I’m spending time in one of the world’s indisputably great food cities and here I am sitting with a shamefully large order of food at a Hong Kong McDonald’s. Why? Because I find it a fascinating anthropological exercise. McDonald’s is a global unit of currency, and every territory has its interpretations. There are the constants in each country, such as French fries and McNuggets, and then there’s the McDonald’s food, unfamiliar to American palates, made especially for its market. This is what I came for. I’m guessing this is what you came for, too.
Ebi Burger with Pineapple
The patty is panko-crusted minced shrimp from Thailand, with a thick slice of pineapple, lettuce and mayonnaise. I was dreaming of the pleasures of tempura shrimp, but the patty is void of seasoning. All I taste is tropical sweet and fry batter. Nice idea, poorly executed.
Smoky Hot McWings
I like these. There’s an artificial liquid smokiness to the wings, but it’s not unpleasant. The spice level I would describe as Southeast Asian fast food-spicy, meaning it may elicit complaints from meeker Westerners. But the fry job is well done, with popcorn ceiling-like crags to the exterior, and much juiciness maintained.
Potato Grids with Sesame Oil-Flavored Shake Shake Seasoning
When I told my Hong Kong-reared/America-educated cousin I was visiting McDonald’s, he said: “McDonald’s in Hong Kong is great. You should get the Shake Shake fries.” “What’s that?” I asked. “Basically they give you a paper bag and a packet of MSG, and you shake shake the seasoning powder and fries together.”
I was sold. In fact, these are better than I thought. Instead of fries, I got what they brand as “potato grids” (waffles aren’t really a thing here), with a seasoning packet of Demae Iccho-brand ramen, Hong Kong’s favorite instant noodles. This packet of MSG is extraordinary, tasting like toasted sesame oil in powdered form. The potato grids by themselves are some of the finest I’ve tasted: Crisp and crunchy with a robust Russet-flavor.
I did as the bag instructed, making a loud scene in the middle of the restaurant. I shouldn’t have added the entire seasoning packet because it was way too salty, with enough MSG to make my lips tingle. But once I dusted off an over-seasoned potato grid, the combination of sesame oil flavor and deep-roasted potatoes makes for a really tasty combination. I’m thinking of coming back just for this.
Chicken and Egg Burger
Finally, a response to “Which came first?” in sandwich-form. In this case though, the Chicken and Egg Burger isn’t better as a sum of the parts. It lacks cohesion, meaning, it tastes like a fried chicken cutlet with an egg disc with a slice of semi-melted cheese with two buns. There’s no alchemy.
You read it right: Cheese mango. Don’t recoil, the cheese-topped drink is already becoming a thing in the U.S.—imagine sweet cream cheese whipped into a foam and topped on your favorite fruit beverage or tea. It works really well with my mango smoothie drink, adding some tangy and subtly savory character to the sweetness of the tropical drink. I like it.
Hong Kong McDonald’s is currently running a campaign featuring a 130 gram Angus beef patty (slightly over quarter-pound), and one of those burgers is served in an American-inspired “Cowboy Angus.” It’s your standard Western burger minus the bacon, with a thick-cut fried onion ring, barbecue sauce, and cheese. The problem is the beef patty absolutely sucks. It’s grainy, the beefiness replaced by an off-flavor. Compared to American McDonald’s, which now serves Quarter Pounders with fresh-not-frozen beef—and I find delicious—the Hong Kong Angus beef is straight-up not good.