Eating Badly: The Insanity of American Fast Food Abroad

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For as much ink—or word processor copy, anyway—as we dedicate to the inherent weirdness and humor of American fast food, it’s no real surprise that by our own nation’s standards, “American fast food” tends to be on the tame side. After all, it reflects our societal norms, our shared tastes and culture. Sure, we laugh and point when a chain like KFC comes along with a boundary-pushing invention such as the original Double Down, but it takes that sort of extreme case for us to really notice and react. Very few new products can elicit that kind of double-take response.

Now, American fast food outside the country, however … that’s where fever dreams truly spring to life. Because something magical happens when you take an American-owned megalith corporation and turn it loose in markets such as The Philippines, The U.K. or Japan. In an attempt to fuse regional cuisine with their core, American-born lineup, the results are often horrifying—in any language. Frankensteinian mish-mashes are the norm, bizarre sandwiches cobbled together from unfamiliar ingredients and warped versions of the familiar. Most defy explanation. Some defy description.

And so, let’s go on a tour of some of the strangest fast food items from American brands abroad. Every one of these products has existed overseas within the last few years.

KFC

KFC would have a solid claim toward being the king of overseas weirdness if not for the likes of McDonald’s and Pizza Hut, but they’re still bringing their A-game, there’s no doubt about that. Their overseas strategy usually seems to consist of taking their already ridiculous American menu items and then ratcheting them up one rank in absurdity.

Double Down Dog
Country of origin: The Philippines

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If the varying iterations of the Double Down have taught me anything, it’s that chicken can safely be used as an able substitute for just about any other foodstuff. Traditional sandwich bun? Simple. Hot dog bun? Just bend that chicken into a horseshoe without breaking the breading through means unknown to science. Then slip a plump, pink hot dog into its chickeny embrace and hit it with a squirt of yellow sludge that bears a superficial resemblance to mustard. Voila! You have just made angels weep.

Zinger Double Down King
Country of origin: South Korea

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The weirdest thing about this isn’t the Double Down’s signature chicken-for-buns. It’s not the white goo. It’s not even the bacon doily. It’s the idea of a beef burger … from KFC. Something about this idea horrifies me. Where are they getting those burgers? I like to imagine a guy in a KFC truck clandestinely parked in the Burger King parking lot, patiently waiting for the end of the day when excess burgers are thrown into the dumpster. And then … he pounces.

Fire Double Down Maxx
Country of origin: South Korea

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The second “x” lets you know that it’s more Xtreme, naturally. The recipe, I imagine, goes something like this: “Acquire two hockey pucks. Coat in Sriracha-soaked batter bits. Add a tomato slice for health. Add a cheese slice, because we don’t want to go overboard with that whole tomato health thing. Serve with a complimentary death certificate.”

Streetwise Cheese Top Burger
Country of origin: The Philippines

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Bar none, my favorite item in this entire post, because it has the single most inexplicable idea—taking the cheese out of an otherwise normal sandwich and putting it on top of the bun for no apparent reason. I adore this sandwich. Before I fall asleep, I try to imagine the pitch meeting where some marketing executive first explained why you would want to handle a melted slice of cheese directly with your fingers. “Gentlemen,” I like to think he began. “When I’m done speaking, you’re going to be left wondering why every burger you’ve ever eaten didn’t come with the cheese ON TOP of the bun.” And then he makes a speech so eloquent that the entire room is left in tears, and it all ends in a huge group hug. A week later, everyone present at the meeting is fired en masse.


Burger King

Despite being the United State’s most depressing fast food chain, Burger King actually isn’t the most notable offender when it comes to foreign weird foreign sandwich variants. There is, however, one that definitely bears mentioning.

Burger King Kuro Black Cheeseburger
Country of origin: Japan

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Japanese consumers, for whatever reason, have a fascination with food that is black. Black sodas and other snacks dyed black aren’t unusual, but Burger King still made headlines when it unveiled its black cheeseburger with black buns, black cheese and black sauce achieved through a combination of bamboo charcoal and squid ink. What does it taste like? According to most tasters, about the same as any other Burger King sandwich. The color is simply a gimmick, like a record store version of Spinal Tap’s Smell the Glove. You can’t get any blacker. None more black.


McDonald’s

In terms of pure volume, McDonald’s is your foreign weirdness king, which probably isn’t all that surprising given their saturation throughout the world. Their offerings are well-spaced, from China and the Philippines all the way to the U.K. and Italy. Everywhere their food goes, eyebrows raise and children stir uneasily in their sleep, lost in dark dreams beyond their understanding.

Black and White Burgers
Country of origin: China

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I can so easily imagine some McDonald’s executive reacting with blind rage when he learns of the black Burger King sandwich: “What?!? Those peasants DARE create a novelty burger? WE WILL GIVE THEM BLACK, AND MORE BESIDES.” After a two-week period passes and several interns are worked to death and given hasty funerary rites, McDonald’s own black and white burgers are deemed fit for consumption—which is to say that they’re no longer killing lab rats. Each sandwich is an inversion of the other—one with beef, one with chicken. One with black sesame seeds, one with white. One that will remove one year from your lifespan, and another that will remove a mere eight months. How do they taste? Well, Chinese food blog Beijing Cream said “I would sooner eat a century egg bathed in stinky tofu with a chicken foot garnish than order this again,” if that helps.

Chicken McDo and McSpaghetti
Country of origin: The Philippines

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Ah, fried chicken legs and spaghetti. Natural bedfellows. And as an aside, what a magical world the Philippines fast food landscape is. A place where McDonald’s is all about spaghetti and the cheese comes on top of your bun in a congealed blanket. I can only assume that rain falls upward there as well. As for the chicken, I’m extremely confused by why it’s called a “McDo.” I’m no longer joking. I do not understand the name “Chicken McDo.” Do they still have a “McChicken” there, and that name is taken? By that same naming structure, wouldn’t a burger be called like, a “Beef McDo”? Is a McRib a “Pork McDo”?

