McKosher: McDonald’s in Israel

Kosher McDonalds Sign
Kosher McDonald's Sign
There was an obvious question about Israeli McDonald’s I had before I entered the country: were they kosher? I had read that there were non-kosher McDonald’s Israel. In fact, the Internet told me, most of the McDonald’s in Israel were non-kosher. During my entire time in Israel I did not see a single non-kosher McDonald’s. Part of this might be due to where I’ve seen them: in a mall in Eilat, in a mall in Beer Sheva, at the bus station in Beer Sheeva, in Jerusalem, at the Ramat Aviv Mall in Tel Aviv, on the beach in Tel Aviv and the Ben Gurion Airport. All of these have been kosher McDonald’s. It could be that I just saw the ones in popular locations and those happen to be kosher. That’s just fine, because for the purposes of this article, I’m just going to focus on the kosher ones because they are the most interesting.

McDonald’s in Israel, especially the kosher ones, are some of the most unique in the world. For starters they are the only McDonald’s in the world (other than Argentina) that cooks their burgers over charcoal instead of frying them. I have no idea why they are allowed to do this, but as far as I know, there are no dietary laws that would prevent frying. The signage and branding of McDonald’s in Israel is different than the rest of the world. Some of the kosher stores are allowed to use a blue background instead of a red one. They don’t serve cheese in the kosher McDonald’s and don’t even serve ice cream in the same area. They have a small door which separates the dairy from non-dairy sides of the restaurant. In the Ramat Aviv mall, I noticed that the girl working the ice cream machine was Muslim.

Unlike McDonald’s I’ve seen everywhere else in the world, the menus were not in English. Usually they are in both English and whatever the local language is, but in Israel they were only in Hebrew. I had no clue what was on the menu until I saw the McDonald’s at the airport where it was in English as well. They have a McKebob sandwich which looks very similar to the McArabia I saw in the rest of the Middle East. It was a regular hamburger bun wrapped in flatbread.

McDonalds Sign in Eliat
McDonald's Sign in Eliat

I had the opportunity to be in Israel during Passover and was able to observe some of what observant Jews go through to keep kosher for Passover. I’m a gentile from the Midwestern United States. My knowledge of kosher laws consists of “don’t eat pork”. I knew there was a special kosher for Passover, but I had no idea what it was. It was just another symbol you’d sometimes see on food packages. I also didn’t know much about Halal dietary rules in Muslim countries before I arrived in the Middle East. I made it my mission to find out what all these rules were about.

I should make it perfectly clear up front that I’m not a student of Jewish or Muslim dietary laws. I think I’ve managed to figure out the gist of it, but I’m sure there are some details that I might miss or get wrong. If that is the case, please feel free to correct me in the comments.

So pork isn’t kosher. I knew that, but I didn’t know why. According to Jewish law, an animal (not including birds or fish) is only kosher if it a) has a cloven hoof, and b) chews the cud. Pigs are eliminated on the basis that they do not chew the cud. However, there are a host of animals which also fall under this umbrella that I never thought about. Horses aren’t kosher because they don’t have cloven hooves. Rabbits aren’t kosher either. Basically the only mammals which are kosher are cows, goats, sheep and deer. I also read that a group of rabbis also declared that giraffes are kosher, not that anyone is going to be eating them anytime soon. Bison are also kosher by the same rules.

All reptiles and amphibians are not be considered kosher, so no frog legs. Also, with the minor exception of a particular species of locust, insects are not kosher, so escargot is off the menu. Fish is OK so long as it has fins and scales. This means clams, oysters, shrimp, octopus, squid, and every other good thing you can get at a sushi restaurant is right out. There is also some debate as to the kosherness of catfish, because they don’t have scales. Birds are all right so long as they are not predators. Chicken, duck, goose and turkey is acceptable but if you want to grill an eagle for the 4th of July, forget about it.

This house is a chometz free zone
This house is a chometz free zone

Outside of meat, the other big kosher no-no is mixing dairy and meat in the same meal. That means no cheeseburgers, no chedarwurst, no milk with dinner, and no ice cream for desert. There is some debate as to how long you have to wait until you can eat dairy products. I’ve read between 1 and 6 hours depending on how strict you want to be. That is why they keep the ice cream machine in separate area at McDonald’s.

