As John Travolta says in "Pulp Fiction," it's the little differences that enrich us when we travel. So why do you go to McDonald's abroad? Maybe you're retreating to the Western bathrooms, the air conditioning, the familiar food or a place where you can shirk the local language and just say "Big Mac." Maybe you're operating around the clock in a country that siestas or rushing around a country and a people who move more slowly.
You may just be curious as to whether the "Pulp Fiction" script is telling the truth: Can you really buy beer at McDonald's in Paris? Do countries that use the metric system call the Quarter Pounder a "Royale with cheese?" Not to spoil your fun, but yes, McDonald's in France -- and the Netherlands, Germany and Austria -- serve beer. And across Europe, you can order a Royal Cheese (note the spelling). If you're still curious, travel around the world with us through a list of local foods on the McDonald's menu. We'll move you from east to west, from Australia all the way over to Mexico.
And remember, for the gastronomically adventurous souls out there, you can always find authentic cuisine around the corner if you're looking to conduct an informal taste test. Bon voyage.
In many countries around the world, breakfast starts with spreading something on toast. For many Americans, it's peanut butter or jelly, but not both. That's lunch. For Europeans, it's often Nutella. And for Australians, it's Vegemite.
Vegemite was invented in Australia. Made from the extract left over after yeast make beer, the stuff is salty and the color of shoe polish. But Vegemite is packed with vitamin B and is often one of Australian children's first solid foods. At McDonald's, you can order Vegemite with your English muffin.
Oddly enough, Australian Happy Meals don't include Vegemite. Instead, they serve something called the Pasta Zoo. No koalas or kangaroos here, just vegetable and cheese ravioli in the shape of zoo animals, served with a side of "Zoo Goo," made of tomato, fructose, thickener, vegetable powder, animal fat, coloring, preservative, vegetable gum and more [source: McDonald's Australia site]. We'll take the yeast.
Next, we'll head north and see what's for lunch in Japan.
Hamburger, cheeseburger and -- shrimp burger? You must be at McDonald's in Japan. The shrimp burger is called the "EBI Filet-O" in Japan. In Hong Kong, it's formally titled the Shrimp Burger. This sandwich features whole shrimp embedded in a pillow of breading, served on a Big Mac roll. It's nearly a continuous piece of bread, except for a sheet of lettuce and some spicy sauce.
We don't know why McDonald's mixed shrimp and burger. Its blending of Eastern and Western flavors seems to have worked better on the dessert menu, with the green tea and Oreo McFlurry. If you can abandon the idea of a burger, you might try Japan's own shrimp tempura. These shrimp are encrusted in a light batter and dunk nicely into tempura sauce. But if not, you can always fall back on the Mega Mac (a double Big Mac), which packs 700 calories and 40 grams of fat, and somehow seems distinctly American [source: McDonald's].
Maybe you're in the mood for something lighter? Perhaps some porridge?
In Malaysia's capital of Kuala Lumpur, breakfast at McDonald's includes the Bubur Ayam McD. In Singapore, it's called Chicken SingaPorridge, so you start to get the picture. You'll get a cup of porridge with bits of chicken, ginger, onion, shallots and chili peppers.
Porridge isn't soup, but rather sodden rice. Malaysians buy their version from food carts or hawker centers, where vendors sell just that dish. While the McDonald's adaptation is heavy on the rice, the Malaysian version comes in generous layers, with the soft rice boiled in chicken or seafood broth on the bottom and sauces, chopped vegetables and shredded chicken added on top.
Eating it is like an excavation, which you perform using your hands, a spoon or chopsticks, depending on which vendor you visit. In McDonald's, they'll probably give you a spork, but that'll do.
Speaking of chicken, we bet you've never eaten your chicken in the way we'll talk about next, unless you're from Singapore.
In Singapore, where Chinese, Indian, Thai and Malaysian cooking blend, you can expect a lot of pepper and spice. For its part, Singaporean McDonald's serve Shaka Shaka Chicken. You'll get a breaded, deep-fried chicken patty in a wax-paper bag. You dump spicy powder into the bag, and as you "shaka" it, the spices stick to the patty with the help of the frying oil. If you're too lazy to leave the hotel, you can always order a chicken sandwich online, add some jasmine tea and make it come to you with a McDelivery.
