When on holiday, after days of sampling the local cuisine, it can often be tempting to relax by stepping into a recognisable fast food restaurant. After all, at least you know what you’re going to get there, right? Wrong, actually. Around the world, fast food chains are all too eager to adapt to local tastes, sometimes leaving tourists in a state of bewilderment.
Once, in a Spanish airport, I took (what I thought was) the safe option of going into Burger King. Knowing exactly what to expect I ordered a Bacon Double, only to find that the staff had inexplicably filled it full of an unpleasant beige relish. It was extremely disappointing. To avoid anyone else having to suffer such an experience, here is a guide to some unusual items that can be found in otherwise familiar fast food restaurants:
KFC | China
In KFC in America you can have mashed potato instead of chips, which must be quite difficult to eat drunkenly in the street (and that’s where most KFC is eaten). Other than that, the menu there is similar to what we’re offered here – it’s chicken. Just chicken. And if you don’t like chicken, the colonel doesn’t want to hear about it.
In China, however, the menu is far more diverse. It may be this that has lead to the brand’s popularity – KFC has over 4,000 branches and is the country’s largest restaurant chain. Don’t worry, you can buy chicken; it’s just that you can also buy rice porridge and a curry pork chop. If that’s not to your taste, how about a beef wrap? Or a shrimp burger?
These all sound rather strange to us, but it might just be that our KFCs are the weird ones – selling just one type of food, mostly in a bucket, does limit customer choice. In China, you can go to KFC several times a day and still feel like you’ve got a varied diet.
Pizza Hut | Middle East
Just like in Britain, Pizza Hut Middle East are obsessed with putting things in their crust. Apparently aware that they’re running out of new foods to put on top of their pizza, the company has started sticking a range of unexpected items inside the dough itself. Here you can have cheese, garlic sauce or, if you really want, a hot dog. In the Middle East, you can have cheeseburgers – a pizza called “Crown Crust” has a base entirely surrounded by little cheeseburgers to tear off and gobble down.
If that wasn’t strange enough, Pizza Hut Middle East also offers Kit Kat pops – little bites of Kit Kat wrapped in warm pizza dough. As anyone who’s ever put a Kit Kat in a sandwich will know, these are probably absolutely delicious and Pizza Hut should be applauded.
McDonald’s | Japan
Some years ago, I went on a school trip to Paris and discovered that they sold beer in McDonald’s. They insisted that some food was purchased at the same time but, fortunately, were prepared to compromise on an order of “four beers and one petit fries”. Needless to say, it was a fantastic evening but a thoroughly unpleasant economics conference the following day.
There’s no alcohol for sale in Japanese McDonald’s, but that doesn’t matter – most of the menu is intoxicatingly bizarre. Perhaps strangest of all is the Gracoro burger where, instead of a beef patty, they have a breadcrumb covered croquette full of shrimp, macaroni and white sauce. Of course this comes in circular form (as everything cooked in McDonald’s must), and is covered with a thin slice of rubbery orange “cheese”.
As far as I can tell, the only real problem with Japan’s Gracoro burger is the shock of seeing it on the same menu as a Big Mac. Once you’re over that, it’s pretty intriguing – I’d certainly like to try it.
Burger King | USA
American fast food menus are usually similar to ours, just bigger. They like chicken, they like beef and cheese, they like bacon. In fact, they might like bacon a little too much – not content with having it for breakfast and putting it in buns, Burger King have gone a step further and made a bacon sundae.
Heston Blumenthal created bacon and egg ice cream and was thought of as a genius; Burger King stuck a crispy rasher in their sundae and were thought of as crazy. This seems like a double standard, but is probably fair enough; rather than coming up with a Michelin-quality recipe, Burger King simply took their normal sundae – ice cream with fudge and caramel sauce – then sprinkled some bacon bits on top. It’s a little strange.
The bacon sundae was on sale during 2012 but is sadly no longer available. Luckily, the product’s design was so simple that it can be easily copied at home – all you need are defective taste buds and no interest in your cholesterol.
McDonald’s again | Philippines
As we’ve seen, McDonald’s has been getting stranger and stranger as it has moved around the world. It was a bit weird in Japan, but it’s in the Philippines that Ronald has really lost his mind. Top of the menu is McSpaghetti which, if nothing else, at least follows the company’s trend of putting “Mc” in front of everything. The pasta is served with a spicy tomato sauce and sliced hot dogs (which would probably seem like the weird bit in any other context).
McDonald’s breakfasts are sometimes considered the highlight of their menu, and the same is probably true in the Philippines. They have some familiar choices – pancakes and McMuffins, for example – but also some local favourites. One option is Longganisa, a chorizo-style sausage served with garlic rice – and a fried egg, of course, so you know it’s supposed to be breakfast.
Whichever of these unusual variants you decide to visit, make sure you have travel insurance in place.