The temperature was 38 degrees celcius at the time this photo was taken.

Amerikai Hetek

[Content note: aeroplanes]

Last week I got on an aeroplane for the first time in about four years to fly to Budapest, in Hungary. Our fellow passengers on the return trip were treated to me and a couple of friends hysterically discussing the finer points of whether or not vampires can get boners in a moderately successful attempt to distract ourselves from the fact that we were in a metal tube with visibly shaking wings that was only staying in the sky by some vague trick of physics. I’m quite scared of flying.

Everything is fine, and I'm not panicking.

Wobbly, yet aerodynamic.

In the morning, before willingly loading ourselves into the un-reassuringly named “air bus” we decided the appropriate way to end a trip that had been full of delicious traditional Hungarian dishes would be a trip to the McDonald’s that someone had considerately built just around the corner from the apartment we were renting. The first point of excitement was that the soda dispenser runs wild and free in the customer area of the restaurant instead of hiding away behind the counter. When you buy a drink, you are handed an empty cup which you fill up yourself. Unsupervised! You could mix two different drinks together and nobody would be able to stop you! The second point of excitement was the “Amerikai Hetek” which I am assuming translates to American Menu. I know, you’re impressed, I was only there for a week and I’m practically fluent in Hungarian already.

The chips are a lie.

The Atlanta Burger

I ordered the Ropogós Atlanta Burger because I wasn’t going to let vegetarianism get in the way of McDonalds selling me a burger that came with fries inside it, but when it arrived I found to my crushing disappointment that the fries which had appeared so plump and appealing in the menu image were, in reality, crunchy shards of potatoey disappointment. Much closer to the American definition of chip than the British one, they were not what I’d had in mind for my burger experience.

Years of vegetarianism means I don’t have much to compare the burger to in terms of McDonald’s other meaty offerings, but I found the beef patty juicy enough and the bacon sufficiently crispy to make up for the starchy lie of the fries.

 

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Death and Taxes

Looks like we’ve finally got the guest post train rolling! This exploration of the wonders of Italian McDonald’s (seriously if you think I’m exaggerating READ IT. I need to go to Italy AT ONCE) is funny and clever and written by Patrick, who you should follow on Twitter at @Shiiuga. If you too would like to join us in the world of fast food writing, get in touch via twitter (@tillyjean_/@thatpeskyfeminist/@adragonbee) or send an email to thatpeskyfeminist@gmail.com. 

Benjamin Franklin once famously said that nothing in this life is certain but death and taxes. And he was wrong. Dead wrong.

To be fair to old Benji he was born in the days before McDonald’s had been invented, in a period of history known today as the dark ages. He couldn’t have known, then, that the Big Mac is also certain. McDonald’s is everywhere.

I discovered this to my benefit when I went travelling in Europe back in 2010. There isn’t a single country in Europe that I’m aware of that doesn’t have a McDonald’s, and it served as a great method of working out how expensive or cheap a country was going to be generally. Is a Big Mac Meal cheaper or more expensive than in Britain? If it’s cheaper you can generally expect to spend less money there, and vice versa.

I’m not laying claim to the idea or anything, the Big Mac index is a real method of comparing purchasing power used by the Economist. But I’m no mathematician, so it merely served as a handy cost-of-living comparison for me. For example, I decided against going to Norway where a Big Mac Meal can set you back £12.

The other reason that McDonald’s ubiquitousness was handy was that, when money felt a little tight, you could almost universally rely on it as a cheap(er) substitute than going to a local restaurant.

Maccie D’s saved my ass on more than one occasion on that trip, and I estimate that for convenience’s sake I probably ate there on average once a week, but two occasions spring to mind. One, when a bargainous £3 Big Mac Meal in Sofia helped to nurse my hangover after a particularly enthusiastic New Year’s Eve spent drinking cheap but incredibly strong Bulgarian beer; and secondly, and probably much more interestingly, in Florence in Italy.

I stepped rather queasily off the train after having spent a few days in Venice, during which I suffered from a pretty unpleasant bout of food poisoning. I’ll spare you the details but I’d hardly eaten in days, and I was just about at the point where I was getting hungry, but all that I could stomach was a McDonald’s. Don’t front, you’ve all been there.

I found the local branch at Florence station, and quickly scanned the menu. I was about to order the usual Big Mac when my eyes fell on what looked like the most delicious thing ever committed to two buns.

McDonald’s in Italy have, since the start of 2010, been running a McItaly range, made with locally sourced ingredients. The first effort, which used pancetta as its star attraction, was a huge flop, and caused massive outrage in Italy when it was endorsed by a prominent member of the Italian government. It might have had something to do with him holding the burger in one hand and a big sack with a € sign on it in the other in the publicity photo, who knows. (Of course it didn’t really, please don’t sue me mister nice Italian man. For real though the politics of fast food in Italy is really interesting and is probably worth another article in itself.)

