American fast food brands have made a big impact here in China, and nearly every city features at least one KFC or McDonald's; bigger cities, in fact, are practically littered with American fast food outlets (my block has 2 Starbucks', and McDonald's delivery drivers are ubiquitous on the Shanghai streets).
While the menus are generally pared-down versions of their American counterparts, there are some crazy foods available that adapt American cuisine to a Chinese audience and tend to come out...a bit strange. Here are my 5 favorites!
(Disclaimer: They're not my favorite in the sense that I enjoy eating them, but rather in that I find them hilarious or interesting.)
1. McDonald's Shrimp Patty Burger
McDonald's in China features all the standard favorites like Big Macs and Chicken McNuggets (not to mention the fact that they deliver 24 hours a day...it's so glorious there's even a song about it), but also some seriously localized items.
They aren’t available in every McDonald’s, though I see it from time to time here in Shanghai and it was featured prominently on the menu of the McD’s I went to in Sanya, Hainan.
2. KFC Cold Corn Cups
KFC is enormously popular in China, a country known for its chicken proclivity.
Almost every office party or gathering I’ve been to has featured various KFC products as the food offerings, and there’s one in every last shopping mall and train station in China, it seems.
Their menu is actually pretty similar to that of the US outlets, with a couple exceptions, most notably the cold corn cups.
This is a side dish that, while not particularly odd, is pointlessly bland and unappetizing.
I mean, for real guys, corn cups? Not even on the cob? And cold?
It comes in a lot of forms, including a milky soup-like side dish/dessert.
3. Pizza Hut Beefsteak Pizza
It’s worth noting that Pizza Hut in China has little in common with American Pizza Hut.
It’s much more upmarket, and is considered a good mid-price sit-down restaurant, though it’s still located mostly in malls and other retail plazas.
The menu item I found strangest was the Texas beefsteak pizza, a personal-sized pizza covered in very tough, oddly spiced bits of steak.
I’ve gotta be honest, it’s actually pretty good! Something about the flavor and texture of their “steak” works well with pizza, somehow.
I’ve heard rumors of escargot pizza at Pizza Huts in smaller cities, but I’ve never personally seen it.
[Note: comically, their “Chicago-style” pizza is deep dish, but it features deep, thick dough rather than thick sauce and cheese. As any proud Chicagoan would tell you, that’s not Chicago-style pizza!]
4. Dunkin Donuts Dry Pork and Seaweed Donut
I randomly came upon this one day last year and did a bit of a double take, if only because everything else on offer seemed pretty normal.
Also, it’s THREE bizarre things that I’d never think to put on a donut:
• seaweed (if I don’t want it touching my foot underwater, I don’t want to dip it in my coffee)
• pork (I don’t eat pork personally but would it really go well on a sweet dessert?)
• DRY pork (“hey guys, let’s take this meat and dehydrate it until it’ll taste good on a donut...somehow”)
I dared my girlfriend to try it, but she opted for the adjacent but much lamer and less adventurous Oreo donuts.
5. McDonald's Taro Pie
A staple of every desperate, tipsy man’s 4:00 AM McDonald’s delivery order, the taro pie is actually a pretty tasty dessert treat, though it’s something of an acquired taste.
It’s just like a McDonald’s apple pie you’d find in the States, but instead of sweet apple filling, it contains sweet taro, a potato-like vegetable that’s a staple food in much of East Asia.
It’s kind of purple and the McDonald’s version is sweetened a bit too much, but it’s a nice way to top off a meal you’re going to regret eating anyway!
Not sure if it’s available in the US but Chinese McDonald’s outlets also have pineapple pies, which are magnificent.
6. Starbucks Red Bean Frappucino with Green Tea
Red bean (hóngdòu, 红豆) is a common ingredient in Chinese adaptations of Western food, especially inexpensive pastries – many a time I’ve reached for a chocolate roll in a convenience store only to find that’s it’s filled with a slightly sweet red bean taste instead.
We’ve covered some bizarre stuff today and I’d love to hear the craziest (or most delicious) versions of Western fast food you’ve heard of in China. There’s tons more wild stuff out there, so let me know about it in the comments!