|The McDonalds Threshold: When eating local wears you down|
When you hit the wall with a region’s traditional cuisine, a quick junk food fix doesn’t half sound tempting, David Whitley confesses
I have a friend who is seemingly obsessed with eating at McDonalds. It seems to come up in conversation at least every hour, and I struggle to see the appeal. Even hungover, I’m more likely to want a good bacon sandwich. Frankly, the food at McDonalds is horrible. There’s a reason that none of the thousands of McDonalds ‘restaurants’ around the world have ever made it into the Michelin guide. And there’s a reason that most right-thinking people pour scorn on the ubiquitous presence of the golden arches.
But spend enough time on the road, and a Maccas suddenly becomes unusually appealing. Or a KFC, which is arguably even worse. Pizza Hut or Burger King becomes frankly divine. That’s the thing with the whole eating local concept. Sometimes you crave either a touch of normality or the variation you’d normally have at home. Go to the States and you’ll get sick of eating everything with cheese on it – you’ll find yourself craving Thai or Indian food; anything with a kick that’s not kinda gooey. The same applies in Mexico – anything that’s not Mexican becomes an overriding criterion.
Asia, I find, is by far the worst for this. Great tasting, cheap food is pretty much ubiquitous across the continent, from Beijing down to Bali. But almost all of it involves rice. Don’t get me wrong, rice dishes are fine in moderation, and you can do many things to rice in order to make it vaguely interesting. But to eat rice for lunch and dinner every day for weeks on end? The very thought sends me into cold sweats territory.
It doesn’t take me long on a rice diet to get to the stage where I’m craving something quick, recognisable and without a grain of rice anywhere near it. Yes, I could spend ages tracking down a restaurant that does ‘Western’ food well, but the quick fix will usually do for my purposes. It’s resetting the variation clock – one meal without rice, and it’s OK to step back in to the monotony. It may be rubbish, but at least it’s different.
It should also be borne in mind that, half the time, that ‘local’ cuisine is something of a fiction. I remember being in Dominica, and finding all the Caribbean restaurants and cafés empty while KFC had a massive queue outside. McDonalds, KFC and the like haven’t taken over the world purely to give exasperated tourists an escape path. They’ve made it because the locals rather like eating tasteless burgers and grease-drenched low quality chicken as well. You’re hardly losing authenticity points here – everyone’s at it.
How long can you go on the road before reaching your own McDonalds threshold? Or do you have another guilty pleasure whilst travelling? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.