On your next trip, McDonald’s may miss your list of must-visit restaurants. Founded on principles of consistency, homogeneity, and ease of preparation, the ubiquitous golden arches would seem the most boring dining option in an exotic destination. A Big Mac in Belgium, secret sauce in the Sahara, or a McRib on the Rhine don’t sound like the best ways to experience new locales. But the fact remains: wherever you go, Ronald McDonald and his cronies will probably be there, hawking burgers, fries, and nuggets with astounding aplomb. (Speaking of plums… ume chicken nugget sauce, anybody?)
Such universal presence does, however, make McDonald’s an interesting topic of study. The Economist, for example, has come up with its Big Mac Index and there are blogs devoted to travels through some of the world’s more remote McDonald’s (McDonald’ses?). Why the interest? Well, for one thing it turns out that the fast food chain sometimes does break the mold to accommodate local tastes and standards. The result: some really interesting (and kind of wrong) McDonald’s menu items. Bon mac-etit!
Savory pies may not be foreign to western palates, but McDonald’s Japan’s bacon potato pie definitely breaks from tradition. Bits of bacon are suspended in a gooey substrate reminiscent of potatoes, but not quite there. For 120 yen (a little over a dollar), it’s hard to pass on this hearty harbinger of menus to come.
It’s often McDonald’s competition in a country that leads to menu changes. In the Philippines, homegrown fast food chain Jollibee is the main draw for a quick bite, offering burgers alongside spaghetti and fried chicken. Thus, McDonald’s foray into fried chicken. Get the “set” with a marinara pasta for full effect.
Japan is a culinary innovator in a region already known for its food. It comes as no surprise, then, that McDonald’s Japan has released a whole slew of unique burgers, adapted to more refined, adult Japanese tastes. The Tsukimi burger celebrates the national tradition of “moon viewing” with a poached egg reminiscent of a full moon. The Gracoro is an intriguing deep-fried vegetable milieu. The Chicken Tatsuta tastes and feels like cardboard. Classy.
“Juicy chicken strips in mouth-watering porridge, garnished with spring onions, sliced ginger, fried shallots and diced chillies.” This is McD’s Malaysia’s Babur Ayam offering… in writing. We’re not sure how “mouth watering” porridge can actually be, but we are sure the rest of it sounds good (and weird) enough to be worth a shot.
The Asian love affair with pork doesn’t stop at breakfast time. Japanese restaurants take the sausage patties used in before-10am offerings, smother them in a spicy/sweet sauce, and slap ’em on a lunchtime bun with lettuce and onions. The result? Simple, porky goodness, at just over a dollar.
India’s religious diversity meant that McDonald’s India had to seriously revamp their menu before opening doors. Beef and pork were eliminated from the menu and chicken and vegetable offerings were upped substantially. The McAloo Tikki is a pure veggie burger with a patty made of potato and chickpeas. Tomato, onions, and a vegetable-tomato mayonnaise top it off.
Japan seems to have pioneered this shrimp creation, dubbed the Ebi Filet-O. A deep fried shrimp patty covered in a tangy, chunky sauce and lettuce. Since the Japanese, other countries’ franchises have taken heed and added shrimp burgers to their menus.
Around the Chinese New Year, the Prosperity Burger sweeps through many of Asia’s McDonald’s locations. It’s basically a McRib served with a spicy black pepper sauce and onions. It was only a matter of time before the double version came out. We’ll have ’em eating like Americans in no time.
Another example of McDonald’s copping the style of other countries’ successful franchises, the RiceBurger was invented by Mos Burger (Japan’s second largest fast food seller after… guess who?). It reached such popularity that McDonald’s couldn’t afford to not offer one of its own, all across Asia. “The finest grains of fragrant white rice” are pressed into patties to form the buns on these babies. A heartier bun, to be sure.
The rice bun idea has caught on big in Asia, and McDonald’s all over the region are hopping on the train. Makes us wonder how long it’ll be before people start figuring out that they could make this stuff at home. After all, once you get rid of the heavily processed bun, all you’ve really got left is some soggy vegetables, greasy meat, and plastic cheese… ok, I kinda want a Double Quarter Pounder (with cheese) now.
Chicken is big in Asia, thus the availability of McWings across much of the region. In China, you can get a spicy garlic sauce to go with them. Seems like an improvement on the nugget formula.
