First it was burgers and tacos, now Parisians have moved on to lobster rolls. I wonder if deep-dish pizza or chili will ever take hold? [NYT]
In fourth grade someone got the bright idea of cutting lunch to an outrageous 15 minutes (as if going to a year-round school without a cafeteria wasn't enough--we ate at our desks and were served by mobile carts in the hall). To get the slow eaters (me) up to speed, our teachers implemented a charming little policy called "Shovel Time."
The first nine minutes would pass normally. Then as the tenth approached, Miss Stauffer (a feathered-haired gal who drove a Camaro and loved Little River Band) would yell, "Do you know what time it is?!" The class would manically shriek back, "SHOVEL TIME!!!" Talking was absolutely forbidden the final five minutes—it was a deathly silent scarf fest.
don't know if I've ever been the same since. But as a nod to this classy
ritual, I've adopted the humble scooping implement as my rating system's
icon. Shovel on!
1 Shovel=Passing Fancy
2 Shovels=Puppy Love
3 Shovels=Crippling Crush
4 Shovels=Serious Stalking
First it was burgers and tacos, now Parisians have moved on to lobster rolls. I wonder if deep-dish pizza or chili will ever take hold? [NYT]
Stranger, is Agriculture Canada bringing Canadian cuisine (what?) to the streets of Mexico City. Oaxaca cheese poutine sounds pretty good, though. [National Post via @Francis_Lam]
The debut issue of Israeli Playboy describes Playmate of the Month, Marin Teremets, as "the hottest and sweetest thing imported from America since the chain Cinnabon.” If this photo is to be used as evidence, the country has some unusual ideas about baked goods.
Like the Chinese embracing Friends a decade-and-a-half late, in 2013 South Africans are now getting a taste of KFC's breasts-as-buns, Double Down. Don't feel too bad for them, though, because they get a Hawaiian burger (pineapple! "Colonel dressing!") and no one else does.
I'd like to promise that this is the first and last time I ever republish a Hungry Girl tweet (I could always move on to Facebook where she's upsetting dieters by posting photos of fries from Gordon Ramsay in Tokyo). But damn if those Cherry Blossom drinks and sweets aren't pretty.
Next time in Tokyo, there may be a Dippin' Dots.
Photo: Cinnabon Israel via Facebook
Frankly, I would visit an international P.F. Chang's sooner than a Pei Wei, but the question has been posed on Twitter.
Pei Wei has expanded globally! Has anyone visited either of our international locations in Mexico or Kuwait? twitter.com/PeiWei/status/…— PeiWei (@PeiWei) March 22, 2013
Maybe you’re familiar with CaliBurger? I am not. Two will be opening in China with the promise of “an environment that looks, smells, and feels like California.”
Three’s a chain, so Mission Chinese Paris, looking more like a reality, merits a mention.
On the uncool end of the spectrum, France loves fast food and is the second-largest McDonald’s market after the US. I don’t imagine the chain’s cherry tomatoes packaged like fries is contributing to its popularity.
SAT-style, Starbucks could eventually be to China as McDonald’s is to France. According to Chief Executive Howard Schultz, “"It's no doubt that one day China will become our second-largest market after the US and it's possible that, over many years, potentially the largest one.”
Wendy’s in Ecuador? Ok, why not.
I was getting a little concerned that the Middle East was hogging all the international Cheesecake Factories for itself. No worries (ha, why does everyone hate "no problem" and "no worries" so much?) Mexico and Chile (and possibly Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Peru) will see at least 12 locations in the next eight years. I do wonder if Mexico City, the first recipient, will put Mexico City Chicken, i.e. "fresh lime chicken breasts over black beans and chicken chorizo, with white rice and spicy tomato sauce. topped with roasted corn salsa," on the menu.
Brazil, Colombia, Panama and the Dominican Republic may not be seeing Cheesecake Factories any time soon, however, these countries will possibly be consoled by Darden brands like Red Lobster, Olive Garden and Longhorn Steakhouse. Sorry, no Bahama Breeze.
No one in Columbia or Peru probably asked for a Sbarro, but too bad. If the existing Mexican Sbarros are any indication, the other Latin American markets won't see a single nod to localization. The elusive Stuffed Philly Cheese Steak pizza survives south of the border, though.
Mexico City chicken photo: Lon&Queta/Flickr
If for some reason you are keen on such things, 2013 has already been a banner year for international chain expansion news.
Since I don't surf or really do beaches, I've not thought much about Costa Rica, but Technomic declares it a hotspot. It's good enough for Cosi, Moe's Southwest Grill and Smashburger.
Poor reading, i.e. skimming, comprehension led me to believe that "McDonald's takes on pizza for Italy growth spurt" meant McDonald's was going to start selling pizza in Italy. No. The only concession to local tastes described in the article is a ham and cheese sandwich.
Despite KFC's presence since 1987 Yum! Brands is losing its luster in China, along with Western fast food generally. Domestic brands like HeheGu featuring delicious-sounding "slow-cooked pork and bamboo shoots over rice" and Taiwanese chains like Dico with less delicious-sounding but highly creative "cumin-flavoured chicken fries and pineapple-chicken-mayonnaise sandwiches" are beginning to catch up with fried chicken and pizza.
Pakistan may not love our politics, but they do love our Fatburger...and Johnny Rockets, Hardee's, Cinnabon and Mrs. Field's. Of course Yum! has been there the longest--since the late '90s--minus Taco Bell as usual.
While KFC and Pizza Hut get all of the attention abroad, in 2010 Yum! did launch Taco Bell in India. It hasn't exactly won coverts so the menu will become 60% localized and vegetarian, an unusual move. Thing is, I thought that's what they were already doing. It seems like just yesterday we were hearing about Mexican paneer potato burritos.
Sure India has a middle class, but for most Domino's has been perceived as a special occasion treat. The company swapped out pricier mozzarella for "liquid cheese sauce" and voila: a 65-cent pizza. What I'd really like to see is an explanation for Taco Indiana Chicken (pictured above) described as "delicious oregano sprinkled crispy crust and a cheesy layer over seasoned minced chicken" on the menu. That's roti not tortillas, right?
I should omit this Washington Post link on principle for allowing "Vietnamese palette" to make it in. Starbucks has infiltrated Asia, but is just now getting around to Vietnam. Trouble is, the country already has an established coffee culture. It might be cool if Starbucks offered those individual metal drip filters and used a shitload of sweetened condensed milk for iced coffee.
Not all extensions are fast food. Brooklyn Brewery is coming to Stockholm and will likely cash in Brooklyn's caché. “Swedes love the taste of our beer, the name of our beer and the mystique of Brooklyn," said the brewery's COO.
Despite not trying a beef bacon burger at Dubai's Shake Shack, I was a little obsessed with the possibility of doing so next to a faux ski slope in 110 degree weather. The new Lupa in Hong Kong stymied me more than anything (is a lunch buffet true to form?)
