is the restaurateur Salah Felfoul who invented it in his snack Pizza Express in Vaulx-en-Velin in 1993 by inventing the exclusive cheese sauce for tacos. On the other hand, the appearance of O’Tacos restaurants in 2007 was the initiative of Patrick Pelonero, a Grenoble inhabitant.
Others confirm that it was Mohamed Soualhi from Lyon, the founder of Tacos Avenue, who invented it in the late 2000s. It could even be that the concept of French tacos is the invention of the brothers Abdelhadi and Mohammed Moubarek who took the concept of the Mexican taco but prepared it in the traditional way of kebabs from Morocco.
But this uncertainty continues to reinforce the competition between Lyon and Grenoble, especially after the message of the mayor of Grenoble on social networks that indirectly confirms that the taco is not of Lyon origin.
It was only years later that it was proven that the first taco was born in Lyon in the early 2000s but it was in Grenoble that it developed. At that time, the taco was already, as we know, it is, at least at the base: tortilla of Mexican origin, fried vegetables, halal meat, French fries, and a cheese sauce. Today, several brands claim to be the creator of this signature, but it seems that it is finally the city of Lyon that is at its origin.
What are the main chains in France?
Since the appearance of the first French taco and its dazzling popularity, the number of restaurants has increased rapidly. Among the most famous, here are some of the chains that have been able to impose their names:
Considered the leader in this sector in France, O’Tacos was created in 2007 and currently has more than 250 restaurants in its network. Its particularity is its will to combine fast food and traditional French cuisine by bringing the French touch. The brand offers fully customizable menus.
- New School Tacos
New School Tacos was created by two restaurateurs in 2015 and currently has 8 restaurants. Apart from the very original design of its restaurants, the brand is known for its relaxation area where customers can enjoy a little sweet break. New School Tacos relies on the quality of its culinary creations and the use of advanced technologies to ensure the optimization of the kitchen.
- Le Tacos de Lyon
Launched in 1999, Le Tacos de Lyon is considered one of the pioneers of French tacos. Thanks to its years of experience, this brand has been able to meet the needs of all customers and all generations. Tacos de Lyon is a recipe that mixes traditional cuisine and fast food for a unique result.
- Chamas Tacos
With its 20 restaurants in France and Belgium, Chamas Tacos is among the heavyweights in this sector, even though it was only created in 2014. This halal fast-food chain was the brainchild of two Grenoble residents who wanted to launch something original. Its strong point is the delivery time, in less than 5 minutes. On the other hand, having tried it, it’s not the best French taco I’ve tasted.
- Kassia Food Tacos
This fast-food chain that specialized in French tacos was created in 2012. It has established a formula that governs its mode of operation: product quality, hygiene, and know-how. If you like brands that favor local products, Kassia Food Tacos is one of them. In addition to on-site sales, it also offers take-out and home delivery.
- Tacos Avenue
Since its first creation in 2007, Tacos Avenue currently has more than 20 restaurants in France, reinforced by the launch of franchises in 2014. Its signature is the art of customization. Each customer can create his or her own taco from the basic ingredients: meats, vegetables, cheeses, and sauces. Tacos Avenue focuses on quality over quantity.
- Takos King
Known for its galette, its selection of meat, and its gourmet fries, Takos King stands out for its famous sauce, the secret of which is in the store’s vault, as well as its induction cooking.
- Master Tacos
The first restaurant opened in a small town near Lyon, in Tarare in 2006. This restaurant chain now has four restaurants in the region. This is my favorite taco chain with their mini tacos called fundido. Nice point, you can play FIFA while eating your tacos inside the restaurant. Their taco sizes range from 1 to 4 in Spanish (uno, dos, tres, and cuatro). A taco cuatro is still 1 kilo (2.2 pounds) in weight!
How is the name “tacos” perceived by non-French people?
The name “French Tacos” has been the talk of the town, especially because of its origin, which has led to so much speculation. Some even say that the French are aware that their tacos have nothing to do with the Mexican taco, but that it is a marketing ploy to attract people.
In reality, many French people are now surprised when they go to a Mexican restaurant and see “small” tacos. Many French people expect to see a taco with the size and ingredients of those eaten in French fast-food restaurants.
First of all, due to a mistranslation or misunderstanding of its Mexican namesake, French tacos is always in the plural, even when there is only one, pronounced with an “S”. So the French used the Spanish word Tacos to refer to this typical dish. My opinion is that the creator of this dish did not have a clue of what exactly a taco is and went for this name because it sounded cool.
Americans approach the subject by focusing on the ingredients: a real taco can be described as a flour tortilla filled with fillings and sauce, but in the case of French tacos the fillings and size are not similar.
As its popularity grew, the dish was gradually called French Taco, to distinguish it from the original Taco. In turn, Taco is sometimes referred to in France as “Mexican Taco”. “French Tacos” and “Mexican Tacos”, it is with these two names that the French can now differentiate the two dishes.
Why do the French love French Tacos, especially young people?
Faced with the historic rise in popularity of the French taco, one might think that it will dethrone the burger and the kebab. But what is the secret of this new dish? Why are so many people even willing to wait hours for it? Why are teenagers the main customers of the brands?
The most logical explanation is that tacos cater to the needs of young people who prioritize quantity. French tacos are extremely densely filled with meat, cheese sauce, and French fries, surrounded by a burrito-like wrap. This combination seems to be the perfect menu to satisfy that hunger at a relatively low price.
It’s also perfect junk food for the hard aftermath of a night out. In terms of calories, this dish reaches 1250 calories (medium size) and up to 1800 calories (large size).
Moreover, in a country where Islam is the second religion, a product of this magnitude, which is halal is necessarily a godsend. Aware of this craze among young people, the brand owners are very active on social networks and do not hesitate to share gifts via various contests. The restaurants have a viral communication strategy with the numerous challenges they set up, the most famous is one of the O’Tacos chains.
This challenge is called the Gigatacos, a taco composed of 5 types of meat (nuggets, cordon bleu, merguez, chicken, and ground meat) of 2.5 kilos (5.5 pounds), it’s an XXL taco. If you manage to finish this taco in less than 3,5h/4h alone on the spot, the restaurant will offer you this taco worth 18 euros, good luck!
Given its ingredients, tacos are very high in calories, and young people happen to have considerable caloric needs. Even if tacos are not necessarily the ideal way to be in great shape, it must be said that it perfectly over completes the calorie needs of young people. What could be more appealing than a customized, high-calorie product that is totally at odds with the “healthy” food offered at home?
Moreover, the taste of French tacos is unique compared to other products offered in fast food. It gathers all the qualities that we look for in a dish: hot, crunchy, soft, melting, and nourishing. Its most important strength is that it remains a very convenient and affordable dish. For a menu consisting of fries and a drink, it costs 6 euros on average.
To conclude, the French taco that was first introduced in Lyon, in the early 2000s, is totally different from the Mexican taco. Obviously, some restaurants are still trying to maintain a link between Mexican tacos and French tacos. Despite the speculation surrounding this new dish, French tacos remain one of the favorite food of the French, especially the young.
This popularity can be seen in the streets with an increase in the number of restaurants in France. Its low price and the large quantity of food offered are the keys to the commercial success of this new fast food in France. Do you want to discover another “original” food? Read my article: What the Heck is a Cronut?