Thursday, November 20, 2014

fast food favorites

As a little kid, I loved eating fast food. My mom would occasionally pick up Taco Bell (my first taste of “Mexican”) for dinner and I would happily scarf down an order of nachos with cheese sauce. Some of my best childhood memories are of my grandparents taking me to McDonald's; the playground and chocolate milkshakes were equally addicting. But as I got older, my tastes became more sophisticated. I mostly turned my nose up on fast food, that is, until I came to China.

Portuguese Egg Tart, photo via

When I arrived in Chengde in early 2005, the city's first western fast food chain had just opened. If you haven't been to China, you might guess that McDonald's had the honor of being first, but actually, McDonald's didn't break ground in Chengde until about 2007. The reigning foreign fast food champ in China and Chengde has forever been KFC. Having never been a huge fan of the Colonel or his chicken, I was pretty disappointed to find that if I didn't want Chinese food, my only other option in Chengde would be a little Kentucky Fried. You think that would have inspired me to learn how to cook, but again, that was something that didn't happen until later.

So KFC it was. For one of my first dates with Ming. For those western food cravings. I didn't do any finger licking (considered bad form in China), but I did eventually sample my way through most of the menu. People back home often find it odd that I would frequent a fast food joint, let alone go there for a date, but in China fast food hardly resembles or signifies what it does in the west. Chinese KFC offers a completely different selection of food than its American counterpart and prices are steep compared to many local restaurants—this was particularly true 10 years ago. At that time, you knew you had founder a keeper if your date was willing to splurge on some extra crispy. 

McDonald's pies, photo via

As for Chinese fast food menus, I find this is always a fun topic. It has somehow come up in multiple conversations I've had with family members and again recently when talking with my dad. He asked me (already knowing the answer), if I could get a Jalapeno Double at my local McDonald's. I guess it's a new addition to the American McDonald's sandwich lineup and one which my father has taken quite a liking to. Alas, there is no Jalapeno Double here, but there are lots of other fun things like Portuguese egg tarts (KFC), taro pie (McDonald's), and Korean steak pizza (Pizza Hut).

It's interesting to see how international chains tweek their menu's to suit regional tastes. We are sadly lacking a Starbucks here (I will know Chengde has really made it in the world once we get one), but for those living in places that do (everywhere else), it's Holiday Drinks Time. In the US that means seasonal favorites like Peppermint Mochas and Gingerbread Lattes; drinks that either don't really translate well or don't cater to the tastes of the Chinese market. This Christmas, Starbucks in China has holiday drinks that include Cranberry White Chocolate Mocha and Tiramisu Latte. Fun! Something to try on my next trip to Beijing.

What about you? Have you ever lived or traveled somewhere and found an interesting twist on fast food or other familiar restaurants? Or do you stick to just eating local?

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