If a utensil comes in contact with something non-kosher, it is considered unclean and makes anything it comes in contact with non-kosher. This can set off a whole chain of events rendering food which is normally kosher to be non-kosher. The solution is to have a kosher kitchen, so you have a self contained area where everything non-kosher is kept out. There is much more to being kosher than what I’ve outlined including removing all blood from meat, the condition and health of the animal at slaughter, and the method of slaughter. However, I think those are the major parts of keeping kosher.

Kosher for Passover basically involved avoiding leaven bread. That sounds simple, but in addition to not eating it during Passover, you can’t possess it. You can’t have any crumbs in your house, so you have to really clean everything before passover starts. Many restaurants and Israeli institutions like prisons and universities give power of attorney to a rabbi for all their leaven bread (called chometz) who then sells it to a Muslim Arab for the duration of Passover.

This means that every bakery and pizza parlor pretty much shuts down for the 9 days of Passover in Orthodox neighborhoods. McDonald’s that I saw did not keep kosher for passover and sold hamburgers with buns. Burger King, however, is very kosher and was certified kosher for Passover. Their menu was very limited selling only fries, salads, chicken wings and hamburger patties without buns.

Muslim halal rules are much simpler than kosher laws. Pork is excluded by name in the Koran, so most non-kosher meats could be considered Halal. The biggest part of halal is the method of slaughter, which requires the animal to be killed by slitting the throat with a sharp knife while saying a prayer. For the most part (depending on which Muslim scholar you listen to) kosher food would also be halal, but the opposite is not true. The biggest example of this would be camels. Many Arab countries will occasionally eat camels, but they they are strictly non-kosher because of the hoof/cud requirements.

So if you are ever in the Middle East and go past a McDonald’s give a few seconds of thought to what goes into making it kosher/halal. Keeping a kosher ain’t easy.

McArabia: McDonald’s in the Arab World

McDonalds in Muscat, Oman

Since I last wrote about McDonald’s when I was in Dubai, I’ve been in Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Egypt and Jordan. As all of the McDonald’s in the Arabian Peninsula are owned by the same company, there isn’t a whole lot to add to what I had to say about McDonald’s in Dubai. I managed to have at least something at a McDonald’s in every country except Qatar. I saw a McDonald’s sign from the window of my taxi, but never found one when I was walking around. Oddly enough, I did manage to eat at a Hardee’s in Qatar, which I thought was really bizarre. It appears that the only place in the world that has Hardee’s outside of the Midwest United States are the Gulf States.

What I want to focus on is McDonald’s Egypt, which was slightly different in substance than what I saw in the Gulf, and very different in the role it served in society. The Gulf states are all rather rich, and even Jordan is not too bad off considering it isn’t an oil producing nation. Egypt is much larger, much more crowded, and much poorer than the other Arab countries I visited. Also, in all of the above countries I listed, I ate maybe one or two meals at McDonald’s, and even then I only did it for the purpose of writing this article (the things I go through for my readers…) In Kuwait, I only got an ice cream cone and just went in to check out the menu.

McArabia Sandwich: Burger + flatbread

In Egypt, I ended up going to McDonald’s more than I have in any other country, and it had nothing to do with food. I would go every day depending what city I was in for one simple reason: McDonald’s had free wifi.

As is usually the case with my McDonald’s articles, I really don’t want to talk about McDonald’s or for that matter Egypt. I want to talk about something bigger. I need to back up as I often do in these articles and address the complaint that I always get. Some people will turn their nose up and say how they would never eat at a McDonald’s when traveling because they want a real cultural experience, and they wouldn’t want to eat garbage food, if you are going to a foreign country they’d want to experience local cuisine. While I understand where they are coming from, their view of fast food restaurants like McDonald’s is a very western view and they are projecting their view of these restaurants on to the places they visit. It might be completely reasonable if you are a westerner visiting, but it isn’t the whole story.

