Posted November 30, 2004 by Nick Lindauer in Hot Sauce News

Tired of turkey? Explore the world of chain cuisine



Nobody wants to admit it, but just about every American traveling abroad does it.

At some point during a trip, they succumb to the lure of the familiar. They hit McDonald’s.

Or BK, Pizza Hut, the Colonel, Wendy’s. Definitely Starbucks (by the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, near the Prada shop in the Hong Kong airport, in Shanghai’s Old Town Bazaar).

For those of you who quickly cry ”Foul! Don’t you go abroad to experience other cultures?” we say this: fowl. As in flamed chicken with piripiri coating on baguette (Australia, Burger King), a sweet-and-sour chicken rice bowl (United Kingdom, KFC) or a spicy chicken drumstick sandwich (Taiwan, Burger King).

Sure, a burger is still a burger. But in Israel, at Burger King, it’s a kosher burger. In the Middle East, a veggie burger. In Singapore, a spicy pork burger.

The idea, says BK spokesperson Allison Russell: “Think global, act local.”

Explains Paul Herbig, a professor at Tristate University in Angola, Ind., who has studied these branding issues: ”You might think that works well for us, ought to work well for you, but it’s not the case.” From place to place, he says, “People, preferences and customs change.”

While Burger King and other fast-food companies offer signature items — such as a Whopper, Big Mac or fresh-roasted coffee — worldwide, local preferences are also taken into account.

Translation: At McDonald’s in the Zurich Airport, you might find fried shrimp. In McDonald’s in Bangor, Me., a lobster roll. In McDonald’s in Paris, a Croque McDo — Ronald’s twist on the French favorite, a croque monsieur.

But you might not find some of your neighborhood usuals. At Starbucks, for instance, local operators decide whether to carry specialty items. In other words, don’t count on finding no-fat milk or chai in Asia (even though it originates there).

It’s not just the menus that vary. In Stockholm, for instance, you’ll miss out on that bright red-and-yellow molded plastic look of a traditional U.S. McDonald’s; there, the restaurants take on an upscale, coffeehouse feel. In Bangkok, diners are greeted at the door by the familiar polymer figure of R-Mac — but with hands raised, palms together, in the traditional Thai greeting.

And though restaurant spokesmen don’t elaborate when asked, we’ve noticed that portion sizes at chain restaurants sometimes can be different abroad. In keeping with local mores, we were told. In other words, smaller.

But not necessarily cheaper. Pricing is affected by local costs of overhead and ingredients, typically obtained locally from approved suppliers.

Consider the famed Big Mac Index, published by the Economist. In its May rankings, the Economist found that of the surveyed countries, the Big Mac sold for the least in the Philippines ($1.23) and for the most in Switzerland ($4.90.) In New Zealand, the price was $2.65, and in U.S. cities, $2.90.

Wonder what they could get for sandwiches made from leftover Thanksgiving turkey. About now, you’d probably pay to have it taken away.



McDonald’s puts the sweet meat of a bug between the covers in that Maine staple, the lobster roll ($4.99, in the summer only, from Memorial Day to Labor Day). Prefer the taste of sausage? In Poland, the McKielbasa marries a kielbasa patty with ketchup, mustard and onion on — you guessed it — a sesame seed bun.


In New Zealand, the local fave is a McDonald’s burger topped with a fried egg and slice of pickled beet ($2.40). In Athens, diners can order a Greek Mac — a pita bread sandwich with twice beef patties with yogurt sauce.


In Australia, KFC serves up a spicy chicken wrap in a thin tortilla ($3.50). In Paris, a twister comes Provençal, with sweet peppers and sauce.


Wendy’s trademark square-patty burgers share Japanese counters with shrimp-cake sandwiches, which are equally square. About $2.70. In the mood for soup? Try the clam chowder.


They look like regular Burger King burgers, but these United Kingdom specials are made of vegetables, grains and spices, topped with tomatoes, cheese, pickles, onions, ketchup and reduced-fat mayonnaise. (No, they don’t taste like broccoli or asparagus.) Prices range from about $3.50 to $5.20 The Saudi Arabian versions look like hoagies, with patties made of beans.


In Singapore, locals get Burger King sandwiches their way: made from pork. In the Middle East, the meat meets Koranic guidelines. And at BK in Spain, tapas make the menu.


How about a little squid or tuna, served deep-dish or thin-and-crispy? Dinner for two, about $10.85 in Shanghai. Elsewhere in the East, you’ll find your Pizza Hut pie topped with calamari, shrimp or scallops.


In the United Kingdom, wings just aren’t enough. At KFC, look for a sweet-and-sour chicken-and-rice bowl with carrots, water chestnuts and bean sprouts. $6.50


Yeah, they’ve got scones. But at Starbucks in Hong Kong, traditional moon cakes — made from lotus-seed paste — with a green tea flavor are also offered at the pastry counter. At Starbucks in Greece, look for baklava.

Nick Lindauer

The Original Hot Sauce Blog