Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Finger licking good, but only for some

The New KFC has been a vaguely controversial topic in Hanoi since opening last month. Who after all came to Vietnam to eat Western style fastfood?

Regardless, a few western acquaintances of mine turned up at a bia hoi with large bags of the famous battered chicken. Colleagues came to work with chicken burgers and fries. To be fair most seemed pretty happy with what they got. Those who steadfastly refuse to entertain the thought of eating “western junk” prefer not to mention the subject. Old timers will mumble something about the heady days when expats tucked into greasy fried chicken on Tran Hung Dao. The begrudgers mention we haven’t seen the last of avian flu (the answer to which, by the way, for KFC in Ho Chi Minh City was to push the fish burger).

As many Hanoians know plenty of KFC restaurants already exist in Ho Chi Minh City (there’s 20 in southern Vietnam), so despite the rather ironic novelty of being gleeful for the official arrival of western junk food in the capital city perhaps there’s less stigma attached to the psychological blow or impact that a McDonald’s opening would have.

The hold that such institutions have on westerners is rather curious – people have told me that despite never having really eaten McDonald’s much before coming to Asia they still feel compelled to eat there when they see one, say in Bangkok or Singapore. There’s a magnetic appeal to those golden arches (or whatever your preferred poison, for me it used to be a Whopper). Afterwards people will even admit they feel awful, but like any binge substance they come back to it. Again and again.

In a city full of Bangkok or Singapore’s culinary delights eating such junk food might seem like a heinous crime to many. So why do we do it?

Personally, I can blame the parents. As a child I was actually banned from eating McDonald’s by my mother. So, of course, when myself and my cousin (also banned from touching the stuff) came into money our first objective was a banquet at chez Ronald McDonald. In one sitting we would eat every kind of burger, knock back a couple of chocolate milkshakes, devour 20 chicken (I admit substance is debatable here) nuggets and a chocolate sundae.

So I know the guilty pleasure of a hamburger and fries but I’m also most definitely not alone in appreciating the obvious virtues of Vietnamese food. Streetside restaurants serving pho or bun dishes can be quickly prepared, making it for this humble columnist the ultimate fastfood (as in it comes fast but it’s healthy and you feel fine afterwards). A few travellers I’ve met told me they’d lost weight on trips to Vietnam despite eating like kings the whole time.

Would Vietnamese people eat in McDonald’s? A long time ago I would have said no, but as far as I know, thus far, there’s not a country in the world that has resisted Ronald McDonald’s formula (for obesity you might say), meanwhile KFC seems to be fairly upbeat on initial business (though it’s too early to judge). Although I can’t imagine any ba gia (old grannies) tucking into Big Mac meal, for young people it will probably prove popular enough.

Yes, it’s a sign of the times, it’s the way of the world, it’s what people want, but it’s also damn depressing, so depressing I think I’m going to go out and gorge myself on bun rieu, bun cha, pho ga, banh cuon, nem cuon, banh xeo, banh bao… after all we don’t need ‘finger lickin' good’ in Vietnam – we use chopsticks.

Extra info from skimming through the internet...

What do Pamela Anderson, Martin Freeman of the Office, Sir Paul McCartney, Chrissie Hynde, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the Black Eyed Peas, The Darkness and Ravi Shankur (Yes! the Ravi Shankur!) all have in common? Well they believe there are lots of other reasons not to eat KFC - even in America! You can check out these sites they're involved with and make your own decision - UK based one or the US version – or even watch a very disturbing video here. (Done by PETA - People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).

Here's an article about how PETA plan to sue KFC, from The NY Times from today, August 22, and a few bits and bobs in a sober analysis by the Guardian from late last year.

Urban myths that may or may not be true:
when KFC first translated the advertising slogan Finger lickin' good into Chinese, it came out as "eat your fingers off", while one guy claimed in Quebec, where KFC is known as PFK (Poulet Frit Kentucky), he saw a sign that read Finger licking' bon.

So "Finger lickin' ngon"? Well, once again, this is a land of chopsticks. But there's a question I didn't think of - are chopsticks actually available in KFC?


elliott said...

Is the Zinger burger on the menu? Gotta say I find the same thing happens here in Japan. Although fasto foodo has been here for yonks, almost everyone I meet seems to "crave" some Macky Ds or Colonel Sanders at some point in time, especially after drinking. As one guy I know said, "You get tired of Japanese food all the time, so you want something that tastes like home." It's a sad sad day when your memory of home cooked food consists of a happy meal and some chicken nuggets to go...

elliott said...

...especially in a country where you can eat STANDING UP. You won't find much faster food than that!

LE RIZ LA said...

cheeky little business idea #1:
do they have a supermacs in nam?