Ah, McD’s! Shall I compare you to a summer’s day?
Or perhaps a rainy winter’s day? Specifically, a rainy day in the middle of Osaka when I camped out in your restaurant for the better part of an afternoon?
There I was in Osaka, the tenka no daidokoro—the country’s kitchen. I was surrounded by Japanese cuisine of every kind and specimen, with delicacies whose names I wouldn’t even be able to wrap my tongue around… and I had ended up with this? With eating McDonald’s for my lunch? What have I turned into? I wondered as I smeared a fry with ketchup and listened to the rain pelt down in fat droplets outside.
You see, I told myself I wasn’t going to be one of those people. You know, one of those meat-chomping, grease-loving tourists who eat at some corporate American fast-food chain while claiming to “seek an authentic experience abroad”. And yet, there I was, and honestly, the taste of those familiar greasy fries never felt so good.
McDonald’s: the universal tongue
I wanted a burger and fries and I that was exactly what I got. Gone was my awkward gesturing and cringeworthy Google-translate attempts. In previous days I had laboured my tongue and the waiters’ poor ears with murmurs of broken Japanese in my efforts to communicate my order.
Travelling to a foreign country can often result in a language barrier when it comes to ordering food. But McDonald’s presented none of those obstacles. I quickly selected a Grand Teriyaki Burger from the touchscreen machine. When I finished my burger and decided I wanted a pack of small fries, I made my way to the counter and ordered some. Everyone knows the universal language of burgers and fries.
Explore interesting international menus
Although I was greatly enjoying my teriyaki burger, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t equally as tempted by the other exciting options on Japan’s McDonald’s menu. From the shrimp filets to the pork and ginger buns, it was impressive to see these remixes on the standard items I was more familiar with.
A quick Google search reveals a whole range of international twists and turns on the staples found at McDonald’s. Singapore boasts an infamous nasi lemak burger while Canada offers fries drenched in hot gravy topped with chunks of cheese curds in its version of poutine. One can even order spicy paneer wraps in India or lobster rolls in Maine.
If you find yourself on a pescatarian diet in a country that heavily features meat products in its cuisine, you can always count on McDonald’s to be waiting with a good old Filet-O-Fish burger.
Who doesn’t love free wifi?
I entered into McDonald’s that day because I wanted shelter from the weather. Upon entering, I decided I might as well have lunch since it didn’t seem like the rain was going to stop anytime soon. I was comforted by a sense of the familiar as I sat down even as I thought about the udon noodles I would have to give up that afternoon.
Knowing that there was free wifi for me to plan the route to my next location smoothly (and scroll through my Instagram feed uninterrupted), clean toilets at the back of the restaurant, and a chocolate sundae on the menu if that was what I so desired put a smile on my face.
It’s home away from home
Travelling in a foreign place comes with having to navigate through new and unknown territories. The excitement brought by these new experiences often gives way to exhaustion by the end of the day. Sometimes, we just need a quick bite and a simple place to sit down for a while.
In moments of homesickness and weariness, those golden arches have come to be beacons of hope to travellers all around the world. The tacky mascot clown with his curly red hair and funny yellow vest changed from being the stuff of my nightmares into a familiar friend I know I can count on on the road. I take comfort in the knowledge that no matter how far we might have come, a second home offering hot food and some refuge can always be found at McDonald’s.