Friday, 11 May 2012

Not Your Average Dollar Menu

There’s a certain stigma attached to Americans eating in fast food restaurants overseas. Someone might think we can’t even make it a week without visiting McDonald’s, or that we’re too set in our ways to try the local food. There are plenty of articles out there advocating that you should eat where the locals eat and avoid touristy hot spots. This is not that type of article.

I love food. I especially love going to different countries and trying out dishes I’ve never heard of before, but I’m also an advocate of visiting American chain restaurants to see how the menu varies from country to country. Even things that you can find on the menu at home taste different in every country, so consider yourself a fast food anthropologist for a day and start experimenting!

By joe (Tudor Pizza Hut) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
If it's good enough for Shakespeare...

Since I’ve already mentioned McDonald’s, let’s start there. The first thing you’ll want to be aware of is that most foreign McDonald’s let you salt your own fries. Discovering how much salt you need to add in order to make your fries taste “normal” is an eye-opening experience.

Another food that tastes different away from home is Japan’s Quarter Pounder with Cheese. I’m not sure how they do it, but it is absolutely amazing. I imagine it’s infused with crack and magic. On the flip side, the Chicken McNuggets in the Czech Republic may as well be made of sawdust.

If you’re looking for something completely different, try a McArabia in the Middle East. You can choose from either chicken or spiced beef (kofta) wrapped up in a pita with lettuce, tomato, onion, and garlic sauce.

By Todd Huffman from Phoenix, AZ (McArabia) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
You know you're curious.

France recently started offering the McBaguette, and some European franchises offer a deli-style counter with cold sandwiches, salads, and juices. Every country’s menu is unique, so it’s worth five minutes of your time to step inside and have a look.

One thing you may notice about overseas McDonald’s is that they don’t look like fast food joints. Except for the standard golden arches, many look like upscale restaurants. Try not to be shocked by the modern art, tasteful d├ęcor, and oak furnishings.

By Karelj (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Welcome to McDonald's in Budapest.

The smooth jazz playing softly through the speakers lends a nice background for the young professionals sipping lattes and taking advantage of the free WiFi. However, if you need that trashy feeling you can only get with a shamrock shake and some hashbrowns, stop back around 2 a.m. Drunks take the class out of everything.

Another restaurant that‘s fun to try out overseas is Pizza Hut. When asked which country could create something as awe-inspiring as a pizza crust made of mini-cheeseburgers, my first thought would be America. However, this little miracle is called the Crown Crust Pizza and it’s only offered in the Middle East.

England offers a stuffed-crust pizza that’s a shade more awesome than you would expect. America may stuff their crust with cheese, but England stuffs theirs with hot dogs. It’s currently sold out due to its popularity, but I have made it my mission to try it. Until then, I will have to stick with the tear-off cheesy bites crust with the complementary marinara dipping sauce.

By Daeguexpat (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
It's not fast food if it comes with a bow.

Before you get jealous of fast food across the pond, know that there are several things I miss from American franchises. For one, England doesn’t have anything close to a biscuit. What they do call a “biscuit” is actually a cookie, so you can see how things might get confusing. No biscuit means I can’t enjoy a bacon, egg, and cheese breakfast meal on a Saturday morning. They do offer breakfast sandwiches on an English muffin, which as you might guess is simply called a “muffin.” The lack of biscuits also means there are none to be had at KFC, which is just as well because KFC doesn’t offer mashed potatoes here either. I have a hard time appreciating KFC if I know I’m not going to walk out with a mashed potato bowl. However, Burger King offers chili cheese bites (which are kind of like a tater tot stuffed with Velveeta and jalapenos) so it all balances out in the end.

When you travel overseas, make sure that you do sample the local cuisine of whatever place you happen to visit. Have the fish and chips in Britain, the schnitzel in Germany, and the dolmathes in Greece. Enjoying the food is part of experiencing the culture, but don’t let your self-consciousness get in the way of your curiosity when it comes to fast food abroad. A trip to McDonald’s in Athens is not the same as it is in Kansas City, and you owe it to yourself to try it. Bon appetit!

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