Falkirk Wheel, Panoramic view.

Falkirk Wheel, Panoramic view.
Image by Cameron Lyall, GNU license Wikimedia

17 June 2011

A Taste of America

Travel is all about cultivating an experience. We go to faraway places, not just to snap pictures, but to put ourselves there and see what happens to us. Ross’ piece from a few days ago dealt with this. In Scotland we are all trying to do Scottish things: walks, whiskey, pub quizzes and other cultural events. But while wondering through town one day I saw something uniquely American business. This is a place I am familiar with at home transposed abroad. I wanted to see how this American Intuition was different overseas. I wanted to see America through Scottish eyes or rather Scottish taste buds. Have you guessed this particular American culinary institution?

I don’t eat at McDonald's very often. I usually go there when all other options are exhausted or I am lazy. Lack of money and time as well as the fact there is one three blocks from my apartment put me there at least once a week.

I find myself wanting to visit this one because of Logistics. I wonder how different a McDonald’s cheeseburger is a third of the way around the world. They must have different beef, cheese, and condiments. I can’t really find plain yellow mustard in restaurants here so I wonder if it is. McDonald’s has thousands of locations all over the world and it caters to local tastes. There’s McFlafels, McCrepes and McSushi but i wonder what they have in Scotland, McHaggis. So on this dreary Friday afternoon I am set out to have an American experience in Dundee.

On the way I ran into Ashley and Ehren. I told them where I was going and they each said something interesting. Ashley mentioned that her friend ate at a McDonald’s in Ireland and that it tasted different because of higher national food standards. Ehren mentioned that travelers often go to McDonald's for a little taste of home. Ideally, a McDonald's burger is the same all over the world. Thankfully, there was no McHaggis.

For 99 pence ($1.60) I bought a cheeseburger without onions. I opened it up and it appeared to be exactly like an American burger, but the first bite proved otherwise.

The meat is thinner than its U.S. counterpart and it’s crispier. It crunches lightly when you bite it. The patty itself doesn’t hold a lot of grease. It may have had hints of spice but it is hard to tell under the ketchup and very cheddar-like cheese. There was a single small pickle slice and a drop of mustard. The bun was light and flaky and began to fall apart near the edges of my bites.
I thought that it make sense why the beef, cheese and bread were different. The patty is thinner and this may be why it’s crispier. The cheese on the Scottish McDonald’s cheese burger isn’t American cheese, but possibly more local variety of the cheapest available cheese.The bun may have been the same bun lightly steamed. This difference could be due to different practices rather than different materials.

I was hungry and thought I should get something else. The meals on other customers trays seemed smaller and thought I could eat one. To make things more interesting I got something with as many different ingredients as possible.

I got a 6 piece McNugget meal with a medium fries and a Coke for 3.89 ($6.30). Inside the box I found a familiar site. McNuggets have had 2 distinct shapes. When I worked at McDonald’s in Indiana nearly 8 years ago they came in two distinct shapes ‘the foot’ and ‘the circle’. They used to mean dark meat and white meat, but McDonald’s abandoned dark meat for all white meat but kept the familiar shapes. There they are on my tray. Years later, across an Ocean in exactly the same shape.

They seemed to be slightly smaller than their American counterparts but tasted nearly the same. The fries were also the same but also less salty. The Coke was certainly smaller. In the last two years U.S. McDonald’s seemed to have jumped up a size. What was once a large is now a medium. In Scotland the medium may, in fact, be smaller than any cup size in a U.S. McD’s.

Overall it there were some familiar tastes, but nothing precisely replicates the food at home. The differences could be based in logistics, processed, government dietary laws or random luck of the draw but the result is the same the food tastes different. .But the atmosphere is the same: cheap food at cheap prices. To me, Mcdonald’s isn’t about the food, it’s about the price.

1 comment:

tcsalvo said...

When Michael and I traveled to England 12 years ago, I remember seeing the McKorma, a lamb burger with Indian curry. Never tried it, but was struck by what you describe with McDonald's catering to local tastes. In New England during the summer, you can often find a lobster roll. Have you noticed that portions around the Scotland in general tend to be a bit smaller than in the U.S.?