Anyway, McDonald’s have never been one to know when to stop flogging the proverbial dead horse, and instead of dropping the whole terrible idea have continued making McItaly burgers to this day. It appears that my arrival at this outlet was well timed with the halcyon days of their second effort.

I can’t remember what it was called, just that the cheese was mozzarella, the beef was a local Italian breed, there was some kind of pesto involved and the bun had herbs on the top. My tired eyes lit up, my weary look changed to a smile, and even my stomach grumbled approvingly as if to say “That’ll do, pig. That’ll do.”

I ordered one immediately. It was delicious. Oh it was delicious.

The mozzarella and the beef worked perfectly together, with the pesto giving just that little hint of basil, and the dried herbs on the bun adding flavour to what is often the blandest aspect of a McDonald’s burger.

It wasn’t perfect. I am reluctant to say that any burger I have eaten has been perfect. But, it was exactly what I needed at that moment in time. After having been burned so callously by the French fries pizza that gave me the food poisoning only a few days earlier in Venice, it was exactly what I needed to restore my faith in fast food, and to put me properly back on the road to recovery. Even if I can’t remember the name, I will never forget that burger and what it did for me and that trip.

In addition to the restorative properties of that meal it also installed a curiosity in me. If Italy has this, what other local specialties is McDonald’s packing? Whenever I go abroad these days I always poke my head into a McDonald’s and check if they have anything special. Usually, they don’t, and I go on my merry way, but one day I will find another one like it and rejoice.

A lot of people say that McDonald’s is great because at its heart it will always be the same wherever you go, and I can get behind that to an extent. But, for me, McDonald’s will always be at its best when it is different. When you find that new special thing somewhere that you can’t get anywhere else it’s like stumbling across a hidden treasure.

A delicious, meaty hidden treasure.

I just paid £3.95 for a few ribbons of beef between two slices of white bread…

And all I got is the inspiration to write this lousy blog post.

Feeding yourself when you work in an office for 8 hours a day can be tough. There’s a delicate balance between not eating enough, bringing too much food, and having just the right amount. I still don’t know what just the right amount is. I tend to pack a lunch, because I’m tight thrifty, and I don’t really like sandwiches. Certainly, I don’t like sandwiches from Pret which cost about £4 with some thinly spread filling, even if it could the most delicious thing I’ve ever eaten. Even sandwiches from Greggs, or Tesco, are reaching into the £3 region. Is this reasonable now? It doesn’t sound reasonable to me.

But what do you do when you want a sandwich? It doesn’t happen to me often, but the other day I had an extreme hankering for a beef, mustard and roast potato sandwich like my mum would make with roast dinner leftovers. I’m no fool; I knew I wasn’t going to get anything like that, and if it is possible to, I need to know where from immediately. Still, there is a sandwich shop just up the road, the Brunel Sandwich Shop, so I figure, if anywhere is going to satisfy me, that’s going to be the place!

I was wrong. I was hoping to be served up a masterpiece of sandwich creation – I guess I thought a sandwich shop would have like, sandwich specialists, or something – but instead I got a sad assortment of beef, lettuce and a thin layer of mustard on white bread. Honestly, I’ve had nicer sandwiches from Greggs.

The moral of this story is that even when you find Greggs a little bit pricey, Greggs is still always the answer. And sandwiches aren’t worth it. That’s all.

Veggie Deluxe burger in its box, accompanied by a portion of chips, a portion of cheesy bites and a little pot of tomato sauce.

McDonald’s Veggie Burger Secret

I’ve been ordering veggie burgers from McDonald’s for years and I’ve always been confused about why I sometimes get what I want (a burger with lettuce and mayo) and sometimes I get the bizarre sandwich smothered in litres of excessively sweet sweet chili sauce.

I like the vegetable patty that McDonald’s do. It’s a lot better than many pub veggie burgers I’ve had, especially the one from The Chequers in Royston: a mediocre at best patty of mashed vegetables in breadcrumbs, which was served to me burnt in a plain white bun that hadn’t even been buttered. I despise McDonald’s weird sweet chili sauce, and the absurdly awkward to eat sandwich with the two halves of the veggie bean burger. Why put it in a long roll when you have hundreds of rolls designed to be the exact size you actually need? Why is your sauce so sweet? Are you putting jam in my spicy bean burger?

Yet I keep ordering the McDonald’s veggie burger, because there’s not much else and sometimes I get what I want: a nice burger in a nice roll with some nice lettuce and some nice mayonnaise.

Friends, I have finally worked out what has been going wrong all these years. McDonald’s do TWO veggie burgers. There’s the spicy bean burger and the veggie deluxe, and, as the person behind the counter in McDonald’s Swaffham kindly explained to me, the spicy bean burger is the long one with chili on it and the veggie deluxe is basically the Chicken Supreme but with a vegetable patty.