Both of those examples were included in a New York Times article this weekend about the power of New York restaurant brands abroad (and I thought it was Brooklyn getting all the attention, from Paris to Texas and even Bangkok). BLT restaurants, upcoming Fatty Crabs, Michael White's Al Molo, and the fake Craftsteak (the company, Dining Concepts, which is responsible for the Tourondel, Batali and White restaurants in Hong Kong, also has a Nahm in its portfolio, which has nothing to do with David Thompson, a non-Keller Bouchon, and a Blue Smoke that may be Danny Meyer-approved but isn't explicit anywhere) also get mentions.
And yet there are even more NYC brands, some big, some small, that have crept beyond our borders:
In Dubai Magnolia Bakery is in a Bloomingdale's in a mall. I would've loved to hear if women in black abayas claimed to be "Carries" or "Samanthas," but cupcakes were not making a daytime appearance during Ramadan.
I have no idea what the Park Slope of Kuwait might be, but it's doubtful that breast-feeders and Mother's Milk Stout drinkers will comingle at the Tea Lounge's new Middle Eastern franchise.
Sarabeth's can be found in Manhattan and area Lord & Taylors, and now too in Tokyo.
I don't know that I would call The Brooklyn Diner (with its only two NYC locations in Manhattan, it already sounds foreign-ized and innacurate)an institution. In fact, I'd never heard of it before seeing the name plastered on the wall at Dubai's Festival Walk mall, just above a Jamie Oliver restaurant.
I must admit my favorite New York transplant is McSorley's in Macau because the layers of international intrigue are nearly unimaginable: an Irish bar in the East Village transported to a casino mimicking Venice from Las Vegas and re-imagined and scaled larger for a Chinese Special Administrative Region. The world should give up because Macau McSorley's has won.
While drinking a beer at dark wood booth, I watched a video slide slow on the wall-mounted TV showing a bag of rolls, brand name Jussipussy, and a small child with the caption, "Fuck milk and cookies, give me titties and beer." The B 52s and Jermaine Stewart played in the background. There were no frat boys, just a few Chinese couples not drinking beer. Drinking is not a big part of Macanese casino culture. Perhaps what happens in Macau, does not stay in Macau.
Nathan's Famous has spread from Coney Island to Japan, Kuwait, UAE and the Dominican Republic.
And while not typically associated with New York, at least in its contemporary form, T.G.I. Friday's, is the original local kid makes good. The singles bar turned flair popularizer has penetrated every continent on earth.
Not exactly a shocking expose (it's touched on here) but if I took away one thing (in disgusting business speak, "a learning") this Christmas, it is that The Feast of the Seven Fishes is an American, or more specifically NYC Italian-American invention. Oh, and that Home Alone is a popular Christmas movie in Italy with a title that translates as Mama, I've Lost the Plane.
Facebook planning for a Christmas Eve get together involving a bunch of Italian under-35s (what do you call millennials in Italian?) just ended up stumping them when the hostess mentioned the party would be "BYOF" since she was only serving three kinds of fish. Representing geographies from the top to bottom of the boot, no one had ever heard of having to eat fish on Christmas Eve, let alone seven of them.
Then again, anyone abroad could just as easily assume Americans all crack open peppermint pigs for Christmas.
I do love that there is a Feast of the Seven Fishes comic book.
It's hard to say whether wacky chain restaurant pizzas were on the increase in 2012 or if the amount of online coverage just made it seem so. Had blogs not heard of foreign Pizza Huts in 2011? Then again Yelpy PR-driven dining events (Um, "I'm not complaining, I'm just saying" tells you all you need to know) which seem more rampant outside the US, or at least NYC, are probably a factor, as well.
The Singaporean "Double Sensation," is the latest attention-grabber. And yes, the two crusts, alfredo sauce and maraschino cherry are hard to ignore. So too, is much of the tropical city-state's Pizza Hut menu.
Five things you're not likely to ever see at a US Pizza Hut:
I love how so many Asian countries are fearless about combining cheese and seafood. I'm all for it, and the pairing reaches its pinnacle with this bold fusion that would be the first thing I'd order. Classically Singaporean chili crab is presented in soft shell form and mixed with fake crab, pineapple, tomato, buttered rice and melted mozzarella.
I draw the line at warm mayonnaise, though. We all have our personal boundaries. The Ocean Catch also relies on crab sticks, pineapple and tomatoes, along with tuna, squid and shrimp--all atop lime mayo.
While American Pizza Huts still feature salad bars, in Singapore the roughage is more composed--and willy-nilly. The Fruitty Prawn Salad takes obvious favorites like shrimp, mayonnaise and pineapple and puts in mangoes, strawberries, rasins and almonds just because they can.
A roasted chicken leg isn't so odd, in and of itself, but touting the "garlic cheese fondue sauce" and its positioning on the Western Favorites part of the menu with overtly British fish and chips just makes one wonder which Western country claims garlic-cheese sauce a favorite? They lose all credibility with Americans with the glaring omission of ranch.
On the other hand, Munchie Mouse seems aggressively American with its Oreo ears and mini M&M eyes. We have Hershey's Dunkers and Cinnamon Sticks, which I'm pretty sure are just dough scrap desserts.
Photos: Pizza Hut Singapore
BurgerBusiness declared black buns one of the worst trends of 2012, citing offenders in China, Japan and France. Thailand also has two specimens that I’m aware of (and I'm hardly an on-the-ground Thailand expert so it’s possible there are more): gastropub, The Smith, and Casper Burger, a fast food joint that used to be in Bangkok's goth mall and is now at Plearnwan, a made-to-look old-timey tourist attraction in Hua Hin.
It’s as if Casper knew spooky squid ink was already passé. For Christmas, the restaurant has concocted red and green buns made from spinach and beets (I refuse to type or say beetroot). I’m also fairly certain that the patties aren’t beef, but battered pork cutlets. Who needs tradition?
Bangkok has more than a few strange businesses-naming trends (I'll save Something Story, as in Fat Story, the bluntly ESL plus-size shop in the now-gone Suan Lum Night Bazaar, for another time). The most prominent is Something by Someone (Caffe Nero by Black Canyon Coffee, as pictured here in the background of The Pizza Company). I'm not sure if this has to do with the way the Thai language is translated to English or a desire to sound upscale.
If you spend enough time trolling Sukhumvit's endless malls (a touristy strip that's starting to rival Singapore's Orchard Road) instead of doing whatever it is you're supposed to do in Bangkok you may learn an interesting thing or two. (Like if you want to see The Dark Knight Rises, you'll first have to stand and watch a video about the king's life while the royal--not the national!-- anthem plays. Also, the US may be the only country without assigned movie seating.)
Terminal 21, the airport-themed shopping center that's probably bigger than some actual airports (with a harrowingly long escalator that I blame for making me anxious and caused me to put a sample frosty taupe nail polish on my lips, thinking it was gloss) has an astonishing array of Something by Somebodies, though only two, the ones I've linked to, are food establishments.
Hers by Sopida
Stella by Jolie Robe
Yourburry By Aew
PAUSE BY 30 SEP
Jikkaroo by Hara
Chichi By One Bed Room
Squeeze By Tipco
Krit By VolumeX
Yamato By Yu-Raku-Cho
21 by aoom
OPA by Apinya
PETA BY BELDA
ZEMI-OH-TICK BY BON_BELLE
New Sky By Medicos
SUSRI CC BY SUSRI
Three Design By Prayong
Yentafo Krueng Songe By A.Mallika
BB Center By Zirtel
Bar Phone by Duet
And the crowning glory: Fat by Fat!
