Having grown up in the USA, fast food is nothing new to me. It’s something that has always been there. Something that is, for better or worse, a normal part of life. My home town in Kentucky was even sort of a testing ground for new fast food concepts, so as a kid I had access to some things before they were available anywhere else and even to some things that never made it nation-wide. Perhaps because of this, fast food in America has never been particularly interesting to me. It’s just something I see everyday. Fast food overseas, on the other hand, is something I find endlessly fascinating.
As I mentioned in my previous posts, while there has been a great deal of media coverage in recent years about the proliferation of fast food in France, this is really something that is happening everywhere and has been for a long time. Every country I visit, in between hunting down traditional local specialties, I always try at least a few things from various fast food establishments. This ranges from the localized options at predominantly American fast food chains, to modern and quasi-traditional items from fast food joints of local origin.
Beijing is home to an endless variety of both of these things. It’s a place where Pizza Hut is kind of a fancy restaurant, with red wine and steaks; where KFC sells congee and Cantonese egg tarts from stores that are often open 24 hours. You can get steamed buns and fish cakes in hot broth (to go) at 7-Eleven and pretty much every American junk food brand has Chinese versions, from Coca Cola in cans labeled in Mandarin to red cooked pork flavor Lay’s potato chips.
Beyond that there are even more interesting things, near clones of Western fast food restaurants with similar looking branding that sell Western-style food like pizza, tacos and burgers to a predominantly Chinese clientele. Find your way to any one of the hundreds of upscale shopping malls and on the top floor or in the basement you’ll find a food court plastered with advertisements for places with fast food versions of traditional Asian fare sold from shiny kiosks, each with its own specialty and corresponding back-lit full color signage.
With an infinite number of places offering excellent versions of classic regional Chinese cuisine in Beijing, I definitely don’t recommend skipping any of it to eat cheeseburgers and fries, but fresh steamed bao stuffed with pizza ingredients?
That’s harder to argue against trying.