Taco Trucks Come to Paris

Mmm ... tacos.
Mmm … tacos.

Cantine California promotional photo

Given Paris’ very long tradition of streetside food stands, I can’t quite embrace this article hyping the arrival of food trucks on the scene as an import from the United States. But whether served from trucks or however else, Paris could certainly use more tacos:

Many Parisians have never eaten a soft taco, much less one stuffed with succulent pork carnitas and chipotles in adobo—which, along with the masa harina for the tacos, Mr. Feilders imports directly from Mexico.

There’s a great little lesson in this about the virtues of large cities and population density. Tacos are delicious. And if you’re in the right place, tacos are also cheap since the stuff they’re made out of isn’t expensive to get your hands on. But masa harina is only cheap in places where there are a lot of customers for masa harina. In a place where there are no customers for masa harina (i.e., France) it becomes very expensive since you need to import it on an inefficiently small scale. So suddenly a food combination that would be very cheap in Mexico or Texas or California becomes a premium product. At the same time, to many consumers it’s an unfamiliar product and it’s one that’s not suited to the spice-averse French palette. All of which is to say that if you’re going to introduce tacos to France you have to do it in a city that has a lot of people in it since the vast majority of French people aren’t going to want to buy your overpriced tacos. Fortunately, Paris is a very large and extremely densely populated (denser than any American municipality except for tiny, obscure Gutenberg, N.J.) city so wherever you station your truck you have an enormous potential customer base.

Then once one taco truck becomes popular, there’s the chance a second one will open. Once you have a few places selling tacos, then the supply chain for the raw materials gets more robust. People may start buying chipotles in adobo in stores. The cost of inputs falls, and the barriers to new taquerias decline. Suddenly the productivity of your whole taco sector is skyrocketing. But the whole chain can only get off the ground if you have the critical mass of people there in the first place.