I thought, “How should I show my New Zealand assimilation? I’ll write about McDonalds!” Obnoxious American powers, activate!
Say what you will about global fast food chains, but they accomplish a paradoxical feat: they’re all gloriously the same, and they all differ to fit the culture where they find themselves, at the same time. Videos exploring those regional differences are fun to watch, and I always find a new variation I wish was widely available (McD’s chicken katsu burger from Japan, people). But when you want a taste of America, there’s nothing like crappy food from an international corporation.
I bring glad tidings from New Zealand, though. McDonalds here is so much better here.
A couple of factors are at work here. First and most importantly, corn syrup is banned here. Everything is generally less sticky sweet. Coke is made with cane sugar, so it tastes more like MexiCoke. (Do a taste test if you’ve never experienced the difference.) Tomato sauce (a.k.a. ketchup) is more savory. Peanut butter is hardly sweet at all. You can get these things American-style, but you’ll have to go to a specialty international foods store.
At McDonalds, this manifests in some interesting ways. First, the french fries are paler. They don’t get that sugary spray before freezing that caramelizes in the fryer and makes them look golden brown. So fries here are a little floppier and a little whiter, but the potato flavor is stronger. Sauces are better too. The sweet & sour dipping sauce tastes more like orange chicken. I’m sure these things are still a nutritional disaster, but they taste more complex than just pure sugary syrup.
Regional menu items are pretty great. New Zealand has this thing about beets (that’ll be a whole different post down the line), so the Kiwiburger has a big slice of beet and a fried egg in addition to your basic toppings. There’s the Big Brekkie burger, which has a fried egg, hashbrown, bacon, BBQ sauce, and cheese on top of the burger patty. The lime shakes are a huge hit with my kids. Ice cream cones come dipped in chocolate if you want, or with a piece of Flake chocolate bar.
Finally, and I find this weird and hard to explain, but you can customize your sandwiches to an absurd extent. Sure, it’s cool when you can swap out beef patties for Filet-o-Fish patties on your Big Mac. But do you want four beef patties on your Big Mac? Easy. Do you want a grilled chicken breast on your Quarter Pounder? No problem. Do you want alternating layers of fish and chicken and fried eggs? Here you go. This blows my mind, especially in contrast to the fact that all other portion sizes are small (no super sizing here).
It is absolutely no help to anyone that the back gate of our yard, toward the bus stops and grocery and library, opens into the parking lot of a McDonalds. It’s going to get worse when the kids start coming home from school. But it’s a taste of home, both in America and right here in New Zealand.