Just around the corner from LadyPhat (which doesn't fit the By theme but is glorious, nonetheless).
Today I learned that 88% of residents of the UAE dine in mall food courts, which was no surprise whatsoever. (And that the waits for a table at the Cheesecake Factory, which I'm still sore over missing by a few weeks, are as rough, if not worse, than at any American location. Also, Cheesecake Factory is surprisingly high on the wish list of a number of New York Times commenters.)
This empty warren of seats at the Mall of the Emirates during Ramadan isn't technically a food court (there were two of those elsewhere) but where you could dine "al fresco" if eating at the waiter service restaurants just to the left of the frame like California Pizza Kitchen and Chili's, as well as Iranian Pars, Lebanese Al Hallab and South African The Butcher Shop & Grill.
In the real food court, late night for a second dinner, I nearly took a chance on the Zinger Shrimpo dishes at KFC (Singapore isn't the only country with weirdo shrimp on the menu) but decided that with limited time it would be better to go homegrown. We hit the food court at Mall of the Emirates late night for a second dinner.
Al Farooj is the UAE's popular fried chicken franchise. I don't even know if I can call it fast food since it took close to twenty minutes to get one spicy chicken sandwich, a.k.a. Xtra Fire.
Fried chicken, chicken sandwiches and wraps that wouldn't be completely out of place in the US are its main thing, but the sides are where it gets interesting. American jalapeno poppers and mozzarella sticks mingle with more local tabbouleh, hummus and stuffed grape leaves. We just got fries.
If I had one more sit-down meal at my disposal it definitely would've been Persian food since that's scarce in NYC. Instead, I settled for a mixed lamb and chicken kabobs at Hatam, an Iranian fast food joint. The butter, that comes in a little plastic packet to drizzle over the (large for me) serving of rice wasn't solid but liquefied like popcorn butter.
I regret not getting to sample sangak, this giant Iranian bread, or fesenjan, the renowned chicken, pomegranate and walnut stew, but this wasn't half bad for a food court meal.
While not as obvious as Taco Bell's adoption of a Doritos shell, Cinnabon's Pizzabon isn't that illogical of a progression. (And as concluded by Slice commenters, not all that different from an NYC pepperoni roll.)
It made me think, though, how I know I saw a cheese-sauce-drenched roll at a Cinnabon in Kuala Lumpur in 2005 and can find absolutely no online evidence of this creature. The photo I took of the menu at the time was blurry and I deleted it.
Thank goodness for camera phones. Now nothing is too mundane to be snapped and saved for posterity. While taking a snack-free break at a Cinnabon during Ramadan's "takeway" (I'm still not clear why Dubai is so British-y) only hours--wouldn't that sweet smell drive you insane if you were fasting?--I couldn't help but notice that the palate/palette problem isn't restricted to the US.
And speaking of buns, my favorite of the gazillion Asian self-serve bakeries, BreadTalk, is always topical. The last time I was in Singapore, they were advertising the Obunma. This time, in Bangkok, they were all about Olympicks, sadly free of bun puns.
They're also really big on fluffy, dried meat floss, or rather, Flosss (there is a troubling mayonnaise layer that adheres the floss to bun, by the way) which like bakkwa, a.k.a. soft, chewy Chinese jerky, is a foodstuff I don't fully understand the history of but is inescapable, particularly in Macau.
Ramadan, which ends today, (time passes so fast) is something I’ve always been vaguely aware of (though not so aware that I booked travel to Dubai before realizing I’d be in the thick of it) but never so much as this year. I'm sure that annually the holy month gets covered by the media, but this year it felt like was seeping everywhere.
Without actively seeking out any articles, recently Ramadan has been the subject of a first-person account of first-time fasting in the The New Yorker, in NPR about cheaters, and amusingly to a glutton like myself, mentioned in hand-wringing stories over perversion of its true meaning due to all the pigging-out at decadent iftars (hundreds ate themselves sick and right into the emergency room in Qatar). How restrained can a region that welcomes the first Cheesecake Factory outside the US be?
And malls--The Dubai Mall and Mall of the Emirates are the biggies, and I do mean that literally even if I'm too lazy to look up their square footage for comparison to their US counterparts--are the places that one (ok, me) might argue are the cultural hubs to best witness the collision of the modern and ancient, or at the very least how the West meets (Middle) East and adapts.
The man-made ski slope would be the obvious start. And it is nearly the first thing you see when rising up the escalator into the entrance of the Mall of the Emirates where taxis let off passengers scrambling for air conditioned relief.
You can have fondue and cocktails overlooking Ski Dubai. I'm surprised they didn't go all New Orleans and use real fireplaces despite the ridiculous temperatures (though Dubai was twenty degrees hotter than the hottest weather I've ever experienced in Louisiana).
Shake Shack holds prime real estate across from the slopes. And while no burgers could be consumed until after sundown, you're able to get your (halal, bacon-free) fix until 3am during Ramadan.
The IHOP directly next door has already opened, and I do hope a chicken veal sausage, turkey beef bacon version of the Rooty Tooty Fresh 'N Fruity is on the menu.
The Magnolia Bakery was deserted. No lines, no cupcakes.
The concentration of American chains (ok, Tim Hortons is Canadian) was astonishing. Dubai has doubles and triples of restaurants with zero presence in NYC (though, oddly, Olive Garden was absent). And if you think they are filled with tourists (Americans definitely don't make-up any significant proportion of visitors, who seemed to be very British with a sprinkling of Russian) you would be mistaken.
High-end imports like The Ivy also have doppelgangers in Dubai. As do confectioners like Laduree and Barcelona's Cacao Sampaka. Maison Kayser, recently exciting New Yorkers, is old news in the Dubai mall world.
Covertly sneaking a sip of water or handful of Marks & Spencer trail mix in the bathroom can get old for a non-Muslim mall rat. I quickly figured out that mall hotels were safe havens. (Bizarrely, in Bangkok, a week later in my itinerary, I butted up against so-called Buddhist Lent, where no alcohol was sold anywhere for two days, except in hotel bars. If one must suffer Santana cover bands and iced Manhattans to get a fix, so be it.) The Kempinski, attached to Mall of the Emirates, had a bar full of secret smokers and eaters (no daytime drinking for anyone). We headed in for mini burgers and a dessert sampler, both far larger than the snack we originally were looking for. The Ember Grill at The Address Dubai Mall is where to do the same at the other big mall in town. There, we pit-stopped for a coffee and a smoke just because it felt forbidden and we could.
Even before 7pm, restaurants began filling up with those anxious to eat. As soon as the prayers sounded--around 7:15 during my visit--masses started trickling into the walkways (from where?) and by 7:30 some restaurants already had lines for seats. Texas Roadhouse was the surprise hit--a number of parties were waiting out front, beepers in hand. What I really wanted to know was if the servers in Dubai also periodically perform country line dances.