This is a life changing moment. Never again will I gingerly scrape off as much chili jam as is possible with a couple of paper napkins, only to have the whole assembly fall apart the second I pick it up anyway. Never again will I carefully peel off the half a tomato they put on top of each half a patty. I am free to eat the boring veggie burger with lettuce and mayo I’ve always wanted. I suppose if you actually like the spicy bean burger sandwich and have occasionally been getting the (superior) plain version by accident you know the difference now too.

Go forth and spread the knowledge.

And the cheesy bites are pretty good too.

McDonalds: An Overseas Affair (Part 1/2)

After months of begging people to contribute to this blog, because I’m weird and like hearing other people talk about food and also because I’m lazy and want other people to write things for me, I finally got a bite! I mean, yes, he’s my friend and yes, he agreed to do it after I nagged him in the pub but I’m viewing this as a success. He’s also very good, and you should follow him on Twitter (@ThatChris1209 – coincidence that we both have ‘that’ in our social media presence or fate? You decide.)

First of all, hi. I’m new here. I’m Chris. How’s it going?

Second of all… McDonald’s, eh? My love affair with the Golden Arches has been long and, at times passionate, but as ever, the magic started to fade after a solid 15 year run. We fell into a routine, did McDonald’s and I: I’d come in, eat at least one more double cheeseburger than I ought, wipe the chip salt from my fingers, half-finish a Coke and leave. It was still satisfying. It was still good, even. But the spark was gone.

We decided to take a short trip. Maybe a quick change of scene would remind us what we used to have. Maybe we could try things that normally, at home, we were never able to. Minds made up, we hopped on a plane (me physically, McDonald’s figuratively, of course) and headed for New York. Maybe this could be our fresh beginning.

Okay, enough preamble. Having spent the previous evening exploring the city and one or two of its bars, it was time for a mid-afternoon meeting with my most trusted travelling companion. Waiting for me right outside the hotel was the familiar golden glow, and I wandered in out of the 30° heat and into an air conditioned heaven.

Eager, but unwilling to rush into things head-first and do something foolish, I studied the menu board. My eyes eventually settled on the Bacon Clubhouse Burger (Yep, we’re finally getting to the actual food part). I ordered, sat down with my fries and small bucket of Coke, and opened the box.

image1

It looked perfect. I’ve got a lot of love for McDonald’s sesame-topped buns, but the ‘artisan roll’, all shiny and unblemished, looked like nothing that I’d have found back home. Here, filled with a heap of bacon, onions, lettuce and finished with a quarter-pound burger patty covered in cheese, was what I’d flown over an ocean for. On sight, I knew I’d found what I was in search of.

Now usually, I’m a ‘fries first, build up to the burger’ kind of person, but this time I just couldn’t wait. Straight into the sandwich, and I don’t regret it for a second. When it was done, I was sorely tempted to dispense with the fries and get another, identical, burger to repeat the experience – possibly a testament to my hangover and how good the thing was. I didn’t. Quite.

Nothing about the experience was anything less than I wanted. The roll had held its shape impressively in the cramped box, and didn’t fall apart halfway through eating like so many of its predecessors. The liberal dollop of Big Mac sauce in the middle kept the whole thing from ever being too dry, and the lettuce actually crunched a little. McDonald’s lettuce! Crunching!

I still didn’t finish the Coke. Some things, not even distance can change.

If the Bacon Clubhouse ever makes its way to the UK, I’ll be there with bells on. It won’t quite be as special, but it’ll always be a memory worth revisiting.

PART 2 coming ?????????

New York Classic Might Need to Become Something New

So, the final week of the Great Tastes of America promotion has been and gone. We did it, kids. I ate one of those burgers every week and all I’ve really learnt is that I will eat anything McDonalds tries to sell to me, for better or worse.

  
The last Great Taste was the New York Classic, which is a strong contender for burger of the month. I mean, look at that bun! Chilli Chive sesame seed. Plus, you’ve got your beef patty, bacon, two slices of cheese (which honestly I don’t know if that’s more cheese than usual or not, but it sounds good), lettuce, red onions and a MAYO, MUSTARD AND KETCHUP COMBO – the dream team! Basically, there is a lot of good in this burger and it’s got a strong, well-measured taste. Nothing is out of place, but then, can you really go wrong with bacon-cheese-red onion-sauce? Its beauty is in its simplicity.

  
To make sure I cover all the bases, in that same week I also had a Hot & Spicy Buffalo BBQ Chicken burger to myself, which is chicken breast topped with bacon, cheese, onions, Batavia lettuce (whatever that is), mayo and the Hot & Spicy Buffalo BBQ sauce. As I mentioned previously, this burger is surprisingly spicy in a pleasant way; it’s got way more flavour than I’d expect from a McDonalds burger, especially a chicken variant, because as much as I love them I do find the wraps and the Chicken Legend a little bland.