If someone were to make the claim that fast food was the bottom of the barrel of dining in a western country, I don’t think I’d argue with them. Fast food isn’t supposed to be high cuisine. It is supposed to very utilitarian. You get in, you get food, you get out. It is cheap and fast. Much of the fast food experience is totally lost on most westerners, however. The fact that every Big Mac is identical, is by design. Creating a consistent experience means that you know what you are getting, for better or worse, when you go to a chain restaurant.

Qatar has a Hardees. Dont ask me why.

In a world were every restaurant has clean toilets and sanitary kitchen, that might not be a big deal. In many countries I’ve visited, restaurants like McDonald’s are the high end dining option. The average person might never afford to eat at the nice restaurant at the hotel for foreigners, but they might be able to take the kids to McDonald’s once or twice a year for a birthday party and get some free toys in a Happy Meal. (and the birthday parties seem to be a much bigger deal than they are in the US) It isn’t an option for dining that you exercise every day or even every week. The role of the fast food restaurant is sort of turned on its head in a world where you don’t have many restaurants at all.

When the first McDonald’s opened up in the Soviet Union, they had lines around the block. Families would get dressed up and spend a week’s or more income to have a meal that people in the west would turn their noses up at. Part of it was certainly the taboo of eating food from the west, but another part of it was having something of consistent quality, in a clean environment.

When I was in Phnom Penh Cambodia, I visited the KFC. As far as I knew, it was the only western fast food restaurant in the entire country (another KFC was being built in Sieam Reap, but wasn’t open yet). I was struck by something: all the kids who worked there seemed very bright, had nice clothes and spoke English exceptionally well. These were the smart kids and probably children of the Cambodian elite. Asking “do you want fries with that” is actually a pretty good job when there aren’t many other options. Where as most kids in the west would consider working at McDonald’s a crummy job, in Cambodia it was the job for the best and the brightest.

McDonalds in Cairo

Which brings me back to Egypt. While Egypt is not as destitute as Cambodia, it isn’t as rich as Kuwait either. There are plenty of restaurants all over the place where you can eat that are perfectly fine. In fact I came to really like many Egyptian dishes like Foul (or fool depending on the spelling). McDonald’s is neither the best nor the worst option in Egypt. McDonald’s niche in Egypt dining ecosystem seemed to be a hangout for high school kids and young adults. Something which I also saw when I was in Taiwan. It was a place to study and a place you could bring a computer (usually cheap netbooks) to surf with your friends.

Every McDonald’s in Egypt ran McDonald’s radio. It was their own station which was a mix of western and Arab music. Most of the McDonald’s I visited were in tourists areas (because I’m a tourist) and it just added to the “western” vibe you’d get if you were an Egyptian youth.

What is the lesson can we take from this? McDonald’s and other fast food restaurants are a constant like the speed of light. They have a certain consistency which exists no matter where they are. How they fit into a particular country is a function of the development level of the country in question. The richer the country, the lower they are looked upon as a food option. The poorer the country, the more respectable dining option is it. I realize this isn’t quite as simple as sneering at every McDonald’s, but reality is never cut and dry.

McEmirate’s: McDonald’s in Dubai

McDonalds in Dubai
McDonald's in Dubai

It has been awhile since I have been able to talk about McDonald’s. There were none in Cambodia, Vietnam or Laos (although there were KFC’s in Vietnam and Cambodia). Dubai, however, has everything manner of fast food you can think of. In addition to McDonald’s I’ve seen KFC, Pizza Hut, Burger King and the oh so rare Taco Bell.

The McDonald’s here has a few things on the menu I haven’t seen elsewhere. They have the McArabia sandwich, which appears to be a normal beef or chicken patty with flat bread instead of a bun. They also sell chicken strips which are something like you’d see at a Long John Silvers. Just fillets of chicken, no bones, no sandwich.

Technically, Burger Emir or Burger Sultan would be more appropriate.
Technically, Burger Emir or Burger Sultan would be more appropriate.

As in Malaysia, hamburgers are not called hamburgers, so there is no confusion about there being pork in the meat. In many countries, the nutritional brochure you can get in the store will point out how the food is locally produced. Beef in Australia, fish in Japan, etc. As there isn’t a lot of ranching or farming in the Arabian peninsula, there isn’t much to showcase for local production. They do hint at some regional production of dairy products, but they don’t say where it is from.