I returned to the Shake Shack close to midnight, mostly to see if Dubai's version attracted NYC-length lines. That did not seem to be the case--at least not at that hour. It took restraint to not order a burger, but we had vowed to try local fast food brands instead (more on that later).
My biggest two Dubai regrets were being unable to explore more ethnic eats like those chronicled in I Live in a Frying Pan (normally, I balance the modern and franchise-y with local restaurants and street food) because none were open during the day, and my brief four nights in the city meaning only having time for as many dinners, too short a stop to justify a curiosity-satisfying visit to California Pizza Kitchen or P.F. Chang's.
I'm only out of the country two weeks, obsessing over Americana in far-flung places. (I expected Shake Shack and Tony Roma's--all big cities on that side of the globe seem to have our failed rib chain--in Dubai, but Cheesecake Factory and Texas Roadhouse too? Many, many photos to come.) And yet I return to a slew of interlopers putting the moves on NYC.
Mohti Mahal Delux: fancy Indian from India, now on the Upper East Side.
Maison Kayser: I totally saw this Parisian bakery-cafe in a Dubai mall, which is no surprise. We finally got our first branch last week.
Big Smoke Burger: Toronto burgers and poutine coming to Manhattan (and Chicago).
Wasabi: Sushi, individually wrapped for some reason, from London will arrive in NYC next spring.
Bibigo: Healthy Korean chain that's already in LA, will be here next year. London and Tokyo will receive outposts sooner.
I will be birthday-traveling (Dubai, Macau, Hong Kong, Bangkok!) for the next two weeks, so it's doubtful there will many, if any posts here for a while. I'm not a blog-on-the-go type, though assuming I sort out prepaid SIM card issues in all those countries (I was never able to get my phone to work in Berlin) there will tweets and instagrams galore (I apologize in advance).
Because I wasn't thinking, I scheduled this vacation during Ramadan, which means no eating or drinking outside of hotels in Dubai until sundown. How can I fully experience a Middle Eastern Magnolia Bakery when no one can eat cupcakes?
The upside? All these crazy chain restaurant Iftars (I know this blog is from Kuwait, not Dubai, but both share Ruby Tuesday, Subway, and the like).
Also, there is a McSorley's Ale House in a Macau casino. This is going to be good.
See you in August.
Photo via B&D Kuwait
Who knew that mashed potatoes from a self-serve machine could cause such a stir? Then again, when I first encoutered the Singaporean concept of mashed potato combo meals at a 7-Eleven in the flesh, I was blown away. I've always considered the unusual snack to be a classic example of International Intrigue.
And then I rekindled my love three years later.
They also serve Maggi brand mashed potatoes with gravy at movie theaters in Penang, and probably all over Malaysia and Singapore, too. But let’s stick with 7-Eleven here. Movie theater food is another post, though I'd love to know why they commonly serve caramel corn in Latin American cinemas, but not in the US.
Five items that Singaporean 7-Elevens have that we don’t:
Soya Sauce Chicken Rice
Photos from 7-Eleven Singapore
I hate to admit my biases (though I just took that New York quiz and I'm totally not a mean wealthy person) but I blank out when it comes to Italian food. However, I just sat up and took notice when I read that there is ube cake in Rome?! Filipinos get around.
I'm going to be in Hong Kong at the end of the month, my third trip so I kept it brief, but now I'm wishing I had more time to explore because with only 48 hours you've got to keep it Cantonese. Yet, I'm reading about a Mexican food craze that stirs up the mumble-jumble International Intrigue lover in me (as well, as my tiny sliver of Latin American-ness). Taco Tuesdays at Heirloom Eatery, Brick House, Taco Chaca, the Mr. Taco truck, and visiting Mexican chefs at the Four Seasons? Actually, the funniest aspect is what I'm assuming to be British expats (aren't 90% of HK westerners from the UK?) freaking out on corn on the cob slathered with mayo and rolled in cheese and chile powder and deeming it inauthentic. Funny, because elotes couldn't be more Mexican, yet also register as exactly something a Chinese person would concoct and try to pass off as authentically other.
Mexican Style Sweetcorn via Brick House
Some limited edition fast food novelties go untouched by the internet while others blast onto the scene begging to be blogged about. Such is the case with KFC Philippines' new "streetwise" Cheese Top Burger that, yes, inexplicably drapes a slice of what appears to be American cheese atop the bun rather than tucked away inside. So simple--some might say lazy--so unexpected.
The concept of a cheese-topped bun isn't exactly unheard of in the Philippines. Ensaymadas, though, typically use Edam, and shredded, not sliced. Perhaps, what's stranger is that the mesh of cheese blankets a coating of butter and sugar. I've yet to hear of a chicken sandwich on an ensaymada, though (yes, I'm trying to give KFC new ideas).
Instead, we'll have to be comforted by five other items KFC sells in the Philippines that we don't have:
"Pinoy-style" spaghetti, which means super sweet sauce with cut up weiners. Spaghetti is also available as a combo with fried chicken, which is very Jollibee of them.
Cali Maki Twister is fusion to the utmost degree. They take a standard tortilla and breaded, fried chicken filet, then add Japanese mayo, mango and cucumber. I would totally eat this.
As McDonald's is the go-to for any writer talking--or more likely, posting photos--about localized fast food, Oreo is rapidly becoming the defacto snack example (Kit Kat and its Japanese insanity is also up there, for good reason). In fact, the first time I became aware of American food being adapted abroad in the '90s, it was a discussion, who knows where, about how Kraft had to take out the white fluff and tone down the sugar in the black biscuits for Chinese consumers.
This week's version about Chinese marketers' endless quest for bastardizing our food comes from Reuters. A rectangular Oreo has been a hit, but a version that switched out the white filling for gum and a red bean paste flavored middle both never made it to market.
Also off the drawing table: A Ritz cracker meant to taste like fish in Sichuan chile oil. Which sounds awesome, as does the "Chicken Feet With Pickled Chili" seasoning created at the Kraft R&D lab.
Coconut Oreo picture via Eataku
There has been an event with a charity component called Big Bite Bangkok where homemade food gets sold in a hotel parking lot (and sounds perfectly pleasant, frankly). And CNNGo reports, “’We wanted to do something like Smorgasburg in Brooklyn,’” says food writer Chawadee Nualkhair, a co-organizer of the event.”
American food trucks in Paris got the page one New York Times treatment: “Among young Parisians, there is currently no greater praise for cuisine than ‘très Brooklyn,’ a term that signifies a particularly cool combination of informality, creativity and quality.”
Fast Food Aberrations
Last week we saw mixology take hold at Taco Bells offering a morning elixir of orange juice and Mountain Dew.
And now Subway is encroaching on the taco chain’s territory with nachos. And not just any nachos, but nachos made with Doritos. With the ridiculous success of Taco Bell’s Doritos Locos Taco, it’s only a matter of times before cheese-powdered chips weasel their way into more restaurants. Kudos to the burger chain able to appropriate them first. May I suggest Wendy's taco salad as a candidate?
The first time I went to Chicago Mo Rocca sat directly in front of me on the plane.