Mashed Potato Burger
Country of origin: China

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Alright, so it’s a burger with a big glop of mashed potatoes on top. Affirmative. But what are the little red and green nodules in the potatoes? These are the details I find myself wondering about. These are the questions that keep me up nights.

Spinach Parmesan Nuggets
Country of origin: Italy

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For all I know, these goop-filled morsels are delicious, but I’m unlikely to ever find out because I have a fairly strict rule against eating anything that looks like the egg of an alien that will hatch in my gut and burst forth in a shower of gore and effluvia. It’s just one of those silly little rules we all have—an addendum to my already existing “No consuming anything that looks like set dressing from a bad sci-fi movie” rule.

Mega Mac
Countries of origin: Australia, Canada, China, Egypt, Ireland, Japan, Malaysia, Turkey, Singapore, Pakistan, South Korea and Thailand

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Geez, are we the only country without regular access to the Mega Mac? Where did we slip up, to have our birthright stolen from us in such a blatant way? Although, to look at the photo and read the slogan, “You deserve a Mega Mac” is like something one might expect to hear from a judge in an authoritarian state as he sentences you to a very particular form of cruel and unusual punishment. Immediately afterward, a couple of bailiffs would rush in and force your screaming mouth open wide enough to start shoving in the Mega Mac with a nightstick.

Bacon Roll
Country of origin: The United Kingdom

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Presenting the laziest McDonald’s sandwich concept of all time. A bun. Some bacon. Ketchup. That’s it. Exeunt sandwich. Although theoretically, you could omit the ketchup in favor of “brown sauce” instead if you were craving vaugeries.

Pizza Hut
Pizza Hut is an awfully close second fiddle to McDonald’s for the weirdest overall portfolio of foreign delights. Many of their offerings hail from the Middle East, an area as yet unrepresented in this post, which excites me to no end because I would hate to leave out such a noteworthy region. Their signature move is to make one question the very nature of “What is pizza?” on a very profound, existential level.

Hot Dog, Chili Dog and Fish Egg Crust Pizza
Countries of origin: U.K. (hot dogs), New Zealand (chili dogs), China (flying fish roe)

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If human beings consume a food somewhere on this blue marble we call Earth, then there is currently a Pizza Hut scientician working night and day to figure out how the company can insert that foodstuff inside their crust. And while we’re waiting for the gazpacho-stuffed crust to finally get out of the experimental phase, there are plenty to try. In the U.K., you can get your pizza with hot dog crust, because when you think of hot dogs, you think “Merry old England.” In New Zealand, they like their fare a little less bland, so they said “No thanks, we’ll take our hot dog-stuffed crusts with chili like adults with dignity.” And in China, they bring a little class to the proceedings by stuffing your pizza crust with cream cheese and neon orange flying fish roe. If you’re looking for a substitute at home, visit your local frozen yogurt dispensary and abscond with a tub of those little orange gelatin ball toppings.

Crown Crust Cheeseburger Pizza
Country of origin: United Arab Emirates

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This thing is less like a pizza and more like a cheeseburger that went into a cloning machine or matter transporter in the style of Cronenberg’s The Fly and came out the other side hideously transformed. Where to even begin? A dozen miniature burger lumps ring the vaguely round shape of what is ostensibly “pizza-inspired,” if not exactly a pizza in practice. The center gives way to piles of haphazardly strewn beefsteak tomato slices, shredded lettuce and drizzles of mustard-like sauce. I can’t even begin to imagine what the proper way to eat it would be. Do you rip off the burger chunks and top them with ingredients from the middle? It certainly can’t be cut into normal slices; the counterintuitive shape presents this from being done in a natural way. The only thing I’m sure of is that if it could talk, it would beg for swift death.

Cheesy Bites Remix Pizza
Country of origin: United Arab Emirates

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At this point, I expect you are wondering about those pods on the edges of this so-called pizza—and with good reason. Did you guess that the red-tinged ones were labeled as “Mexican sprinkle” flavor? I suspect that you did not. The ones on the right, meanwhile, are “cream cheese and sesame seed”—does that make this the New York bagel of pseudo-pizzas? I don’t know, but it makes for a great excuse to mime some harmonica.


Dunkin Donuts
Dunkin Donuts is big on adopting the flavors of its host country to create new donut fusions. Which is all well and good, except that it tends to create some visually questionable offerings.

Pork and Dried Seaweed Donut
Country of origin: China

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This is a donut draped in “pork floss” and bits of dried seaweed. This is also what a donut usually looks like if it rolls under the couch and you forget about it for a month.


Wendy’s
Wendy’s likes to position itself as a “fancier,” higher-quality alternative to burger chains in the same monetary weight class. To that effect, their journey into Japan was all about offering products more culinarily ambitious than their competitors.

Foie Gras Burger
Country of origin: Japan

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Everyone knows that the secret to classing up an ordinary burger is to just slap a puck of foie gras on there and call it a day. And then charge $16 for it and watch the cash roll in. After all, everyone loves fatty, force-fed goose liver, and its presence never upsets anyone—except in those 15 countries that have banned its production and such. Even in Japan, where the slaughter of endangered whales is defended, fast food foie gras was deemed just a tad too dandified.


Taco Bell
All things considered, Taco Bell might actually be weirder on the home front than they are abroad.

Baby Ruth Chocodilla
Country of origin: Guatemala

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You know, after writing all these previous entries, this actually looks pretty good to me. Screw it, I’ll have three.


Jim Vorel is Paste’s news editor. He is morbidly fascinated by fast food of all kinds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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