KFC’s Not So KFC Menu

“Welcome to KFC, where we do chicken right.” This familiar saying is heard upon one’s entry into any American KFC. Should one assume to hear the same when entering a Shanghai KFC? What about KFC in Europe? Surprisingly, the answer is most likely no. While KFC in China might look like KFC on the outside, take a look at the menu, and one will find it is not the same KFC food Americans are accustomed to eating.

The obvious difference is the French fries. That’s right, French fries. KFC in China has French fries, while American KFC offers potato wedges. How could KFC allow this? The potato wedges are KFC’s signature side, as most combos are automatically served with potato wedges. KFC in China also serves chicken sandwiches with corn, peas, and carrots mashed into the processed meat. Again, a completely different sandwich than what Americans eat. You will not find popcorn chicken nor will you find any resemblance of a leg and thigh meal. The KFC here also serves rice soup, almost like a porridge. Just by looking at the menu one would never guess a KFC offered such.

While Americans love KFC, the Chinese would not eat the food served at an American KFC. After having been in Shanghai for one month, the only item I would expect them to eat other than chicken is a side dish of corn. After eating KFC for dinner tonight and checking the menu, the corn is on the cob.

I have been told that KFC is the most popular fast food restaurant in China, even more popular than McDonald’s or Burger King. Surprisingly, McDonald’s, with the exception of bubble tea, offers the same burgers and chicken sandwiches as seen on the menu at home. A reason for McDonald’s lower ranking among the fast food chains? Probably so.

As with any country, in order to sell a product it must appeal to the consumer. In China, that is exactly what KFC has done. Is KFC still KFC then? The argument could be made that changing a food product so drastically changes the experience one is intended to have while eating. While there is truth in that statement, the same scenario has happened in America. A perfect example is American Chinese food.

Chinese food in America is not the same as Chinese food in China. For example, the concept of the fortune cookie does not exist in Chinese culture and is not served at the end of each meal. To the Chinese, the fortune cookie is a Chinese American invention. Also, I have yet to see General Tsao’s chicken on any menu or an egg roll served as an appetizer. Just as KFC changed its menu to fit the needs of its buyers, Chinese food in America is changed to please the American palate.

After my first visit to KFC, I was a bit disgruntled to find the menu options drastically different, but I have realized that China could care less about my taste buds. I need to be less ethnocentric and learn to appreciate their food tastes. I have learned to eat real Chinese food, right? Adjusting to Chinese KFC should not be a difficult challenge.

Fashion Takeover

China’s desire for self-identity is present more than ever. According to Lizhu Fan and James Whitehead, “At this stage in China’s history, middle-class Chinese are consciously endeavoring to interpret their lives for themselves” (Lizhu and Whitehead 2011: location 546). Having been here three weeks, I am realizing that mainland Chinese citizens, at least those in Shanghai, are expressing and interpreting their self-identity through fashion.

Recently, I visited Xintiandi (新天地). This affluent area is filled with designer boutiques and expensive western restaurants. While strolling along the cobblestone streets, there are no cars allowed, a group of university students studying fashion design stopped me. They asked me about my home country and my perception of fashion. Each smiled when I told them I live in America. After a further inquiry about their second question, I compared American fashion to Chinese fashion. To me, the Chinese are more outlandish and daring with their outfits. According to many Americans, any outfit that includes more than a tshirt, jeans, and shoes is considered outlandish. Of course, that is not my opinion. I want Americans to be more outlandish and daring with their clothes, add some spice. In this case, I used those two words with a positive connotation. These Chinese students had no idea what I meant by outlandish, and I enjoyed explaining it to them. They asked me about my favorite designer and one word I would use to describe fashion. Miuccia Prada was the first designer that came to mind and individuality, true yet cliché, seemed to be the right word.

During the conversation, the students remarked that my outfit (shorts, a button down, and sneakers) looked comfortable, a term I usually apply to sweat pants. They suggested that Americans always look so comfortable. I was unsure how to react to their statement, so I smiled and thanked them. My outfit intrigued them so much that they wanted a picture, and I obliged.

