Sunday, October 16, 2011

TCK Food Cravings Part 1: ‘Why McDonalds Deserves a Michelin Star’

Lately, I’ve started to think McDonald’s deserves a Michelin star. Now before you think I’ve gone bonkers, let me explain my reasoning. Anyone who has ever had a McDonald’s burger knows that there’s better out there, and even Ray Croc, when addressing business students, famously said that most people can make a better burger than McDonalds. Gordon Ramsay would undoubtedly describe it as reconstituted donkey vomit, and its infamous ‘Dollar Menu’ strongly contributed to my weight ballooning up to 265lbs during my hyper-stressful final year in the United States.

As a once rather frequent customer of the ‘golden arches’, I have ingested Big Macs in 11 countries on 3 continents. And after a while I started to notice something. Whether you eat a Big Mac in Eindhoven, New York City, San Diego, Singapore, Newcastle, Amsterdam, or Atlanta, the damn thing always, always! tastes exactly the same. One way in which ‘Micky D’s’ qualifies for a Michelin star, is its almost superhuman level of consistency.

Earlier this year, I started reading about the special relationship that Third Culture Kids have with fast food. It’s something that we, as a group tend to gravitate toward, and when you think about it, it makes perfect sense. A really long time ago, a famous Greek chap called Heraclitus said: ‘Change is the only constant’. When living abroad, this also holds true. It just happens to occur at a much accelerated pace. Friends in your International school leave as their parents get new assignments. Teachers come and go. Eventually it’s your own time to move on to new cultures and places. Changes, changes, and more changes. In order to find some semblance of stability and things you were used to in your previous country, you tend to go looking for common denominators. The consistency of fast food provides a good one.

Having said that, I have to mention that not all fast food is as consistent as McDonalds... In 1991, during my second visit to India, we had an overnight stop in Delhi. One ‘bright spark’ had mentioned there was a ‘Wimpy Bar’ close to the hotel. The next time I find myself hungry in Delhi, I’m going to stick to butter chicken and other local curries, because that Wimpy meal gave me the second biggest case of the runs in my life. (Incidentally, the first biggest case of the runs in my life, to which I’m devoting a chapter in my book, was the infamous ‘Dhunche apple pie incident’, which happened the following year. It resulted in a helicopter evacuation from Yala Peak base camp, and my inability to tolerate vinegar for the next eighteen years). When in exotic places, if in doubt, stick to local food from reputable sources, which is much tastier and far less likely to kill you!

Having found your ‘common denominator’, sometimes you get desperate for a Big Mac. Very desperate indeed… After finishing up my IB at UWCSEA in 1993, I moved to central Ohio to start college. Along with continuing my education, another lifelong dream was fulfilled. I learned to fly, and got my pilot’s license in 1995. Two years later I also got my driver’s license. I was considering becoming an airline pilot at the time, and eager to build ‘hours’, just about anything became a valid excuse to go flying. This included a good burger. My instructor had mentioned to me that there was a McDonald’s across the road from the executive ramp at Columbus International Airport. One late afternoon when I was studying with my friend Jim (not his real name) who was also a pilot, we got hungry. ‘Do you want to fly to McDonald’s?’ It was a 20 minute flight to Port Columbus, during which we enjoyed a fabulous airborne sunset. After landing, we taxied past several Boeing jets, cast in a copper red evening glow, as they were lining up for departure. It was after nightfall when we took off back to Newark. It was one of those ‘perfect’ moments of eccentricity where you have to look back in complete wonder and gratitude to all the truly amazing things life has granted you so far. I will never forget that evening. The Big Mac tasted extra special that night, with the added aroma of freshly burnt jet fuel. We ended up doing this two or three more times before we graduated. We took various friends along for the ride, both for their pleasant company and to help split the fuel cost!

Every time I eat at McDonald’s now, I think back to those amazing nights. And that’s where my other reasoning for that Michelin star comes in. According to the Michelin guide, (as quoted from Wikipedia) a restaurant with three stars offers: ‘exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey’. The cuisine may not be terribly exceptional, but throughout my years as a Third Culture Kid, the journeys in getting there have, with few exceptions, been very special indeed.


  1. So recognizable! Have to say, though, Subway has taken that place for me. When I was in Spain, I'd travel a long way to get to the only Subway around, just for that feeling.

  2. Subway's another good one! When I moved to Belgium I was surprised to find two of them in downtown Bruges. They got everything right, down to the bread and imported jalapeno peppers. I have to be in Bruges later today and might very well make a detour :-)

  3. Good thing you never lived in a country were fastfood does not exist yet hahahaha
    Cambodia didn't have any fast food joints when I was there. May have changed by now though...
    I guess you would've flown to Bangkok to get one *grin*

    I would opt for the Cambodian curry anyways.
    Though I must admit that I practically lived off Micky D while in Hong Kong, being fed up with the cheap but tasteless university restaurant food.

  4. @Marjolein, Indeed! lol. Cambodian curry sounds awesome. I recently saw a Gordon Ramsay documentary about Cambodian cuisine. Hong Kong is a Micky D Paradise :-) Did they have A&W in HK? In Singapore I banged down more of their Coney dogs and curly fries than I care to remember.

  5. Nope, no A&W in China/Hong Kong at that time. Mac D was on campus and was the only alternative to the student's restaurant (you could go to the teacher's restaurant which had good food but it was way to expensive to go there every day).

    KFC is four times as big as Mac D in mainland China though. There's one on every corner in cities like Beijing and Shanghai.