On my recent visit to Oklahoma City I was routed through Chicago, and once again trailed Mo Rocca. While still at La Guardia I spied his location via a flirtatious Rick Bayless retweet.
Soon enough, I, too, had a torta (choriqueso) for the road. Tortas Frontera is a great idea at O'Hare. It's too bad my plane was already boarding when I arrived for my return flight--even though the restaurant was right next the gate, it takes a chunk of time (15 minutes for the original sandwich) for the food to get made because there's usually a line and everything's prepped on demand. Actually, I ran over (I'm one of those freaks who pays to check my bag, so I don't need to rush the gate to snag precious storage bin space) in search of anything readymade and was able to score a poblano chile and Chihuahua cheese mollete boxed up rapido. They call them open-faced sandwiches. I've always thought of them as Mexican French bread pizzas.
Even McDonald's in Mexico has a version.
I have the suspicion that no one's clamoring for a slew of posts on Oklahoma City dining unless you greatly enjoy variations on meat and potatoes: steak and baked potato, chicken-fried steak and mashed potatoes, and ribs and fries--there were even potatoes in the Okla-Mex fajitas. It's not one of those regions that may be third-tier but still has plenty of food lore, like say, Charlotte and environs, with North Carolinian barbecue culture as a backdrop. (Chowhound had almost nothing in the way of OKC advice and Serious Eats had no more than a mention or two. The craziest thing I read about online but didn't have a chance to check out was a weekend-only honey-dipped fried chicken truck in the "bad" part of town that a pair of local, Native American, dwarf, Christian rappers had written a song about.) But here are some photos untill those posts arrive, like them or not.
McMollete photo via Brand Eating where there is currently a must-see series on all of the Mc items at McDonald's around the world.
Another day, another localized snack food story. May was kicked off with the Huffington Post vs. Businessweek with mango-flavored Oreos playing a role in each. And before I could even get around to posting this, The Wall Street Journal busted out a piece about Dunkin' Donuts' first Indian outpost. Yes, there will be mangoes--as well as a lychee Coolata and a Jerk Cottage Cheese Ciabatta sandwich.
And if Pinkberry wasn't enough, now India and China will be the recipients of another chilly American dessert: water ices, courtesy of Rita's. No word on the presence of mangoes.
A Jamba Juice franchisee in the Bahamas didn't localize (mango is already on the menu, after all) but bucked tradition by adding food, which proved a huge success for the chain. He still went out of business, however, and is now going like gangbusters with a presumably mango-free Johnny Rockets in the Atlantis resort.
Chinese orange-mango Oreo pic via Kraft Foods
Smashburger just opened its first international location—in Kuwait, naturally.
It doesn’t seem right that India will be barraged by Pinkberry and we are without a kulfi chain. Are there kulfi chains?
How could Puerto Rico not have an Olive Garden already?
Supposedly, in China, people only drink an average of three cups of coffee per year, so Starbucks is kind of screwed. Plus, they linger for hours and bring in outside food when they do patronize the cafe.
Photo: Smashburger Kuwait
Pizza Hut has been causing a ruckus (I don't even know who to link to--it was all over) this week with its new hot dog-stuffed crust in the UK. Is that really so weird in the scheme of things? It's not exactly mayonnaise-drizzled squid, beef stew, or foie gras--just wait until I get into Japanese pizza.
Ok, teaser: can a demure wiener crust drizzled with mustard even compete with a pigs-in-a-blanket rim served with honey maple and ketchup? Both Pizza Hut creations.
We don't need to look to tube steaks squeezed where they have no right being to know that they do things a little differently in Ol' Britannia. See: sarnies, puds, and baps.
And with that, here are five things served at Pizza Hut UK that we don't have:
Foot Long Pastas (Classic Lasagne, Salmon Pasta Bake, Mac & Cheese and Chicken & Mushroom Bake). Um, metric system fail?
Creamy Blue (blue cheese, mozzarella, béchamel instead of tomato sauce, mushrooms, and a drizzle of balsamic) from the "Posh" selection of pizzas.
500-calorie Pizettas like the Shrimply Delicious
The Blazin' Inferno, which includes double pepperoni, jalapeños, and a trademarked chile called Roquito®, which appears to be similar to a piquillo.
Previously on Localized: Dunkin' Donuts Taiwan
As I research a potential summer trip to Dubai, I'm more and more fascinated by the number of imported chains, particularly the American ones, since it seems like most of the western tourists and expats are British, or at the very least not from the US. Nestlé Toll House Café by Chip is one of those weirdo chains that I'd never even heard of until recently. The CEO, originally from Lebanon, is having great success with the brand in the Middle East.
Speaking of, Smashburger just opened its first Middle East branch in Kuwait. Halal Angus beef, of course.
Kokoriko Natural Rotisserie, a Colombian chicken chain, has teamed up with chef Richard Sandoval (the man is ubiquitous) to create a menu for the US. The first location in Miami should open any day, though I'm still not sure how this differs from the Kokoriko that's already in Miami.
Twenty-five Wendy's may appear in Georgia and Azerbaijan over the next ten years.
The Original SoupMan's first international location will be in Tokyo's Central Train Station.
Photo via Al-Mubarkia
French lunch times have shrunk from an hour-and-a-half to 22 minutes, so sandwiches are replacing bistro meals. Now there are lines out the door at Subway, and McDonald's has added waiter service at one Paris location to capitalize on the move toward more casual dining.
Despite France's large Muslim population, there has been little tradition of fusing French gastronomy with halal meat. Restaurant, Les Enfants Terribles, may be one of the first. French burger chain, Quick, started serving halal-only meat at eight of its 350 locations in 2010, and not everyone in the country was so happy about that.
Beurger King Muslim, a suburban Parisian halal fast food joint, tried to make a go of it in 2005 but I don't see any evidence that it is still in business.
Photo via Next Generation Food
Welcome to Localized, the first in a new series about localized menu offerings. You know, regional tweaks to American chain staples.
I'm starting with Dunkin' Donuts for no particular reason. It is an oddball in that it's such a popular franchise in NYC, but has completely disappeared from the Northwest where I grew up. And yet these American doughnuts have spread all over the world; 30 countries, to be precise. Taiwan has 26 branches.
Two differences in Taiwan are that supposedly the doughnuts aren't as sweet, and you get to pick them out yourself with a tray and tongs much like at Chinese bakeries here. So far, I see no evidence of the pork doughnuts promised for China last month.
Five things Dunkin' Donuts in Taiwan has that we don't:
Heart-shaped doughnuts year-round
Whoopee pies in chocolate and green tea (pictured)
Squarish doughnuts with a hole and two different fillings piped in
Bbq pork Danish sandwich
Flavored ice teas like kiwi
Ring-style doughnuts that I've only seen in Asia at places like Mister Donut
Ghanians now have KFC. And while the presence of an American fried chicken chain may signify prosperity in developing countries, in the US the brand isn't faring so well. Ghana already has local Chicken Inn, Papaye, and the UK's Southern Fried Chicken.
