It’s often said that the French are formal eaters and that, until the very recent arrival of les food trucks in Paris, they had no real tradition of street food. But that would be overlooking the glorious kebab, a working-class favorite that has been sold at stands across town for decades.
The French version of this originally Turkish snack consists of a simple rolled up pita with grilled meat, lettuce, tomato, onion and a fromage blanc-based “sauce blanche.” But because the typical Parisian kebab stand is deeply unglamorous, and because the food world of today cannot let comforting classics stand without an artisanal fiddle, this town has recently seen several high-end interventions into the business of peddling grilled meat sticks.
First came Grillé , near the Palais Royal, launched by one of the partners at Le Chateaubriand and Le Dauphin. It kept things simple, with organic whole wheat pitas grilled on site, homemade green tomato and mint sauce, and meat provided by the media darling Hugo Desnoyer. (Vive la France, where butchers become celebrated public figures.)
Then came Rococo, a fancy-looking sit-down with a former Septime second behind the grill, Marcel Breuer chairs, natural wine and, among the three sandwiches on offer, a pork option—surprising, given the dish’s Islamic origins.
Now there is Zarma, just off the Place Pigalle, which has a more Turkish slant. Instead of the usual flatbreads there are rolls from an artisanal Turkish baker, and a tub of handmade Turkish delight at the counter. The place is the project of two former journalists; one, Nicolas Derrstroff, is of pied noir descent (that is, French, born in North Africa), while the other, his wife, Monia Kashmire, has Tunisian roots.
Zarma came to be after Derrstroff spent three years training at various kebab stands in sandwich-heavy cities like Istanbul and Berlin. (He also did some time at the Kebab Academy, which really is a thing, in the unremarkable Norman city of Saint Lô.)
“We wanted to make kebabs a bit less macho, and create a place where men and women could eat them together,” Kashmire says. “We didn’t want to do another hipster spot where you eat a ‘concept’ in small portions for €12 ($13).”
There are four $8 sandwiches, all grilled to order—chicken with braised fennel, lamb with eggplant and mint, beef with carrots and coriander, and halloumi cheese with baba ganoush and apricot—on spongy sandwich roll.
There’s also rose and mint water on tap, artisanal ginger ale, and—the true revelation—house-made shoestring potato chips tossed with mint, coriander, lime, hot green peppers and a dusting of za’atar, a Lebanese spice blend made by Kashmire’s mother back home in Tunisia.
“My wife has only one flaw,” Derrstroff says. “She’s addicted to these industrial chips called Fritelles. I swore I’d find a substitute.” They are mind-numbingly aromatic and crunchy. Ain’t love grand?
Alexandra Marshall is a contributing editor and the Paris correspondent at Travel & Leisure. Food, design, architecture and fashion are her specialties, which means, living in Paris, that she is very busy. Follow her on Twitter and on Instagram.