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.

Blue Frog Restaurant: Best Burger Place in Shanghai

Blue Frog: Bar and Grill, the best burger restaurant found so far, is only found in Beijing and Shanghai, China. The establishment started in April 2003 and has continued to flourish till now. I stumbled upon it when Alex Bau led an outing to Pudong. A Monday night special of buy 1 burger get 1 free caused a group of 6 to take an hour long subway ride to this magnificent place. Located in the basement of the Financial Center, customers see expensive marble floors and high quality facilities everywhere. Blue Frog is hidden in an inner alcove of the basement. The first thing we see is an awesomely decorated restaurant with a vibrant atmosphere. Not too light but not too dark, Blue Frog is definitely a cool place to hang out. The most surprising yet welcoming thing is the English speaking waiters. They do not speak perfectly, but it is always a pleasure to hear a language I can fully understand in China. I had a Montana burger with curly fries. It was amazing! The burger was juicy and delicious, while the fries were tasty. That experience alone made another group go to Blue Frog for brunch another day. The price on the other hand seemed steep. A currency conversion shows we spent 20 dollars, and because of the deal we only spent 10 dollars not including the drinks. But I believe to a native of China in the middle or lower class, the price of 85 kuai for a burger and 20-50 kuai for a drink is definitely still out of reach or a once a year type of meal. Looking around the restaurant, there were mostly wai-guo ren, or foreigners in Blue Frog. There were some Shanghai locals but at most 9 or 10 in the whole establishment. Blue Grog definitely does not receive a lot of Chinese customers and its market focuses on foreigners. So, China’s GDP may be growing exponentially every year, but the income of its people has not yet reached a level where the majority can affords cosmopolitan food. Modernization is slowly happening. Shanghai is transforming into an advanced and beautiful city. However, the people are far from consuming the products of urbanization. It may happen in a couple of decades but I believe the majority of people will stick to eating their 10-30 kuai meals.

A Taste of Central Perk in Shanghai

Central Perk is a small coffee shop hidden behind a plain white storefront on Ha’erbin Road in the Hongkuo district. Some customers may instantly recognize the café’s logo from the hit series Friends, a popular American television sitcom (1994-2004). As a long-time fan of the show, I enthusiastically accepted my roommate’s invitation to visit Shanghai’s Central Perk this weekend.

Shanghai’s Central Perk is a replica of the Central Perk café featured in almost every episode of Friends. Although Jennifer Anniston isn’t the barista on staff, this café has the ambiance of Ross, Monica, Phoebe, Chandler, Rachel and Joey’s favorite hangout spot. The signature orange couch, green marble café counter and black-and-white tiled floors made me feel like an extra on set. On the wall is a television playing commercial-free Friends episodes, with Mandarin subtitles of course. Additionally, drinks are served in plain mugs decorated with the show’s most famous quotations and sayings.

Before entering Central Perk, I was expecting a coffee shop full of westerners sipping lattes and cappuccinos. But, the café was packed with youthful Chinese locals socializing, reading and watching the screening episode. The café was completely full, and we had to wait around twenty minutes to find an empty table. Despite the unexpected wait, the time we spent in Central Perk was cozy and enjoyable.

Later during our stay, Ali, Charlotte and I asked the manager, Steven, what day of the week we should return. We were hoping to avoid the large crowd during our next visit. He informed us that Shanghai’s Central Perk has only been opened for about a month and has yet to experience a slow business day.

So, what makes Central Perk so appealing to Chinese consumers? Is it the Friends inspiration or delicious coffee attracting customers? Have the customers even watched an episode of Friends before visiting this western influenced café? These were just a few of the questions running through my mind as I sipped my iced mocha and observed the bustling shop.

During a lecture I attended at the Harvard Career Discovery program in 2010, one architect credited Friends for making setting an important trend for urban living. According to her, the hit series made moving to the city “cool and hip” in the eyes of America’s young adult population. Along the same lines, young adults, college graduates, and minorities in China are moving to large cities, like Shanghai, with hopes for economic success and a cosmopolitan lifestyle. China’s population is in the midst of a massive rural-to-urban migration. It is estimated that “more than 120 million internal migrants have headed into Chinese cities” in the last twenty years (Wasserstrom 2010: 122). It would not surprise me to learn that Chinese mass media and popular culture promote the ideal big city life.

