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Un-American Anthems

McDonald’s: Foreign food doesn’t mean anything anymore. Fusion is a passing fancy. The final frontier clearly lies in interpretations of American classics via chain restaurants in far (and not so far) flung locales. Evil corporations are no more than sources of bemusement to me. McDonald’s is the devil, you say? Aw well, at least they’re imaginative when it comes to marketing. I love regional additions to de rigeur menus. Even in the United States, items like lobster rolls show up in New England and bratwurst sandwiches around the midwest. But leave the country and, oh boy.

Argentina serves croquetas de aceiga, swiss chard nuggets. India, not surprisingly, has an entire vegetarian menu including eggless mayonnaise, and a Maharaja MacTM made with lamb. Every culture’s got their McDonald’s burger: Koreans have a bulgogi version and the Turkish a köfte rendition.

I can only imagine what goes on in a French McDonald’s. In ‘89 I was a summer exchange student and the annoying grandma (as opposed to the rich, barely tolerable grandma who always had lots of good food around the house) kept going on about something that sounded like Macdough. Even with four years of high school level French under my belt I was a bit of a retard. I finally figured out she wanted to take me to McDonald’s because I was American, of course, and I think she was using a slangy abbreviation like McDo. Eventually we ended up at some fast food place, not a McDonald’s, but it was all the same to her like how people call all brands of tissue Kleenex. I think there may have been hard-boiled egg on my burger, but my mind could be playing tricks on me.

Pizza Hut: I never knew Hawaiian pizza was a regional phenomenon until I realized it’s nearly nonexistent here in NYC, even at chains like Pizza Hut and Dominos where I’d expect it, and asking for it could cut your life short. Little did I know that ham and pineapple blasphemy was mere child’s play. Oh my god, Pizza Hut Singapore warms the cockles of my heart. Unfortunately this highlighted Christmas Pizza won’t be around much longer, but let me describe: bell peppers, chicken, ham, pineapple rings, cherries, almond flakes and sausage hidden in the crust. I was already obsessed with Singapore and now I’m totally in love. I knew cheese stuffed crust was nothing new–we have/had Stuffed Crust Gold–but sausage crammed in there as well?! Out of control. Sweet Jesus, I see Singapore’s now doing a “Double Edge” crust. And who says the Japanese are the innovators on that continent? Personal favorites Pineapple and chiles, predominate pizza in these parts. Leave it to Pizza Hut Thailand to up the ante with the addition of Thousand Island dressing.

If you’re unfamiliar with Japanese pizza, you might enjoy this primer. Japanese Pizza Hut kicks ass in its own way. Pay close attention to the Idaho Special. That’s right, it makes use of potatoes and mayo. Corn also appears to be a baffling yet important topping.

Mayonnaise? And speaking of mayonnaise, I hear they’re crazy for it over there. Supposedly, young Japanese have gone so mad for mayonnaise that the term mayora has been invented to describe these sick souls. In fact, there’s an entire restaurant, named Mayonnaise Kitchen, duh, devoted to the emulsified gunk.

Mayo has always scared the crap out of me. For years I’d covertly wipe it off burgers and sandwiches with napkins, but I’ve been learning to deal as I’ve grown older. When I think of mayonnaise, I imagine Shaggy, this girl who lived in the cul de sac (freaks always live in cul de sacs, don’t they?) where I grew up, who’d eat mayonnaise out of a bowl with a spoon (the neighbor kids two doors down ate raw potatoes like apples, so she wasn’t the only oddity). I will admit I’m simultaneously fond of/repulsed by that Chinese dish of prawns with candied walnuts and mayonnaise, but that’s an exception and I can’t think about it too hard while eating.

Cafe du Monde: I laugh every single time I visit Cafe du Monde’s Japanese site that includes “New Orleans-style Hot Dog With Voluminous and Choice Ingredients.” You know those great Lettuce Dogs they serve in the Big Easy. The original Cafe du Monde sells no more than coffee and beignets, but who can blame the Japanese for taking a good thing even further.

As an aside, I can’t quite figure out the Cafe du Monde Vietnamese connection. You often see cans of the chicory coffee in Vietnamese cafes (and amusingly used as parts of makeshift shrines). And during a recent trip to New Orleans, it seemed that about 90% of the waitstaff were Vietnamese. What gives? Is it a twisted Francophile fondness?

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