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 email@example.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.