Fast Food: Eaten with relish

In Seventies London there was the Big Boy. Now, in Uruguay, they have the McHuevo. McDonald's bid for world domination has created a host of weird and wonderful burgers, as globalisation meets local culture half way
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Travel to any major city in any corner of the globe and the chances are you will come across a McDonald's. The company now operates more than 25,000 restaurants in over 115 countries and territories. And not only has McDonald's overtaken Coca-Cola as the best-known brand on the planet, but its trademark "Golden Arches" are said to be more widely recognised than the Christian cross. There is even a "Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention", first proposed by Thomas Friedman in the The New York Times and subsequently confirmed by researchers at the "McDonald's University" in Illinois, which states that no country with a McDonald's has ever gone to war with another one similarly blessed - indeed, the company has always been careful to steer clear of the world's worst political and economic trouble spots. But despite critics' claims of American fast-food imperialism, the reason for the 50-year-old burger chain's relentlessly successful global expansion is its ability to adapt to local markets. Not only does it assimilate itself commercially in each country through partnership and franchising deals, it also customises its food and drink and operating practices, from closing five times a day for Muslim prayers in Riyadh to serving Kosher produce in Tel Aviv to offering the above culinary curiosities, most of which are not to be found on a high street near you. n

United Kingdom The British are Europe's biggest consumers of fast food, spending an estimated pounds 2.7bn in 1999 according to market research analysts Mintel, compared with pounds 1.6bn in France and just pounds 310m in Italy. Competition in this country between McDonald's and Burger King is intense, but McDonald's still controls three-quarters of the market, with around 1,000 outlets. Britain's first McDonald's opened in Woolwich, south-east London in 1974, when a hamburger cost a mere 18 pence. The original burger formula remains the same - a beef patty crowned with pickles, ketchup and mayonnaise in sesame bun - but pride of place on the menu now goes to the Big Mac, originally called the Big Boy.

India To India's majority Hindu population, the cow is of course sacred - something of a problem, one might think, given that hamburgers are made of beef. But McDonald's has done the impossible and made a success of its three-year- old Indian operation. The company came up with the Maharaja Mac as its main menu item. The usual burger filling is replaced with two pieces of lamb garnished with a "special sauce" plus the familiar accompaniments of lettuce, cheese, pickles and onions inside a sesame-seed bun. Other specially created offerings include an Indian-style vegetable burger, vegetable nuggets (both prepared separately from meat products) and masala and chilli sauce dips.

Japan There are 2,400 branches of McDonald's in Japan, serving everything from a traditional cheeseburger to the Teriyaki Burger (a meat patty in teriyaki sauce). Other innovations include various rice dishes, and the latest star offering, the Chicken Tatsula, a fried chicken sandwich spiced with soy sauce and ginger. The company's success here does not seem to have been stymied by the Japanese cultural taboo about wolfing down food with your fingers while standing up - traditionally considered to be bad manners - but they did find it necessary to change Ronald McDonald's name to Donald, as the Japanese have difficulty pronouncing Rs.

Germany The hamburger, as the name suggests, acquired its name in Hamburg, probably in the 19th century when the grilled cake of minced beef was a staple of seamen working out of the port, but the food's origins go further back than that, some say to the Russian bitock, a beef cake. It was Hamburg's sailors who took the burger to the US, which in turn has brought it back to Germany, with a number of side-orders. These include frankfurters (from Frankfurt, of course) and beer. The Germans are avid consumers of fast food, second only to Britain in Europe. The Germany operation recently signed a deal to open in branches of the American supermarket giant Wal- Mart, which has been operating in Germany for two years.

Thailand The rather alarming-sounding Samurai Pork Burger, a pork sandwich marinated in teriyaki sauce, takes pride of place on the McDonald's menus of Thailand. McDonald's continues to expand across the country, with sales estimated to have increased by 10 to 15 per cent this year alone. Alert to local sensitivities, every new McDonald's in Thailand holds a "staff night" just before the grand opening, when families of the employees descend en masse and are served McDonald's meals to reassure them of the restaurant's wholesomeness and respectability. McDonald's in Thailand is run by an indigenous operation called McThai, founded in 1985 by businessman Dej Bulsuk. He sums up his philosophy as "Be courageous".

Uruguay In this far-flung corner of South America, the scrawny burger has to try to compete with an insatiable appetite for very large pieces of meat, usually around 3in thick. Uruguay's three million inhabitants eat an average of 61.4kg of beef each year, compared with Britain's per capita consumption of 5.7kg - and that was before the BSE scare. McDonald's Uruguay outfit lures locals with the McHuevo, a burger with a poached egg (huevo) on top. Earlier this year, Prince Charles, the self-proclaimed environmentalist, had to accompany President Sanguinetti on a tour of a new factory set up in Uruguay by Linpac, the British firm which provides half the world with polystyrene hamburger boxes.

Philippines The first McDonald's opened in the Philippines in 1981, but this is one territory where the burger chain has come unstuck. It trails considerably behind the indigenous Jollibee burger chain which last year even launched its first outlet in the US. It's not only that Filipino children are more captivated by Jollibee's mascot - a 2m-long orange-and-yellow-striped bee - than by the stripy-socked clown of McDonald's. Jollibee also claims to have the edge on menus, catering to local tastes by blending its hamburger meat with garlic and soy sauce, and offering fish- and shrimp-based meals. But McDonald's continues to fight back, offering McSpaghetti, a spaghetti dish with frankfurter pieces.

New Zealand The McDonald's franchise was brought to New Zealand by Shop Rite supermarket magnate Wally Morris, who opened the first outlet in Porirua in 1976 - trailing five years behind the much larger neighbouring Australian market. Tucker of choice in New Zealand is the Kiwi Burger, which is a hamburger with a fried egg and a slice of beetroot. And just to show McDonald's really does care about the environment, it has put some of its profits into the McDonald's Rain Forest at Auckland Zoo, which provides a home from home for spider monkeys (which you might otherwise find in a real South American rainforest) plus other primates, reptiles and small mammals.

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