Since I’ve been in Dubai I’ve visited the Mall of Dubai (which still seems to be under construction) and the Mall of the Emirates. Both are megamalls with ridiculous attractions like the indoor ski slope in the Emirates mall and a giant aquarium and skating rink in the Mall of Dubai.

I’ve noticed something in the malls here which I first noticed in Singapore about 10 years ago. The food courts are the mirror image of food courts you will find the US. In your typical US mall you will have some sort of ethnic food, usually Chinese, and a bunch of different western options: baked potato, pizza, sub sandwiches, tacos, etc. The food courts in Asia are the opposite. In Singapore you would find every sort of subdivision of Asian food: South Indian, Japanese noodle, Chinese seafood, Indian hot pot, Thai….and then you will find the generic western food stall. Usually something like a McDonald’s.

Kebobs are popular in New Zealand and Australia, but really popular in the Middle East
Kebobs are popular in New Zealand and Australia, but really popular in the Middle East

In Dubai, you see a lot of different Middle East or Mediterranean food stalls. In the Mall of Dubai I saw Iranian, 2 or 3 Lebanese booths, and Greek in addition to Indian, Thai, Chinese…and then the obligatory western fast food.

Many people flip out with the idea of western restaurants in non-western countries. They lament “globalism”, which is usually defined as elements of western culture in non-western countries. Whereas non-western cultural elements in western countries is considered “diversity”. It isn’t quite that simple.

Just because you have McDonald’s and Starbucks doesn’t mean a country’s culture has been destroyed, any more than Chinese restaurants destroy American culture. (and it should be noted that there are more Chinese restaurants in the US than there are McDonald’s, Wendys, KFC and Burger King COMBINED). You can add elements from another culture and still keep what is essential to your own.

I think the food court phenomenon is evidence of this. You can take something like a mall or a food court and put a local twist on it to make it your own. Dubai is a very modern city, but there is no doubt that you are in the Middle East.

McThailand (aka would the Hamburgler survive in a Thai prison?)

Ronald in a namaste pose
Ronald in a namaste pose
Like a train wreck you know you shouldn’t look at, yet you dare not turn away, I bring you the next installment of McDonald’s Around The World. Today we visit the land of one of the most popular cuisines in the world: Thailand. What better way to avoid the subject of real Thai food than talking about McDonald’s?

Of all the countries I’ve visited so far, Thailand probably has the most unique McDonald’s menu of all. None of the menu seems particularly Thai, however. Let me list off some of what makes Thailand McDonald’s different:

  • Spinach Pie. I can’t say I’ve seen a lot of spinach in Thailand so i don’t know why spinach pie made the menu cut. Nonetheless, it’s there. I think it is supposed to be a desert.
  • Corn Pie and Pineapple Pie. I’ve found corn is some weird places in Asia. I went to a KFC where they had corn sundaes. (yes, corn and ice cream). The pineapple pie really doesn’t surprise me, but the corn pie was kind of out from left field. They also had a taro pie as I’ve seen all over Asia and in the Pacific.
  • McDonalds sign in Thai
    McDonald's sign in Thai
  • Samurai Pork Burger. This certainly wasn’t going to show itself in Malaysia or Indonesia. The pork burger isn’t anything fancy like a McRib. It is just a pork patty on a hamburger bun. They also have a double pork burger which, as far as I can tell, is basically a pork version of the Big Mac. Given how popular pork is in Asian cooking, I’m amazed I haven’t come across the pork burger sooner. I did give it a try and it was fine. Why it is called the “samurai” pork burger is beyond me.
  • Chicken Wings. Like most every other Asian McDonald’s, chicken is a staple of the menu. They had plain fried chicken, chicken wings, chicken strips, and a lemon chicken wrap. This is in addition to the chicken sandwiches.
  • Cheese Fries. I’ve seen them elsewhere, but it sticks out only because of how non-Thai cheese is.
  • Fish Burger with Salmon Sauce. A Filet-O-Fish that looks more crunchy than a normal one with some special sauce. I didn’t have one, but it looked good.

McDonalds Menu Thailand
McDonald's Menu Thailand
One thing absent on the menu is any sort of quarter pound patty.

