Chris mentioned in a comment a while back how people seem to be reassured, instead of disgusted, by the world-wide availability of reliably sub-par food from international franchises like McDonald's. It got me to thinking about times when I'd eaten fast food in other countries.
I've eaten at the following: a Kentucky Fried Chicken in Hong Kong, Yoshinoyas in Japan and Taiwan, a Burger King in the Netherlands, and McDonaldses in Japan and Italy. I like going to these places for a few reasons. First, because I like to see how the corporate marketing machine reacts to different markets. Will they bend to appeal to local tastes? Or will they sell exactly what they sell in America instead, and just bully people into coming in with a multimillion-dollar ad campaign? And second, I like to see how the locals react to these big lumps of corporate Americana (of course, the Yoshinoyas are an exception, since they originated in Japan). Is it a part of normal life? Is it a novelty? Are they eating the wacky American food for kicks? Do only media-obsessed youngsters go there, or is there a cross-section of the population inside? Well, I never actually picked up enough information to answer any of these questions, but I can tell you what I do know:
At a Japanese Yoshinoya you can get a raw egg cracked over your bowl... and the food there is much better than at Yoshinoyas here. The store, just off the Ginza district in Tokyo if I remember correctly, looked like it had existed for 60 years, easily. It had these smoke-stained walls and these scarred and time-stained wooden counters and stools. Tons of character. In case you're wondering, the egg cooks itself on your hot food, a la runny sunny-side up eggs. Lots of middle-aged men.
The Taiwanese Yoshinoya was alright. It was a strip-mall restaurant near the base of the National Palace Museum, shiny-clean and sterile. They had different dessert options than they do in the U.S., including a kind of Taiwanese soupy custard (basically egg-drop soup with all the soup replaced by egg). There were teenaged girls in the store while I was there.
The KFC was fun because it was in downtown Hong Kong and full of wage workers on their lunch breaks. I loved the working-stiff hangout-ness of it. The food was expensive and the chicken a little drier than American KFC. There were a lot of service workers, all Filipino. I am guessing that they are some of the people that keep the other, important-looking people in suits in business. Try looking that up in your Fodor's.
At the Japanese McDonald's, located in the Harajuku (info here and here) district of Tokyo, I had Chicken McNuggets. They didn't taste quite the same as they do here... they were better. While this was before Chicken McNuggets here became all white meat, and I believe that at the time, Japanese Chicken McNuggets were already all-white meat, I wonder if the real difference was that they were more careful fried. Japan is the land of tempura after all, which when properly fried is not greasy. That's a high standard against which to compete. There were young trendoids inside, but Harajuku is nothing but young trendoids.
I ended up at the Italian McDonald's while in Florence only because a friend and I were running late on our way to Fiesole. Fiesole is a city in a Henry James novel... and we felt like heathens going to McDonald's when we were on the way to a place where Great Literature had happened. So all we got was coffee. It was better than the scalding-hot, tasteless stuff Mickey D's sells here, though. There were some middle-class looking families inside.
The Burger King, located in Amsterdam, was totally unremarkable, except that it was inside a late-1800s train station and the interior was all paneled in dark wood. It was like eating at a Swiss chalet that served Whoppers. There were a few families in here, too.
So that's about it. If you want to hear about a local food experience that I had overseas, check out my comment in this ol' thread. Bon appetit!
My wife and I were talking about the non-concept of American food the other day. We really need to develop a distinct style of food apart from the corporate garbage.
by anna at September 17, 2004 7:36 AM
The only time I ever caved in and purchased fast foor overseas was in Germany. Of course I had been existing on military fare in Bosnia for over a year so I wanted a damned cheeseburger. It was much better than any McDs I ever got here. For the most part I always stayed with the local fare when somewhere new. Plus, I don't really like McDs or any other fast food joints.
by Ezy at September 17, 2004 11:12 AM
Mmmm... tempura-fried mcnuggets... that sounds good!
Could the converse of your experiences be the Americanized Japanese restaurant? I just had some tempura at a neat place Wednesday. It was my friend's bday, so he got a fried ice cream thing, and his girlfriend got an orange cut so that when you removed the top peel, it became a man with a giant penis (the penis was the stem going through the core of the... oh wait, I have a picture with him! And the picture I accidentally took of the tempura! And a pic of me and Sean!)
They also did Saki Bombs. (Saki shot placed on crossed chopstiks, balanced over a beer... you yell "Saki bomb, Saki bomb" and pound the table once so the Saki falls into the beer.)
Do they do Saki bombs and orange peel naughty guys in Japan? I wonder...
by Linz at September 17, 2004 2:49 PM
sheeze, you ever go to somewhere just to eat? Not every meal in another country needs to be a socio-political statement. ;) On the other side, I did like your report about the food differences.
by fcsuper at September 17, 2004 3:58 PM
Fcsuper, I just wander into these places at random and analyze them to death later. :) I'm like a cow chewing her cud. Can't stop. I'm glad you enjoyed it, though!
Linz, I love the penis man! I can't believe I attended four years of college and never realized what sake bombs were until right now. What's my problem??? The penismen probably exist in Japan, the sake bombs maybe not.
by jean at September 17, 2004 6:47 PM
Linz your comment reminded me of the time we went to a Japanese steak house. The chef started doing all the onion volcanoes and spinning eggs and tossing shrimps at customers who are supposed to catch them in their mouths like trained seals. He tosses one at my ever literal son who assumes he is in some way dissing him by hurling food at him and, well it was bad. I guess you had to be there.
by anna at September 17, 2004 6:48 PM