The Mega Mac (from Japan) was invented in the same great tradition as many McDonald’s creations: by simply adding more of the same. Whereas the original Big Mac was conceived when somebody decided it would be a good idea to add more bread to their burger, the Mega Mac took form when somebody decided to add more meat. Pure. Genius.
Another product catering to India’s unique norms, the Chicken Maharaja Mac is basically just a Big Mac with two chicken patties instead of beef. They tried it out in America but it flopped because it messed up the rhythm of the song (“two all-chicken patties…”). There’s also a lamb version, which works in the song, but come on, lamb?
So yeah, India’s McDonald’s menu is funky, but it all looks pretty good! Some standouts here are the McCurry Pan – apparently, a thick and hearty cardboard box filled with a veritable cornucopia of veggies – and the Pizza McPuff, clearly a Hot Pockets rip-off. You don’t want to know what goes into the Crispy Chinese.
Egg is kind of unsettling to see on McDonald’s burgers: one imagines all the creative ways breakfast items might be reused later in the day. The Tamago Double Mac dresses up the egg and beef with bacon slices and a thick, almost-tartar sauce. It’s not bad, if you like to chew to the beat of cholesterol on arterial walls.
South African McDonald’s ditch the bun and do the Chicken Foldover to celebrate South African independence from fat white things. (Sorry… at least it’s not called a Holdover.)
Yup. Corn. South Africans like it, as do patrons in Hong Kong and various other countries around the world. We don’t see anything wrong with McDonald’s adding some vegetable to the menu, but we do have a problem with one blogosurfer’s observation that it “looks like the sort of thing you get from school canteens, except without the cheese powder.” Two reactions to this: “Huh?” and “How much?”
Israeli McDonald’s grapple with the kosher question every day, yet surprisingly, only a small fraction of them follow kosher law. The ones that do either don’t serve any dairy products or keep the “dairy section” separate from the rest of the restaurant. The only kosher McDonald’s outside Israel can be found in Buenos Aires. How about a McDonald’s mashup: Japanese McDonald’s in Israel. Just try and kosher that.
Except for the obvious omission of cheese, kosher McDonald’s menus don’t seem to differ much from their gentile counterparts. Just like in the rest of the Middle East, flatbread and wraps take up a large part of the menu. You can spot the dozen or so kosher McDonald’s in Israel by the word “kosher” prominently displayed on the sign, and an increasingly popular use of a blue background (instead of the classic red).
Turkey’s Kofteburger suits local tastes with a spiced ground beef patty topped with ketchup, onions, lettuce, and a special yogurt-based sauce. It’s all served on an herb-encrusted bun. This one seems like a winner to us.
Hey! That’s the Chicken Foldover of South African fame, right? Wrong. See how the flatbread is just a little less flat? It’s obviously the McArabia (stupid), served throughout the Middle East. It’s the same winning combination of chicken, veggies, and special sauce that has powered so many other McDonald’s creations. You can also get a grilled kofta version, if you’re feeling spicy.
Lebanon’s got this tasty strawberry version of the classic McDonald’s pie. The pie is such a great format for McDonald’s, we wonder why we don’t see more daring innovation in this largely unexplored arena. Hats off, of course, to Lebanon and Japan for leading the crusade.
“Filled with Atlantic Canadian lobster meat and crispy lettuce on a fresh bun, it’s bound to make a splash with everyone!” So says McDonald’s marketing. The classic New England and eastern Canadian lobster rolls that the McLobster imitates were never considered haute cuisine in the first place. (Lobster slathered with mayo and tartar sauce on a white bun is pretty much impossible to mess up.) This sandwich only makes an appearance once in a blue moon, so make sure to get your claws on it while you can.
Refried beans, cheese, and pico de gallo top an English muffin to make Mexico’s McMolletes, a favorite breakfast menu item. Once again, pretty hard to see how this one could go wrong, although we’re betting that cheese ain’t Chihuahua but probably some albino American atrocity.
McDonald’s Canada’s My Poutine (well, not my poutine) looks horrible, but probably tastes pretty awesome. And if you’re the type who’s going to smother your fries with cheese curds and gravy, you’re probably not obsessed with appearances anyway. Weighing in at 510 calories, with 30 grams of fat (17 of them saturated) and 1,070mg of sodium, the My Poutine clearly delivers the goods.
Mmm, blini. McDonald’s Russia’s got them, and apparently they are “golden brown, fluffy crepes from high grade wheat flour served with a portion of your favorite jam (strawberry or apricot) or honey.” These are pretty much guaranteed to blow McHotcakes out of the batter.