If you think of Thai food, the first thing which probably comes to mind is spices. Thai food (usually) is spicy. One thing which I’ve noticed in Thailand and in Indonesia is the use of chili sauce as a condiment. The sauce is really nothing more than a spicy ketchup, but it is always served alongside ketchup everywhere. (Ketchup is usually called tomato sauce. This was also the case in Australia. If anyone from a “tomato sauce” country comes to the US, please note that tomato sauce is totally different.)

McDonald’s Malaysia: Golden Arches Over The South China Sea

Ayam Goreng aka Friend Chicken
Ayam Goreng aka Friend Chicken
This post was nine months in the making. Just as Malaysia is split into two distinct parts, my visit to Malaysia was separated by over half a year. I visited Sabah and Sarawak on Borneo in January and I visited Peninsular Malaysia in August. I could have written the post back then, but I wanted to wait until I at least passed through Kuala Lumpur before I summarized the Malaysian McDonald’s experience.

The first thing you notice at a Malaysian McDonald’s is that hamburgers are called beefburgers. At first, I didn’t know why, but eventually, it dawned on me. Malaysia is a predominately Muslim country (about 60%). Hamburgers are called beefburgers so there is no ambiguity that the sandwiches are not made with pork. As the A1 commercial used to say “what is hamburger? chopped ham? no, chopped steak!” You’ll never find any pork products at all in a McDonald’s in a Muslim country because the kitchen needs to be certified Halal. Every McDonald’s I visited in Kota Kinabalu, Kuala Lumpur, or Penang had a Halal certification.

While Malaysia is mostly Muslim, it is not totally Muslim. It is a multicultural country with a very significant Chinese minority. Unfortunately, the favorite protein source of Chinese is pork (I’m currently reading a book on KFC in China. They have the demographics in there). You’d think that Chinese and Muslim dietary habits wouldn’t fit well together, but they each share a common taste for chicken. There were two unique items on the menu in Malaysia: Bubur Ayam and Ayam Goreng. Ayam, as you can probably figure out, is Malaysian for “chicken”. Ayam Goreng is just fried chicken. They offer a regular and spicy version, and the spicy version is almost orange from the spices. Bubur Ayam is chicken soup, or as they call it on the menu, chicken porridge. It really wasn’t that different from the chicken soup my grandma makes, just a tad bit spicier.

The other thing which I saw back in January was uniquely Chinese: the prosperity burger. I saw it in Hong Kong as well as Bali. It is sort of the Chinese New Year equivalent of the Shamrock Shake. I had it Bali and it was actually pretty good. It had a heavy taste of black pepper and it sort of oblong shaped, like the McRib, but because it’s Malaysia, made of beef.

Like what I saw at McDonald’s Fiji, McDonald’s Malaysia menu reflects the diversity of the country. There are just enough tweaks in the menu to make it uniquely Malaysian.

McHawker: McDonald’s in Singapore

McDonalds at the Singapore Harborfront
McDonald's at the Singapore Harborfront
Writing about McDonald’s in Singapore is a bit of a challenge. Singapore is a small country. To be honest there isn’t much about the McDonald’s here which I found all that different than in say, Australia. Almost all the McDonald’s had the McCafe attached to it, which I’ve found all over Asia/Pacific. The menu itself wasn’t very radical. You could get a cup of corn on the side and the breakfast menu had a filet-o-fish on it. I was told that some McDonald’s had (or have) a rice burger on the menu (see my Taiwan McDonald’s post) but I didn’t see it in Singapore.

There are a surprising number of McDonald’s in Singapore. Something which I found in other mostly Chinese cities (Taipei, Hong Kong) but not in the rest of Asia. In addition to McDonald’s I saw almost every other brand of fast food restaurant in Singapore: Long John Silvers, Burger King, KFC, and Pizza Hut. They even had a MOS Burger. (see my Japan post)

Hawker stands near the harbor front MRT station
Hawker stands near the harbor front MRT station
The number and variety of fast food places you’ll find in Singapore is a reflection of it being a modern and developed city. Yet, I doubt that most people come away from Singapore thinking of fast food chains when they think of Singapore food. Singapore has a LOT of places to eat. By far the most of any city I’ve been to. Moreover it isn’t just a lot of places, but an enormous variety of foods.