Starbucks still hasn't penetrated Italy, and much of Europe is giving the coffee chain problems, too. The British dislike being called by name when their order is up and prefer lattes, though not Starbucks' watery version. The French like to sit while drinking coffee, abhor to-go cups, and along with the US is getting a "blonde" roast because think the espresso tastes too charred. Not in the article: there's a hot, vegetable-heavy wrap on the French menu inexplicably called Roll Cleveland.
Saudi Arabia is teeming with fast food and American franchises, but fine dining isn't at a high level. In reponse, Yasser Jad, founder of the Saudi Arabian Chefs Assocation, is trying to change that with a new cooking school. Also, he was a judge on a Lebanese-produced version of Top Chef. Who knew?
I'm back from a New Orleans mini-vacation, and while I reacclimate and get myself together (something about my eating/drinking-filled vacations exhaust rather than recharge) have a look at my latest Fast Food International post on Serious Eats. It's Çigköftem, a new Turkish vegetarian takeout chain in the East Village.
Bánh mì has come to Prague. The Czech Republic is home to a growing number of Vietnamese immigrants and consequently restaurants serving pho and the like are on the rise. I don't know much about the Czech palate, but I could see pickles, salami, or hard-boiled eggs being integrated in a bánh mì/chlebíčky mash up (I just wanted to play with as many special characters as possible in a sentence).
A small number of Cambodian refugees who came to the US in the '70s are returning to their home country. One opened a fast food joint in Phnom Penh called Mike's Burger House. And apparently there isn't much competition since no international chains yet exist in the country (I thought Burger King had its sights set on Cambodia over a year ago, but so far they just have a knock-off).
Photo credit: Things I Ate in Cambodia
What I didn’t realize was that all this kraftiness has the makings of an international incident. Cream cheese is not just being recommended for our All-American soups and casseroles—the white plague originated overseas!
In 2008 the brand realized that its biggest users in Western Europe weren’t just treating the product as spread, but as an ingredient, so the company solicited user recipes, which resulted in freakshows like “Thai Spiced Philadelphia Prawns” and “Middle Eastern Lamb Pies.”
Now it all makes sense. We are feeling the repercussions of cuisines that put quark in their curries, as in the recipe found in the German women’s magazine I read on my flight back from Berlin. Frankly, I’d rather we borrow from nations that put corn and mayonnaise on their pizza.
Just be thankful that Philly Indulgence, a cream cheese-chocolate spread already available in Europe, will arrive here next month instead of other Kraft experiments like grapefruit smoothies and a Vegemite blend.
Photo: German Snack Mania
I’m off to Berlin for the next week. And while I’m aware that food-wise it’s not exactly a San Sebastian or Copenhagen (my original choice) it concerns me that anyone I’ve mentioned this vacation plan to has seemed unenthused. It’s not all sausages and schnitzels! At least I don’t think so…
Who cares because they have green beer! I’m determined to find this supposedly sour Berliner Weisse that’s sweetened with cherry (red) or woodruff (green) syrup. I wonder if woodruff is anything like mugwort, another herbal agent that lends a green hue to products in other countries. Like mochi cakes in Japan.
Photo via BerlinAndOut
I haven’t had to time write much (non-day-job stuff--I won't assume anyone cares about CPG ecommerce) lately, but I did manage to scrawl an article for Zagat about how foreign restaurants have been adapting for NYC.
I didn't have the chance to talk with Aamanns, but I'm looking forward to the Danish smørrebrød chain's arrival, which has been pushed to January. I was this close to booking a trip to Copenhagen last week, but got freaked out by how expensive everything was--and after much hemming and hawing--opted for Berlin instead. Not exactly an equivlent culinary destination, but I'm still excited. Did you know that Germany is the only country in the world where the McRib is a standard menu item?
Fast food appeals to India's vast under-30 population, and it's not all Maharaja Macs and paneer pizza. Homegrown chains like Kaati Zone and Jumbo King (I love those fried potato burgers) are stepping up.
Young people in India (the 50% under 30 stat is cited yet again) also love coffee. Dunkin' Donuts wants a piece of that.
Some Indians, though, are eating at the opposite end of the spectrum. New Delhi's Le Cirque opened in August and has had to accommodate restrictions like Jains' onion and garlic-free diet. Luckily, pasta pirmavera, a Le Cirque invention, is already vegetarian.
Tony Roma’s is one of those Kenny Rogers Roasters-esque restaurants that flounders here but persists abroad. Bangkok and Jakarta now have more American ribs. And so does LA...in a cross-cultural twist, the new Tony Roma’s in Torrance is paired with Capricciosa Italian Restaurant, a Japan-Italian chain. (Both are ran by the same Singapore-based holding company, Mas Millennium.)
Not all American chains are having the same good fortune as KFC or McDonald’s in China. Applebee’s, Outback Steakhouse, and California Pizza Kitchen have all had to close down branches in Shanghai and Beijing. American businessman, Scott Minoie, has took a different approach and opened a chain of restaurants in China called Element Fresh with no US springboard. He’s been looking to local successes like Hai Di Lao and South Beauty (um, that Sichuan chain is way fancier than Outback or Applebee’s) for inspiration.
Vada pav photo from Jumbo King
Chains wanting to expand into foreign markets are having a hard time finding executives with the know-how to localize menus and navigate business issues abroad. Sometimes you have to add squid and corn to a pizza or sell beer with your burgers.
There is a sandwich chain called Spicy Pickle, and it will be arriving in Qatar next year. I don’t know what makes ham, cheddar, honey mustard, apple, spinach, and tomato, on grilled marble rye Basque, and don’t expect Doha residents to be any less confused.
I vowed never to speak of Pei Wei again, after last year’s sham of a contest where they chose a finalist who couldn’t use palate properly. But if you find yourself in Mexico City in the near future, craving crab rangoon, your needs will be met.
Did you know there was a Union Square Cafe in Tokyo? I wouldn't be surprised if there were stealth replicas of other notable restaurants stashed around Japan either. I be that their La Grenouille wouldn't trigger Paris Syndrome. (I know many French stereotypes are exaggerated, but even so, I havea million cities I'd rather visit first--I'm currently considering São Paulo, Lima, Istanbul, Los Angeles, and Reykjavik for a post-Thanksgiving jaunt, though I'll probably end up in Montreal like I often do that time of year.)
It seems that everyone wants to break into China, India, and the Middle East, but maybe chains should consider Russia and Colombia too. There was a time, not so long ago, when I did not know what BRIC stood for. Now I'm a better person.
Chili's opened in São Paulo and are serving five different caipirinhas and various dishes showcasing picahna, a popular cut of meat that's equivalent to top sirloin.
McDonald’s in Brazil has the CBO, a.k.a. chicken, bacon, onion sandwich that originated in Europe. Brazil has everything.
Budget Travel rounded up fast food chains in foreign countries. Germany’s Nordsee caught my attention, not just for its fresh seafood, but because its mascot bears a passing resemblance to Patrick on Spongebob.
While it could be easily argued that deep-dish pizza, burritos, and Hawaiian cuisine are iconically American, I’m having a hard time associating Oregon with steak. The Oregon Bar & Grill in the Shiodome district does just that, using Oregon beef and wine as a selling point. Does Oregon really have that much cache? The connection appears to be Portland-based McCormick & Schmick’s, which is affiliated with this restaurant in Japan, despite no mention of it on its site.