The McDonald's bagged chicken was likely inspired by crispy five-spice chicken, a Singaporean Chinese dish. This chicken marinates in soy sauce, rice wine, honey and five spices: cloves, fennel, Sichuan pepper, star anise and cassia (which comes from cinnamon bark). It's rolled in egg and corn flour, then deep-fried. The chicken emerges with a sweet and sticky shell.
But even poultry-loving Singaporeans may order an occasional burger. When McDonald's opened its first restaurant in the country in 1979, the chain broke the record for the highest volume of hamburgers served on one day [source: McDonald's].
Where's the beef? You'll soon notice there are no beef burgers at McDonald's in India. For Hindus, who make up about 80 percent of Indians, killing cows and eating beef are against religious rules. But in McDonald's, as in the rest of India, that makes room for plenty of vegetarian food. You can try the McVeggie -- a rice, bean and vegetable patty that McDonald's treats predictably with breading -- or the McAloo Tikki -- a potato-vegetable burger.
In Indian cuisine, vegetables are typically spiced and sauced, wrapped in pancakelike dosas or ground into balls and sauced again, but not really compacted into burgers. We understand if you've gotten sick on the water and need to stop for an iceless soft drink, but otherwise we remind you that there's much to see beyond the golden arches in India, like the white marble arches at the Taj Mahal.
If you're stopping for street food in Egypt, you'll find two types of sandwiches. One is shawarma. This sandwich starts with a big hunk of lamb or chicken rotating on a spit. The vendor will shave piles of the meat into your warm pita bread. Another is falafel. The falafel vendor will stuff fried chickpea balls into your pita, then add vegetables and tahini sauce, a sesame seed paste.
McDonald's does its best to imitate, not only in Egypt, but across the Middle East. It serves the McArabia, two chicken or beef patties in pita bread with lettuce, tomato, onion and tahini sauce. We see this more as a transplanted hamburger than shawarma or falafel.
Up next, let's travel to Europe for McDonald's take on Italian.
Italian flavors infuse even the McNuggets in Italy. At McDonald's, you can order nuggets stuffed with spinach and Parmesan cheese, a limited promotional item. The dessert menu, too, sounds a little like an Italian bakery's. You'll find cake slices dusted with powdered sugar, not frosting, which is an authentic Italian treatment. The cakes are carrot and peach, but also torta della nonna, a Tuscan cheese tart, and torta caprese, a chocolate and nut cake that was born on the island of Capri.
It hasn't always been easy to find fast food, let alone McDonald's fare in Italy. Before the world's then-largest McDonald's opened by Rome's famous Spanish Steps in 1986, the culinary country had resisted fast-food chains. In fact, Wendy's was the first U.S. chain to open its doors in Italy, preceding the golden arches by only three years [source: Alva].
Where else but in Spain will you find so much gazpacho? This summer soup doesn't cook on the stove but marinates in a chilled bowl. The base starts with olive oil, vinegar, water and bread cubes. The other ingredients vary.
In Málaga, the finished gazpacho looks white with garlic, almond and grapes. Elsewhere, it's red with tomato, onion and green pepper. McDonald's version comes in a carton and is made by PepsiCo [source: McDonald's]. It's kind of like buying borscht from Burger King.
Finally, we'll get some dessert next.
You could imagine an exotic McDonald's dessert that capitalizes on the array of fruits in Brazil. They could fill their apple pie crust with coconut, Brazil nuts, guava or passion fruit. But Brazilian (and some Malaysian) McDonald's instead offer banana pie.
We think McDonald's got it backward. The Brazilian way to serve banana is not to use the fruit as much as the leaves. Across Brazil, people strip the leaves off the plant and steam a meal or dessert inside. Cassava tamales are a popular example, where inside the banana leaf, there's a dough made of cassava, sugar and Parmesan, as well as a tomato vegetable paste filling. You peel off the leaf after steaming and taste the flavors that have been sealed deliciously inside.
Have room for one more? Then stick with us as we head to Mexican McDonald's for breakfast.
If you eat breakfast at a Mexican McDonald's, you'll notice one item that has no equivalent on the U.S. menu: molletes, or rather, McMolletes. These are three English muffins, each topped with refried beans, white American cheese and a little salsa.
If you fold two of them together and wonder who forgot the top to your other bean McMuffin, you're missing the point. Molletes are supposed to be open-faced. But traditional molletes, unlike McDonald's, don't include English muffins. The bread is traditionally a bolillo, a homemade roll that's crusty on the outside and soft on the inside, and is better at soaking up sauce than the muffins used in McDonald's trademarked egg sandwich. In addition, instead of processed American cheese, the cheese is typically a fresher white cheese like Monterey Jack. For the sweet rather than savory types out there, you can also find "dulce" molletes, but so far McDonald's hasn't added them to its menu in Mexico or elsewhere.