Most neighborhoods will have hawker stands, which are basically like mall food courts, minus the mall (and Singapore does have a lot malls). When I first visited Singapore in 1999 I suffered, for the first time in my life, from information overload. I went to a hawker stand and was confronted with so many choices that I had no idea what to pick. The average American food court will have “the chinese place”, “the italian place”, maybe “the japanese place”, with various other western chain restaurants.

Hawker stand selling economic rice...whatever that is
Hawker stand selling economic rice...whatever that is
In Singapore, you don’t just have “Chinese food” or “Indian food” (and given how big those countries are, those really are misnomers anyway. It is like saying “European Food” and lumping together French, Italian, German and Scandinavian food). Some places focus on noodle bowls, some just on chicken, some on seafood, some do Indian hot pot, some do Indian halal food, some do just certain Malay dishes. You get the idea. You can easily have over 20 booths in a hawker stand.

…and it’s all really cheap.

If you go down to the riverfront in Singapore, you’ll see just as large a diversity of food, just more upscale. North Indian cuisine, Thai, Chinese Seafood, traditional Chinese. I’ve even saw a Cuban restaurant near Chinatown.

Next to Tokyo (and probably surpassing it) Singapore is easily the best food city I’ve seen on my trip. Within a 10-15 min walk of most places, I bet you could find enough different places to eat to eat out for every meal and never have to visit the same place in a week.

If you ever find yourself in Singapore, skip the McDonald’s and head to a hawker stand.

McDonald’s Australia (or, Long Live The King)

If it looks like Burger King...
If it looks like Burger King...
I know that my McDonald’s posts are some of the most popular ones I do, but seeing how long I’ve been in Australia (waaaay longer than I ever intended), I haven’t had a whole lot to write about. Since the beginning of the year, in addition to Australia I’ve been in Brunei (no McDonald’s that I could find), Malaysia (saving that till I get to Kuala Lumpur), Indonesia, East Timor (no McDonald’s), and PNG (no arches to be found in Port Moresby). That doesn’t leave me with a whole lot of Ronald to talk about.

Nonetheless, I feel it is time. Time to talk McD’s.

The menu at the McDonald’s Australia isn’t really that special. When I first arrived in Melbourne there was a McDonald’s about half a mile away (1km) from where I was staying. The first time I went there they had something called the McOz on the menu, but it was replaced by the next time I went there. The McOz was just a regular burger with beetroot on it. It was the same as the Kiwiburger I found in New Zealand, minus the egg. (and I must say, I’ve become a convert to putting an egg on hamburger. It bothered my American sensibilities at first, but now I’ll go out of my way to have a fried egg on my burger at a restaurant.)

The McOz was replaced by the McFeast which is just a burger with lettuce, tomato, and mayo. Boring.

There is no $1 menu because nothing here costs anything close to $1. Even a simple cheeseburger is over $2, and the Australian dollar is close to parity with the American dollar. A large McFeast meal is $8.75. Sadly, McDonald’s is the cheapest meal you are going to find in Australia.

...and it tastes like Burger King...
...and it tastes like Burger King...
They have just introduces a bunch of new sandwiches in preparation for the olympics. They are the McEurope, the McAsia, the McAustralia and the McAfrica. Needless to say, as the spokesman for all of the Western Hemisphere, the Americas are pissed at their exclusion from the menu.

  • The McAsia is a chicken wrap, harkening back to the days of yore when Asians ate their foods in tortillas.
  • The McAustralia looks good, but in reality the only good parts are on the edge of the burger. If you look inside, the middle is totally dry and empty and there is nothing but a big red rock in the center.
  • The McAfrica is given to you in a box. When you open it you find it empty and the cashier can not explain where everything went. In truth, the burger has been put in a safe deposit box in Switzerland.
  • The McEurope is chicken. No joke required.

But honestly, I really don’t want to talk about McDonald’s. The whole McDonald’s around the world is great, but McDonald’s often isn’t the interesting fast food story. In Brunei for example it was the pizza. Because it was a Muslim country, they didn’t have any pork. What needs to be brought to the attention of the world in Australia is Burger King….. or, the lack thereof.