Deep fried fish with salad, a mango slice, and dressing wrapped in a tortilla. This is the Laksewrap, which made its reappearance after 10 years of dormancy in 2007. It’s a rare, super regional specialty that suits Norwegian tastes. The salmon even comes from the renowned fish farm of Hitra.
Served in France and Morocco, the Recette Moutarde (basically, Mustard Burger) is a whopping beef patty on a ciabatta bun with tomatoes, onions, and a mustard/mayo dressing, all topped off with a heapin’ helpin’ of cheddar and Swiss cheeses.
We’re not sure what “village-style” potatoes are supposed to be, but McDonald’s Russia’s potato wedges are lightly fried and spiced. Throw some ranch-style dipping sauce on the side and you’ve got a whole new approach to potatoes for a chain that’s generally resistant to changes in its fries.
No, they’re not donuts… they’re McDonuts! You see, they’re different because they… and you can taste the… but they’re… ok they’re just donuts. Some McDonald’s have them.
Taking a hint from the classic croque monsieur, the Croque McDo sold in Belgium and France looks like another offering that’s hard to mess up: two slices of cheese hugging a slice of ham between two grilled slices of bread. Dat’s a lotta slices!
Intended as a breakfast sandwich, the McOmelet does cross some boundaries, throwing lettuce and tomato on top of the classic egg/sausage/cheese combo. It’s all on a whole wheat bun encrusted with… pumpkin?… seeds. Breakfast or lunch? Indulgent or healthy? Oh McOmelet, can’t you make up your mind? At least it looks better than some McDonald’s breakfast/lunch crossovers.
Russian McDonald’s serve up these little tasties: Brie nuggets. Yup, they’re just hunks of deep fried deliciousness.
Order a glass of beer with your Royale with Cheese and you’re basically as cool as Sammy L. McDonald’s beer (not “McBeer,” although it should be) is served all over Europe. McDonald’s usually contracts with mainstream brewers to serve up suds cheaply.
Spam is big in Hawaii, and McDonald’s doesn’t disappoint with its spammy selections. This breakfast item takes its cue from spam musubi, a traditional Hawaiian-Japanese fusion dish consisting of a slice of spam atop a block of rice, held in place by a strip of seaweed. No seaweed here, although it is accompanied by a nice pat of classic microwaved eggs.
The secret of New Zealand’s Kiwiburger? Nope, not the fruit (or the bird, unfortunately), but beets! The dark red tuber adds a sweet crunch that drives those kiwis wild. The egg seems a bit out of place, but we’re sure “Macca’s” did their market research on this one.
Cool, another fruit pie creation. This one from Hawaii is filled with a peach/mango medley in an appetizing chartreuse hue. We might opt instead for Brazil’s banana pie. Keep it simple, guys.
Australian Macca’s cater to kids with a pasta penchant with this Happy Meal offering, Pasta Zoo Goo. Little raviolis filled with cheese and vegetables are served alongside an Italian pasta sauce (aka: dressed up ketchup) for dipping. There’s also milk with a flavor straw (chocolate or strawberry) to wash it down.
What’s the difference between New Zealand’s Kiwiburger and Australia’s McOz burger? The McOz doesn’t have an egg. What’s the difference between Australia’s flag and New Zealand’s flag? The omission of a couple stars. Between Australians and New Zealanders? We’re gonna have to get back to you on that.
We like it when McDonald’s tries to work the local language into their menu items’ names – especially when they’re still comprehensible to us – and Venezuela’s McQueso, sold as a Happy Meal item, does just that. It comes with “the delicious traditional McDonald’s cheese,” according to the marketing copy. We’ll leave that to your discretion.
Brazil’s Cheddar McMelt (double version pictured above) may not look out of the ordinary. Start with the classic all-beef patty, and add cheddar cheese. So far so good. Then add onions grilled with soy sauce and put it all on a whole wheat bun. The sharpness of the cheddar goes well with the savory soy sauce, and the bun makes it an all around robust burger. It’s a perennial favorite among Brazilian customers.
Seriously, if anybody can figure out where this item is served on a McDonald’s breakfast menu, please spread the word. The Sausage and Egg Twisty Pasta is bizarre for its use of pasta (a McDonald’s rarity) as well as its placement on the breakfast menu. And are those bits of corn and tomatoes in there? On second thought… please don’t spread the word.