This afternoon I had the opportunity to attend Shanghai’s biannual event called the Design Art and Fashion Fair (DAFF). Along with a few runway shows, music, and vendors, many well dressed and on-trend people attended the event. The vendors offered anything from cheeses to custom-made vans, but the people are the ones to watch. The photos used in this blog post are from the event.

Clothing is the best form of expression, especially for the Chinese. Even though China lacks many of the freedoms enjoyed by Americans, more and more Chinese citizens are determined to define their identity through personal choice. Determined to distance themselves from the message behind the Mao suit or their school uniform, this personal choice can include having or lacking religion, deciding where to eat, deciding what to eat, job choice, or even the simplest task of deciding what outfit to wear. After years of blending in, China is ready to stand out.



Eye-Catching, To Say the Least

The ethnic diversity of the Davidson in Shanghai students makes us stand out from the crowd. With hometowns from the west coast, the Midwest, rural North Carolina, southern Florida, and even France, our entrance to Shanghai made an impression. Those of us with non-Asian ancestry have distinct features that make us stand out in a group of Chinese people. As for me, I knew my white skin and red hair would not blend in with the crowd.

Shanghai is arguably a global city. While the fascination with westerners is very much alive in China, walking down the streets of Shanghai, especially near the universities, will get you a few stares, but venture downtown to tourist areas and you can expect to have your picture taken. There you will meet Chinese people from the countryside and other rural areas of China who are mesmerized by westerners. During orientation week the entire group visited Nanjing Road, a popular attraction for tourists and eager shoppers. While sitting down at a bench, a Chinese girl and her mother passed by but not before they stopped near me. The mother wanted her daughter to take a picture with me, but the little girl was too shy. I politely smiled and waved goodbye. Other times the attention has been more drastic. In one particular case, a group of young Chinese adults stopped and immediately stared at me as I walked by them.

Photo Courtesy of Chai Lu Bohannan

A group of westerners traveling together can be easily spotted. Anytime the entire group ventures out I am on the lookout for peoples’ reactions. During any visit to the Bund, at least one of us is asked to pose for a picture. Our first night out a Chinese man was determined to be in a picture with all of us. Since the United States has many ethnicities with very distinct characteristics, this new attention proved to be a new concept for us. Even though we are quick to detect physical diversity, many of us are unaware of China’s diverse population.

Photo Courtesy of Chai Lu Bohannan

Jeffrey Wasserstrom argues that while China is considered to be ninety percent Han (he deems this a “problematic” number), the country is not without diversity, containing even more ethnic classes, speaking different dialects, and exhibiting different cultures than one might realize.[1] Wasserstrom believes Americans have a “too-limited appreciation of China’s diversity,” and suggests that misconceptions about China’s diversity are hundreds of years old, aided in part by war and visual representations such as books and film.[2] Shanghai provides a useful example to correct this misconception.

One unique quality and clear distinction between Shanghaiers and other mainland Chinese people is language. Shanghaiers have their own dialect called Shanghainese. Unlike the United States where everyone who speaks English can be understood, Chinese people who speak Mandarin cannot necessarily understand this specific Shanghai dialect. Shanghai is home to many young adults. Wasserstrom believes generational gaps also contribute to China’s diversity. He acknowledges that generational gaps exist throughout the world but believes China’s is most noteworthy. According to Wasserstrom, in 2007, the number of individuals under thirty years old constituted forty percent of China’s total population.[3]

While physical appearance is the most obvious form of diversity, various dialects and ideologies can deepen a population’s diversity. Even though they are watching me and thinking about how different I look, I am also watching them and wondering about their story. Being diverse is not always about standing out in a crowded space.

[1]Jeffrey Wasserstrom, China In the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know (Oxford University Press, Kindle edition, 2010), location 1818. http://www.humanities.uci.edu/history/faculty_profile_wasserstrom.php.

[2]Wasserstrom, location 1785.

[3]Wasserstrom, location 1817.