It should be BURGER KING!
It should be BURGER KING!
There is no Burger King in Australia. They have Hungry Jacks.

Hungry Jacks is to Burger King what a watch sold by a guy on a street corner is to a Rolex. A cheap imitation of the original.

I can’t tell you how disappointed I was in Australia when I saw the Hungry Jack’s sign. For a country which still has a queen which doesn’t even live in the damn country, you think they could extend the monarchy to something as important as flame broiling.

What was their beef with the King? I think they couldn’t take the idea of two monarchs ruling them from other countries.

What happened to him? Was he beheaded like Louis XVI or Charles I? I imagine there was some burger cabal of Ronald, Wendy and the usurper “Hungry Jack” who got together to plot the coup. Mean, motive and opportunity. Just follow the beef and it will lead you to the truth.

Shame on you Australia. Shame, shame on you…..

The Big Mac(Donald’s) Update

Since I last did a McDonald’s update, I’ve gained a lot of readers. For those who are new, I try to eat at a McDonald’s restaurant in every country I visit. McDonald’s in every country are just a little bit different as they adjust the menu to fit local tastes. Eating at McDonald’s is an attempt to try and see how each country is different through the lens of something which is very familiar. I do not usually go out of my way to eat fast food, but I do eat at least this one meal at each place.

My last update was in Taiwan, so I have Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong/Macau to fill everyone in on . Brunei didn’t have a McDonald’s that I could see (but they did have Pizza Hut and Jollibee’s) and I’ll wait till I pass through KL to talk about Malaysia.


You think Japan you think seafood. It should come as no surprise that Japan’s contribution to the global McDonald’s menu should come from the sea. They have given us the Fliet-o-Ebi, or the shrimp sandwich. What was interesting was that the Japanese McDonald’s all had cheaper seafood sandwiches than beef sandwiches. This is opposite (outside of Lent) as it is almost anywhere else. The filet-o-fish was the cheapest thing on the menu and the Quarter Pounder was the most expensive.

I had a helluva time finding Diet Coke in Japan and South Korea. I guess they aren’t that fat so don’t feel the need to drink diet coke that often. I’d usually get a Grape Fanta when I ate in Japan.

In the Asian McDonald’s I’ve visited (except for Hong Kong) they had a very clever system for getting rid of your garbage. Each garbage bin had a drain attached for dumping your ice and extra beverages. You were then expected to stack your cups. Also, hard plastic like forks, drink tops and straws were usually put in a separate bin. It was very efficient. Very Japanese. The drain on the garbage is one of those simple ideas that really should be adapted everywhere. It reduces the weight and potential mess of the garbage by removing the liquids from the bag. It also reduces the volume by stacking the cups. It would be very simple to implement and I think everyone would use it immediately.

South Korea

South Korea has one of the more boring menus I’ve seen so far. The only really unique thing I saw was the pumpkin pie, which sounds like something that is probably on the menu in North America in the fall, but I don’t recall ever actually seeing it.

The one thing which sets South Korean McDonald’s apart from Japan was something you could see all over the country: space. Most of the Japanese McDonald’s I saw were very crowded. Many had spaces for eating while standing up against the wall. There were very few booths or large tables. This is sort of a reflection of everything in Japan. Everything is tiny and crowded.

In South Korea, even though the country has a higher population density than Japan, you don’t see the same amount of crowding. I noticed this the moment I arrived in Busan. The apartments were bigger, almost American sized. Likewise, the McDonald’s were more roomy and less seafood oriented. Even though South Korea is heavily into pork, I didn’t see a lot of pork on the menu.

They also had corn soup on the menu, which is something I also saw in other Asian countries. I don’t get why corn is so popular. It certainly isn’t a traditional Asian food.

Hong Kong/Macau

I noticed that Hong Kong and Taipei had way more fast food restaurants than I saw anywhere in Japan and South Korea. You’d see them around in Seoul and Tokyo, but not in the same degree as in Taipei or Hong Kong. I have no clue if it is a Chinese thing.