That concludes our McDonald's international tour. Whether you're traveling by guidebook or cookbook, we hope you don't miss the wonders of the world, no matter where you eat.
Think you know your scattered from your smothered? Take this HowStuffWorks Waffle House Quiz and find out.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- Alva, Marilyn. "World's largest McDonald's opens to big crowds in Rome; some call new 425-seat unit the 'death of Italian cuisine'." Nation's Restaurant News. May 5, 1986. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m3190/is_v20/ai_4234025/
- Barker, Heidi. Personal communication. 4/3/2009.
- Bruscino Sanchez, Maria. "Sweet Maria's Italian Desserts." 2000. (4/1/2009)http://books.google.com/books?id=yU0Vq9mhtnUC&printsec=frontcover&dq=italian+desserts&lr=&as_drrb_is=b&as_minm_is=1&as_miny_is=1990&as_maxm_is=4&as_maxy_is=2009&as_brr=3&as_pt=ALLTYPES#PPA55,M1
- Friedman, Thomas L. "Foreign Affairs Big Mac I." The New York Times. Dec. 8, 1996. (4/9/2009)http://www.nytimes.com/1996/12/08/opinion/foreign-affairs-big-mac-i.html
- Germaine, Elizabeth at al. "Cooking the Australian Way." 2003. (4/1/2009)http://books.google.com/books?id=YCros0fL1rwC&pg=PP1&dq=cooking+the+australian+way#PPA13,M1
- Higuera McMahan, Jacqueline. "California Ranchero Cooking: Mexican and Californian Recipes." 2001. Seattle: Sasquatch Books.
- Hutton, Wendy. "Singapore Food." 2007. Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish
- Kraft Foods Australia. "Vegemite Facts & Fiction." 2009. (4/1/2009) http://www.vegemite.com.au/vegemite/page?siteid=vegemite-prd&locale=auen1&PagecRef=646
- McDonald's Australia Site. "McDonald's Product Ingredients." Feb. 18, 2009. (4/1/2009)http://www.mcdonalds.com.au/PDFs/Ingredient_Listing_Information.pdf
- McDonald's Canada Site. "McDonald's Nutrition Calculator: Double Big Mac Sandwich." (4/9/2009)http://www.mcdonalds.ca/NutritionCalculator/index_en.html
- McDonald's Corporation. "McDonald's Dispels War Effort Internet Rumors." Jan. 15, 2009. (4/9/2009)http://www.aboutmcdonalds.com/mcd/media_center/recent_news/corporate/mcdonald_s_dispels.html
- McDonald's Corporation. "McDonald's Corporation Form 10K." Feb. 25, 2009. (4/9/2009) http://ccbn.10kwizard.com/cgi/image?ipage=6162911&doc=11&cik=63908&odef=8&rid=12&quest=1&xbrl=0&dn=2
- McDonald's Egypt Site."Menu." 2008. (4/1/2009) http://www.mcdonaldsegypt.com/
- McDonald's España Site. "Gazpacho Alvalle." 2007. (4/1/2009) http://www.mcdonalds.es/#/all-products/product-gazpacho/
- McDonald's India Site. "Menu." 2009. (4/1/2009) http://www.mcdonaldsindia.com/menu.html
- McDonald's Italia Site. "I Nostri Prodotti." 2009. (4/1/2009) http://www.mcdonalds.it/#/all-products/
- McDonald's Japan Site. "McFlurry & Oreo." 2009. (4/1/2009) http://www.mcdonalds.co.jp/menu/limited/mcflurry/index.html
- McDonald's Japan Site. "Regular Menu." 2009. (4/1/2009)http://www.mcdonalds.co.jp/menu/regular/index.html
- McDonald's Malaysia Site. "Menu Items: A La Carte Menu." 2008. (4/1/2009) http://www.mcdonalds.com.my/ourfood/alacarte.asp
- McDonald's México Site. "McMolletes." 2009. (4/1/2009)http://www.mcdonalds.com.mx/
- McDonald's Singapore Site. "History." 4/12/09http://www.mcdonalds.com.sg/companyinfo_history.html
- McDonald's Singapore Site. "Profile." 4/8/09http://www.mcdonalds.com.sg/companyinfo_profile.html