The problem is, though, now I’m bereft. I don’t have a weekly theme burger to look forward to and I don’t know what McDonalds is going to offer me next. Currently they’re running the Big Tasty again, which as I’ve said a thousand times now, I’m not a fan of (the bacon is limp and the sauce is sour; I appreciate I’m possibly alone in this verdict). I’m hoping that they’ll have something new and exciting for us soon.

Except, what I’m thinking now is – will it be new and exciting? Is any of this new and exciting? I know it’s McDonalds we’re talking here, the home of cheap, easy to chug food and not in-depth innovation. But should we be asking for more from our fast food? Some of these Great Tastes really were great, but on the whole there was very little to write home about here. Most of the flavour combinations were nice, there were a few exciting ingredients, but on the whole? I don’t feel like I experienced something I’d die to experience again, and that’s kind of what I’m going for with my food experiences.

The other week I had a beef burger smothered in Buffalo sauce, not like McDonalds’ own BBQ Chicken burger but like ‘oh my god this burger tastes like hot wings’. There are few things I love more than burgers and chicken wings, so the combination is divine. That was in a sit-down restaurant, so I’m not expecting anything of that quality – but other fast food outlets are trying too. KFC ran with its pulled chicken, which I’m going to be honest, I haven’t eaten because I think it looks disgusting, but hey, they’re trying! They recognised that the public are very interested in pulled pork and burritos right now, so they adapted with their own thing.

Then you’ve got Burger King, which is always bringing out something new (I just can’t afford to try them all…). Right now they’ve got a summer barbecue range including a BBQ Jerk Tendercrisp chicken sandwich, the Crunchy BBQ Whopper which has a potato rosti in it (!!), and the Spicy BBQ Steakhouse. They’re also offering nacho cheese bites and three varieties of frozen drink. This all sounds great. And I mean, hell, even Dominos is serving a chicken tikka pizza right now, topped with pieces of onion bhaji. I haven’t tried it, but I’m reliably informed that it’s actually good. That’s risk-taking done right. When are McDonalds going to take any risks?

There’s more going on here, too. KFC have started the ‘Colonel’s Club’ which is a rewards system. Burger King offer a whole host of vouchers on their website (similar to how Subway and Dominos post theirs through letterboxes, but obviously better, because they’re easy to access), and are currently piloting a delivery service. As much as I love McDonalds for being McDonalds, and I still rate their food for speed and cost, it’s pretty clear that they’ve got to do something.

I know that they’re currently running Create Your Taste in places like America and Australia, which allows customers to build their own burger at a kiosk from a selection of ‘gourmet’ toppings. They even trailer that with ‘how very unMcDonalds’. I appreciate that, and I’d love for it to come to the UK soon. I’d also like them to try out delivery, as they’ve been rumouring for a long time. But what they’re going to have to realise is that as unMcDonalds as that might be – and it is, it’s exactly not what we expect from this fast food chain that has been established for so long and does what it does so right – it’s probably going to have to start to be what McDonalds is. Because times change.

Arizona Nacho Grande Ideas

McDonalds really love that nacho/burger combination. I can’t say I blame them; nachos are everything. It’s just… not always a match-made in heaven. It’s all fun and games until you’ve got a lap full of soggy, soft nachos, after all.

  
When I opened up my Arizona, I was struck by that red poking out of the side. Passing it off as more Sunblush tomato sauce, I identified prime nacho potential and got stuck in.

And you know what, the nachos were seeping with nacho cheese sauce but they still retained a satisfying crunch! Combined with the crisp lettuce and soft beef patty, it’s an enjoyable meld of textures.

But wait.

There’s something else.

PEPPERONI. The Arizona Nacho Grande has PEPPERONI SLICES in it and I had no idea. Spicy, tangy pepperoni mixing with the peppered cheese and the sauce and the crisps and the beef to make a melt in your mouth sensation. Nothing is out of place here. Everything is in proportion, every bite like a joy explosion.

All this time I had thought you’d only put pepperoni in a burger to make it pizza-y (as McDonalds did last year, and I adored it). But no. It adds so much flavour and mixes so well with the cheese and the meat (I mean, that is why pizza is so good, right?). I don’t want it to ever end, but it has.

Ultimately I have to accept that this promotion is coming to a close. This week’s burger, The New York Classic, is the last and though I cannot wait to get it in my mouth – it’s pretty much got all the makings of the perfect burger – it will be bittersweet. I don’t know what McDonalds will give us next, and it might be the Big Tasty again which I really can do without. Who’s going to give me pepperoni nacho cheese beef burgers now? The future is a scary place.