That being said, the two places I’ve eaten the most fast food were in Taipei and Hong Kong. I think that is more a function of me staying there far longer than I had originally planned, having a screwed up sleep schedule, and McDonald’s being open 24/7. If you recall from my report on Taipei, they had great fried chicken. The Hong Kong chicken wings were also really good. Probably not very good for me, but they taste good. The only unique thing I saw was the Prosperity burger, which was available in beef and pork. I think it might have been a seasonal thing like the Shamrock Shake, but for Chinese New Year. I also saw the Prosperity Burger in Malaysian Borneo, which has a sizable Chinese population.

I plan on doing a special McDonald’s update from Bali. From what I’ve heard, the menu is very different there.

The Happy Prosperous Restaurant of the Golden Arch

Rice Burger
Rice Burger
For all the new readers, you can get the background on why I’m writing about McDonald’s here.

McDonald’s Taiwan is the first McDonald’s I’ve experienced since New Zealand to have a completely unique item on the menu: the rice burger.

The rice burger is a burger where the bun is replaced with rice and the patty is replaced with pork and there is a sweet sauce on the meat. It is basically everything you would get in a pork dish at a Chinese restaurant but in burger form.

Unlike most burgers, it didn’t come in a wrapper or a clam shell burger box. The container looked like a french fry container with a lid. The package had a baseball theme going with Chien-Ming Wang on the package. Chien-Ming Wang is the Michael Jordan of Taiwan. He is a starting pitcher for the Yankees and has won 19 games in each of the last two seasons. I went to the McDonald’s a block away from my hostel one morning when I first arrived and they had a projector set up and were showing the Yankees/Indians game live. I’ll talk more about Taiwanese baseball at a later date.

McDonalds Near My Hostel in Taipei
McDonalds Near My Hostel in Taipei
Back to the burger….

The rice bun wasn’t like a rice cake. It was moist, freshly cooked rice packed into a patty. It came wrapped in a wax paper like container. In hindsight, I think I ate it incorrectly. I think you were supposed to eat it with the paper around it. I ate it like a regular hamburger and the rice started to fall apart. I’m not sure if the rice was weirder than the pork or the sweet sauce. It was different, but it wasn’t bad. From what I understand, the rice burger got its start in Taiwan but has since spread through the rest of East Asia.

Unlike the Philippines, the rice burger was the only rice on the menu at the Taipei McDonald’s. The primary side item was french fries, but they also had a bowl of corn you could get. They also had corn soup on the menu. McDonald’s was the only place I saw corn for sale in Taiwan.

The rest of the menu was very heavy on chicken. Other than a Big Mac and a basic hamburger, there was no beef on the menu. No quarterpounder. No double cheeseburger. No McDLT. No The Big Mac, along with the basic chicken and fish sandwich, are the only items I’ve seen at every McDonald’s on my trip so far.

Crispy McChicken
Crispy McChicken
I had plain fried chicken at a McDonald’s for the first time in Taipei. It was really good. Like, unusually good. I ate chicken at McDonald’s for three days straight I liked it so much. I don’t know why it was so good, but it was.

To give you an idea of the cost of things in Taiwan, a basic Big Mac meal was NTD$99 (US$3). They did offer larger sizes for both fries and drinks, but they didn’t really publicize it. It was NDT$5 to up size either the fries or the drink. Portions were the same size as you would find in the US.

While Coke products were big on the menu, cold green tea seemed like the most popular beverage amongst locals.

I saw one Burger King in Taipei, one KFC, zero Domino’s, a few Pizza Huts and a few Subways.

I did see a bunch of Starbucks, and I saw even more Starbuck ripoffs. There were no fewer than three chains of coffee stores I saw that were ripoffs of Starbucks with very similar logos: Barista Coffee, Mr. Brown Coffee, and IS Coffee. They all had similar round logos with an image in the middle. There was also a burger chain which was probably as popular or more popular than McDonald’s called MOS Burger, but I think they are out of Japan and I’ll probably write about them more when I’m there.

Frankly, there are a LOT of food options in Taipei and western fast food is really a tiny part of the mix. The vast majority of the restaurants and food stalls are Chinese (or Taiwanese. I can’t say I’m that well versed to know the subtle differences).

I’ll be posting the story of my National Day adventure in Taipei soon, which will have more details on my local food adventures.

…I didn’t come all this way just to eat at McDonald’s :)