For all of my fascination with American chain adaptations in the Middle East, one obvious difference never occurred to me. Generally, women and men unless married or close family members don't sit together, requiring separate entrances and seating areas for solo males and families. And tables in the family section must be curtained off (women don’t eat with a veil on) like this example at a Saudi KFC. These are the constraints that the Melting Pot, treated like a date place in the US, has had to work with in Saudi Arabia.
Justin Beiber and Selena Gomez were spotted eating at an Outback Steakhouse in São Paulo.
I said no more McDonald’s oddities from foreign countries, not no Burger King knock-offs in China. So, have a gander at KDS, Texas Burger, and Cheese Burger.
Photo: A Texan-American Way of Life
I’ll always be a sucker for localized fast food menus in other countries, but I think there needs to be a moratorium on oddities from around the world round-ups. It feels like one pops up every month—and McDonald’s Bubur Ayam always gets a mention. Zagat is just the latest to get involved.
This week, why not read about American vs Mexican breakfast cereal or American snack foods with unusual varieties abroad? Fruit flavored Pringles was a new one to me.
Also, Jarritos, those colorful Mexican sodas in glass bottles, is trying to expand its audience to “18- to 24-year-old, non-Hispanic, trend-setting males.” I noticed Jarritos ads (before I read the New York Times article, so I don't think I was being re-targeted) on The Rumpus a few days ago, which was a surprise. I don’t know if the brand’s target demographic overlaps significantly with the literary site’s readers.
Nothing surprises me anymore. Texas Roadhouse barely has a presence in the NYC area, and yet the restaurant known for line-dancing servers and freshly baked rolls has opened at The Dubai Mall. I really need to pay a visit to Dubai, it seems. It’s more American than the America I live in.
Bulgogi Brothers (ugh, with the exception of fictional Pollos Hermanos, I hate the word brothers in a title, i.e. Property Brothers, it’s as if a grade-schooler as allowed to be in charge) a Korean bbq chain has opened in the Philippines. Two other Korean operations, Caffe Bene and Bistro Seoul, plan to be in NYC within the next five years.
The East Village’s ChikaLicious Dessert Bar will be opening a branch in Tokyo as well transporting the more casual sibling, Dessert Club, to Hong Kong.
A new terminal has opened in Macedonia’s Alexander the Great airport and it happens to house the country’s first Burger King.
Country Chicken, an Australian fried chicken and pizza chain, already has franchises in New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, United Emirates, Russia and Fiji. India is next.
Smashburger will be opening in Kuwait, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. I cannot entertain eating at a place called Smashburger because it triggers thoughts of Smash Mouth. And no matter how big the '90s revival becomes, no one needs to hear "All Star" or jesus, "Walkin' on the Sun" ever again.
The New York Times is pokier with its fall dining coverage than other outlets, but it contains some good details, particularly in the article on foreign imports, a bona fide trend. I’d forgotten about insanely opulent Café Pushkin from Moscow--so over the top it’s really a theme restaurant--and knew nothing about Naples’ Fratelli la Bufala. And before my time (in the city, not living) there were foreign chains that bombed: “Lenôtre from Paris in the 1970s, the art-deco Altri Tempi from Italy in the 1980s, and the stylish Eldorado Petit from Barcelona in the 1990s.” The latter served Catalonian food, a novelty at the time. Now we’re looking to Asturias.
Kenny Rogers Roasters is a prime example of the US fast food brands that fizzled out here, but thrive abroad. I'm still baffled by the dish called Reuben James (above) I spied on the menu in Singapore.
Quebec is a testing ground for Canadian chains looking to expand—regionally and internationally. Yeh! Yogourt will be in Boston and Albany soon, and Liquid Nutrition, La Popessa, Sac Wich and Pasta Tutti Giorni may all follow suit.
Quiznos just opened its first location in India and is delving into localization. Aloo Corn Spinach Tikki Sub, Lamb Seekh Sub and the Chicken or Veg Manchurian Subs are just a few additions for Hyderabad.
There is a restaurant in the Bahamas called Bamboo Shack, and it may be franchised in the US.
Fall previews don’t really have much of a place here (though I’m still quite stoked about the Bahama Breeze opening October in Woodbridge) but this year my attention has been peaked by the number of foreign chains—many high-end—that have decided to open in NYC.
One hesitates to equate an establishment with a $125 tasting menu involving fried grasshoppers and a “cucumber cloud” with say, a joint serving spaghetti teeming with hot dog weiners, but to me if a restaurant is using the same name and concept here as in its country of origin, it’s a chain. And I want to embrace them all.
La Mar Cebicheria Peruana
Peruvian cuisine has been touted as the next big thing for some time, but up until now we’ve made do with regional chain, Pio Pio (while researching a trip to Charlotte next weekend, I discovered there’s a branch there and in Orlando—who knew?) and their massive matador combo. Soon we’ll have celebrity chef Gastón Acurio’s ceviche-centric outpost in the former Tabla space. We’re a little late to the game; there are already six La Mar locations in Latin America and one in San Francisco. The most cross-cultural item I see on the Lima menu is a cocktail called the cholopolitan (Pisco acholado, cranberry, lima-limón, cointreau, toque de maracuyá). Will the Peruvian cosmo make it to NYC?
This Armenian-Lebanese chain with locations in Kuwait, Beirut and Riyadh signed a lease in the Flatiron District over year ago. It looks like it will finally be opening. I'm curious about the cherry kebabs.
I tend not to get caught up in things like cupcakes, frozen yogurt and yes, macarons. Such a strange fetish lady food bloggers seem to have with these little rainbow-hued almond flour cookies. They are certainly pretty, and I was hardly immune to the power of a giant blue specimen at Bouchon Bakery. I also recognize that Ladurée is the shit, hence the venerable patisserie's 1pm grand opening tomorrow is understandably a big deal. I do wonder how it will go down since there will be no public transportation after noon. Also, I take back any cynicism I had—these religieuses are freaking beautiful. I might brave a hurricane for these.
I’d nearly forgotten about this Danish smørrebrød chain coming to Tribeca. I’m picturing a Pret a Manger meets Le Pain Quotidien affair with more herring, nettles, sorrel and rye. Probably no sea buckthorn or reindeer blood, I imagine. Promotional photos promise something very bento.
I just mentioned this Mexican sushi chain earlier this week and now I’m going to again. This one’s a doozy because it’s exporting an imported cuisine—and presenting it on a conveyor belt! We haven’t had kaiten sushi since Singaporean Sakae Sushi departed in 2009. Also, if YO! Sushi finally gets it together, we’ll have two and all will be right in the world.
Jung Sik Dang
This one was totally new to me. And yes, this high end South Korean restaurant is the grasshopper-serving culprit, and will also be in Tribeca, taking Chanterelle’s old spot. I’m all for modern cuisine and chef Jung Sik Yim has cooked at Bouley and Aquavit in NYC as well as Akelare in San Sebastián, so he might know what he’s doing. “Picking your Salads” seems far more appealing than a Korean deli salad bar (and I frequent them all the time).
