Saturday, October 15, 2005

American Fast Food

Yes of course they have McDonald's over here.

I'm in China and I guess I'm supposed to be experiencing the famous cuisine as often as possible, but that hasn't quite happened. Going out to eat can be a little intimidating over here, where the menus and talking to the waiters are all entirely in Chinese, I don't know all the foods on the menu, and people expect you to order at right about the time you sit down. Also I must admit, it's very easy to find a good meal for $2, but I'm having a hard time finding a great meal no matter how much I pay. So in the end I'm settling for fast food a couple times a week.

Fast food is common to Shanghai. Depending where you go - around the city center or the Xujiahui shopping area, fast food is everywhere, literally one after the other. On the other hand, the crowded residential area I live in has plenty of restaurants and stores, but only one fast food restaurant, a KFC about a 10 or 15 minute walk fom my apartment.

KFC was supposedly the first to arrive in China, and is by far the most popular fast food over here. It costs about half as much as in the US. The emphasis is on the chicken burgers rather than fried chicken, and it has some traditional Shanghai breakfast congee or something, but it's mostly the same as KFC in the US. The portions aren't always the same size though - this cup of mashed potatoes isn't much larger than a shot glass. They don't serve Diet Coke, and I've lost my taste for normal Coke, so I'm forced to drop by a convenience store beforehand - life is hard.

McDonald's is #2 in popularity, and seems to have an almost exclusively teenage following. Depending which one you go to, it can feel something like crashing the junior prom. The concept is the same but the menu is about half different from the United States - among other things they serve shrimp mcnuggets and triangular sandwiches. I don't like McDonald's and my only reason for going is that they serve poi pie. Or at least I call it that, it's really Taro pie, slightly sweet and chunky. But it still has the pleasant purple-ish grey color. A value meal costs about $2.00. Update Jan 14, 2006 - these are now available at McDonald's in Hawai'i as well.

The other big chain is Pizza Hut, which I've never gone to. It markets itself as a somewhat upscale family chain restaurant, maybe the equivalent to an Olive Garden in the US. I've heard most Shanghainese think it's Italian, and maybe to play off this, the waiters dress in clothes that I guess are supposed to be traditional Italian clothes - really billowy pseudo-silk.

There's a few other chains that have recently put up stakes in Shanghai. They only have a couple branches but I assume they're testing the waters for more expansion. Taco Bell has gone the Pizza Hut route, and is the more upscale Taco Bell Grande over here. There's only a single location, but it's right near the City Center. It's actually a decent place, and pretty much the only game in town if you want passable Mexican food. The $7 price tag for lunch keeps me from going regularly, although it's almost worth it to see the Chinese waiters wear their goofy attempts at Mexican clothes (including brim-less sombreros), and greet customers with a friendly "Hola!"

Orange Julius/Dairy Queen has a couple of chains around town. I hadn't been to Orange Julius in years and years and forgot that they're actually pretty good. On the other hand, for the same $2.50 their Julius costs, I can get a 4-course meal at a local restaurant. So I only go when I'm feeling my most Capitalist. And Burger King opened in Shanghai just recently, and has two locations that are both pretty convenient, and exactly like the US versions. It's my favorite American fast food restaurant.

One surprise is that as popular as American fast food is, there isn't really a Chinese take at it, the way France has Quik Burger, or Japan has Mos Burger. There's plenty of local Chinese-food chains, I go to the Taiwanese chain Yong He Da Wang more than any burger place. I also have favorite crack seed chains and manapua chains. But If you want hamburgers, they're pretty much only sold at McDonald's. That's probably a good thing.


A. Barrera said...

Dude, you need to turn on spam control on your blog!

Anyway, that poi pie sounds fracking tasty, mail me some =)

Jeff Rutsch said...

Deleted them, had to get around Commie censorship to log in as admin! BTW supposedly most of China can now access blogspot, although I'm still in the dark.

For those not in the know, Poi is boiled, mashed, and strained taro - have a look at the Joy of Cooking sometime.