Additionally, Central Perk displayed the young urban generation’s obsession of technology, social networks and communication. Although western social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, have yet to permeate through the “Great Firewall of China,” the continuous sounds of IPhone cameras snapping photos suggested that the Chinese customers were, indeed, recording and sharing their daily events online. Of the ten tables inside, at least one picture was taken at every table during my stay. Customers happily posed with their drinks, desserts and a duplicate of Joey’s favorite stuffed animal, a penguin named Hugsy.

As the world’s people, information and ideas become more connected through globalization, the east and west will continue to share cultural sensations. One example of this exchange is PSY’s hit song and music video “Gangam style.” This Korean pop song gained international fame through YouTube, and PSY appearance on last week’s episode of Saturday Night Live is a clear illustration of eastern and western world interactions.

As for Friends in Shanghai, I will be back to Central Perk before the end of the semester. I was envious of the customers seated at the iconic orange couch this weekend. In my opinion, that seat is symbolic of living the city life with your best friends.  I just hope “the” orange couch is open during my next visit.

A Warm Welcome

While becoming acquainted with Shanghai, we found ourselves in one of the most vibrant areas of the city: Nanjing Road.  We all went shopping and sightseeing there; some drank bubble tea while others went around exploring the area.  Both historical and modern aspects of Shanghai are present near Nanjing Road, including some old colonial banks and hotels that were built in European style directly across a stream of water from the Bund, an industrial and booming area whose skyline is sought after by many venues trying to impress both Westerners and Asians who come to Shanghai.  Nanjing Road is one of the “grand gestures” that China is more recently known for and it embodies the change from old Shanghai to modern Shanghai.  These kinds of modern accomplishments “show that China has gone from being the kind of country that could only play minor roles … to being the kind that can host 21st-century counterparts to those attention-getting and status-conveying extravaganzas.”[1]

Our exploration of Nanjing Road included lunch in a ten-story building filled with stores and restaurants and booming with hungry people.  When we arrived at the restaurant, we sat outside on plush chairs waiting for the announcer to call our number.  When we went in to sit in a private room set aside for large groups like ours, I noticed that the restaurant was filled with people chatting and dipping many different kinds of foods into the steaming “hot pot.”

After sitting down, we went directly to the  “sauce bar,” so to speak, that had some very spicy sauces (I learned this first hand, ouch!) and many peanut-flavored sauces.  There were also chopped onions, garlic, and some Korean kimchee along with Thai sweet sauce (my personal favorite).  Some of us tried to be adventurous with the Thai peppers that were very hot but also delicious.

Just to list a few, some of the foods we ate were: a variety of mushrooms, meat, shrimp, radishes, potatoes and noodles.  It reminded me of a chain restaurant in Charlotte called The Melting Pot because you essentially cook your own food in the heated pot, pick it out of the broth and eat it.  The difference is that hot pot has more flavor and is more of a soup that comes with some vegetables or meat.  It was so much fun to throw the food into the pot and then fish it out and eat it.  My favorite was the mushroom plate that held many different breeds of mushrooms.  Some were white and others were gray and looked more familiar.  I love trying new foods and I heard from a friend who was in Tokyo this summer that mushrooms in Asia are delicious so I was excited to taste them for myself.  The meats were very good and looked similar to prosciutto in the sense that they were thinly sliced and the fat on them took up at least half of each slice and added almost all of the flavor.  We peeled the shrimp because they came whole and slipped the sliced potatoes into the hot pot using our chopsticks.

Sodas in China have captivated my attention because they have the same cans and glass bottles as soda from the U.S. and taste exactly the same to me but are labeled with Chinese characters.  They are also served at almost every meal we have had which shows that they too have become a staple food in Chinese culture long after their debut in American culture.  In a way, they try to fit in to Chinese culture with their labels and Chinese-sounding names (cuh-la), but will be continually perceived as another form of colonial Western influence.  The other drink that some people had was watermelon juice, which was practically a slush of everything inside the watermelon squeezed into a glass.  Chai Lu and Katie drank it and said it was warm but tasted very good.

The company at the meal was wonderful.  Our group is having a great time and is still working on getting to know each other but it is going very well so far.  Fuji and Rebecca were there (our professors) with their sons Michael and Patrick, and we had so much fun talking to them about their time in Shanghai and what they like to do.  This meal was scrumptious and I hope to have many more like it during my time in Shanghai!

[1] Wasserstrom, Jeffrey N. (2010-04-16). China in the 21st Century:What Everyone Needs to Know (p. 91). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.