First it was the fake Apple stores and Ikeas in China.
Now, NYC authorities are getting tough with Chinatown vendors of copyright-infringing cardboard replicas of luxury goods.
Should I tip off Singapore-based bakery chain, BreadTalk, about the above Chinatown name-stealer?
Photo: Robyn Lee/Serious Eats
I hesitate to call four articles/posts in 15 months an obsession, but The New York Times does appear to have a thing for tacos in European capitals—with hot sauce. (Me, I’m more concerned with how taco means a million different things in Spain.)
May 19, 2010: Now in Berlin, Tastes of Mexico
May 6, 2011: Paris, With Hot Sauce
May 31, 2011: At Long Last, Tacos in Paris
August 23, 2011: Berlin With Extra Hot Sauce
Now if there was only a way to work in a Nordic and/or foraged angle...
Taco shirt from MNKR
I don’t normally look to Mex and the City for chain restaurant news (usually, it’s more of a source for I wish I could get away with wearing 4” serape-esque heels notions) but today I learned of Moshi Moshi, a Mexican conveyor belt sushi chain that will be opening an offshoot in lower Manhattan. Named Taka Taka, the concept is described as “Mexican sushi & Japanese tacos.” My one experience with sushi in Mexico City introduced me to their inclusion of cream cheese on just about every roll, so this could prove interesting.
I’m also excited for the impending midtown Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf even though it’s technically Californian and I’m never in midtown. I say technically because I had never encountered one until I started visiting the malls of Southeast Asia, so I always associate it with that part of the world. While I never drink sugary, frosty, whipped cream topped beverages in the US, there’s something about sweating to the point of collapse, then getting blasted with air conditioning while drinking an Iced Blended to revive (the experience is even better if followed by MOS Burger). Plus, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf is where I spied Steve Buscemi in Shanghai (pictured above). If it’s good enough for a fellow Brooklyn dweller…
And I guess Firehouse Subs is opening in Puerto Rico, but really who cares about that.
As much as I enjoy keeping up with American brands permeating the universe (good luck to Spam positioning itself as luxurious in China) I get most excited about foreign chains staking claims on US soil and attempting to pushing their fast food on us.
The latest venture is Spain’s 100 Montaditos, selling inexpensive 5” sandwiches. Can ingredients like thinly sliced chorizo or blue cheese between crispy rolls compete with five-dollar foot-longs? So metric.
Up until now I was only familiar with chains Pans & Company and Bocatta, which I have patronized in Spain despite the availability of montaditos at most run-of-the-mill tapas bars (above is a typical version, jamon and green pepper, from a random courtyard bar in Bilbao--I stopped by Pans & Company afterward because I needed to use the bathroom and ended up buying another sandwich). So far, the company has one branch in Miami, plans for Union Square and then total US domination. Seriously, 4,000 American restaurants over the next five years is certainly ambitious.
I am particularly interested in how they’ve localized the menu for the US. 100 Montaditos does serve alcohol in Miami, but the cheapest glass of wine is $3.50, inexpensive but not Spain inexpensive, i.e. 1.50 euro ($2.14) a glass. I’m glad to see they’ve also kept the tinto verano (red wine and Sierra Mist). Olives, chips and French fries with dipping sauces are served in both countries as sides while the nachos were dropped for the US.
We also are missing some of the more esoteric of the 100 sandwiches like the sweet and sour pork with Chinese salad, the Mexican one with veal and salsa, those with gulas, a.k.a. baby eels. In exchange, we’ve gained, pulled pork, hummus and sweeter sandwiches employing peanut butter, jam and cream cheese as well as one that contains squares of Hershey’s Cookies and Cream bar. I guess Americans like bbq, candy and mashed chickpeas?
Similar to how some Americans cite the arrival of a Thai restaurant to indicate gentrification (I don’t fully agree with this) you know you’re on your way up when your country gets a KFC. Nairobi’s middle class is growing and Galito’s had better watch its back.
All we hear about is drug violence, but that doesn't mean there is no place for Red Lobster, Olive Garden and The Capital Grille in Mexico. Darden's SVP of business development said, "With its growing middle class and strong affinity for American brands, Mexico is an attractive growth market for Darden."
I’m mildly embarrassed that I didn’t know Nestle Toll House Café even existed until I saw one in the flesh at Woodbridge Mall (apparently, I'm stuck in the Famous Amos, Mrs. Fields era). The Middle East is savvier than I and Kuwait will be welcoming one. Dubai already had a branch.
If you live in the Northeast, you might be under the impression that Dunkin’ Donuts dominates everywhere. Not so in Europe where the only presence is in Russia, Germany and Spain (where it’s just Dunkin’ Coffee since rosquilla is used to describe a fried, frosted ring of dough). This will change if Dunkin’ Donuts has its way.
Dunkin’ Donuts also has problems in its own country, and it wants to win over those west of the Mississippi. We had them when I was a youngster, but they’ve since disappeared from the Northwest. (I might be one of the only defenders of The Killing, but when they made a reference to Dunkin’ Donuts I cringed.) Everyone is so indie on the West Coast (not true) that the company will likely have to market to lower income folks who are too poor and/or uneducated to give a shit about coffee varietals and artisanal breakfast pastries (those who abhor chains might enjoy the maple bars, a regional specialty I never knew was regional, at Coco in Portland—it was only one block from my hotel so I could not resist).
Everyone’s getting back to basics. McDonald’s has expunged McFalafel from its Israel locations and Olive Garden is shying away from “culinary forward” dishes like pear and Gorgonzola salads and concoctions like the made-up-sounding pastachetti that was giving me pause earlier this year. There is no such Italian thing. Same goes for soffatellli.
I assumed rollatini and rollata were also Olive Garden inventions, but it turns out there’s nothing non-traditional…about the words, at least. Lasagna Rollata al Forno is purely R&D-derived.
I’m only surprised that chains don’t invent authentic-seeming-to-English-speakers dishes more often. The only other example I can think of off-hand is Taco Bell’s enchirito. There must be more. Anyone?
Items like chimichangas that have been widely adopted as real don't count.
Last week a gentleman dressed like Cookie Monster, or rather El Monstruo ComeGalletas, proposed to his girlfriend in a Dairy Queen somewhere in Mexico.
As usual, the most important part of the story has been omitted. Was the ring hidden in something edible or not? They do sell Chips Ahoy ice cream sandwiches, after all.
Russia is ideal for American fast food. People earn less than in the US, but customers are willing to pay more. A Papa John’s pizza that would cost $14 the US, sells for $21.62 in Moscow. Buffalo chicken, complete with Tabasco, blue cheese and celery has been a best-selling topping.
You can get beer delivered with your Russian Papa John’s, but Starbucks is not making any concessions for regional vices. Smoking is not allowed in their Russian coffee shops, a rarity for the country.
By now we’ve all heard about the fake Apple stores in China, but it doesn’t stop there. Dairy Fairy, which serves an Ice Storm instead of a Blizzard, bears a striking resemblance to Dairy Queen. According to the Wall Street Journal, at least. I don't think it's quite as uncanny as the Ikea copycat.
Photo credit: Melissa Powers/Wall Street Journal