Travel Post: McDonald’s

Ok, I know what you’re thinking, this blog has taken a nosedive. Reviewing McDonald’s what’s he doing?? Yes, McDonald’s is not part of the burger revolution that our great capital is currently in the wave of, and yes, unless you’re feeling drunk, hungover, sorry for yourself, or skint you probably wouldn’t end up in Maccy’s for dinner, but this is a travel post! I was not in London, and not having dinner, but merely partaking in a cultural exercise where different cultures and cuisines clashed to make something potentially beautiful – I went to McDonald’s in India!

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Before I went to India I was excited more that usual, mainly due to my expectations of the vegetarian cuisine. In terms of vegetarianism, India really is the Holy Grail. With nearly half of the population – 500 million people –  vegetarian, and the majority of the rest not eating beef or pork, the likelihood was that more than anywhere I had ever been before in my life, India was going to be the place with the biggest and tastiest selection of vegetarian dishes for me to sample. But would this be the case across the board? Just after landing in Mumbai, I spotted a Burger King across the road from the main terminal building advertising it’s chicken-whopper, which posed the question: how do international fast-food beef burger brands adapt to such a veggie heavy market?

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It certainly wasn’t as easy to find an Indian McDonald’s in India as it is in London, surprisingly even in the downtown of a megalopolis like Mumbai. The branch in the the tourist area of Colaba (an area famous to most for being the setting for much of Gregory David Roberts’ epic Shantaram) was closed for refurbishment. Aside from that there was only one other branch in the south tip of the Mumbai peninsula, and that was opposite the majestic Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus building, which meant that we didn’t have to go too far out of the way on our day of sightseeing (one would argue that this was a sight in itself…). One thing you realise as you walk into a branch of McDonald’s in India is that the clientele is very different to what you would find over here. There were a lot of families, true, but also quite a big crowd of young professionals, and older middle class customers too. The biggest difference, as expected, was the menu! Of the eleven burgers on offer, a massive five were vegetarian (with the other six comprising of five chicken burgers and one fish burger), with even more veggie options available in the form of wraps. The best thing, though, were the names. Conspicuous in it’s absence was the Big Mac. The main burger that took it’s place was the brilliantly titled Maharaja Mac, available in both veg and chicken. Also available was the McSpicy Paneer, the McVeggie, and lastly – from the saver menu – the Aloo Tikki (40p). To try and sample as much as I could, I split a Maharaja Mac and a McSpicy Paneer with my mate, and got a McAloo on the side.

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Unfortunately, this is where the romance with the Indian McDonald’s started to fade. After getting past the momentous moment of having my first ever doubled tier burger, the two patties in the Maharaja Mac were very run-of-the-mill. The McAloo Tikki – a potato and pea burger designed to get in new customers with its cost, and by supposedly replicating the flavours you would get in typical Indian street food – was pretty flavourless reflecting it’s cost. Even the McSpicy Paneer (essentially a deep fried battered slab of cheese) wasn’t even spicy!

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Whilst the burgers disappointed, for the entire fortnight preceding my trip to McDonald’s my tastebuds were tantalised by an array of curries, dosas, and thalis of such variety and flavour that I could’ve happily eaten for the rest of my life. It was a shame that this wonderful Indian ability to spice and flavour their food had been lost – or at least dialled back a considerable deal – when it came to this collision of worlds. The lunch at McDonald’s was hands down the worst meal I had in the whole of India, but I don’t regret trying it one bit. For one, it gave an almost immediate comparison to the food I was eating whilst in India, allowing me to appreciate it even more, and secondly, it gave a glimpse (perhaps only in Beta mode) into some sort of utopian future where international fast-food conglomerates have to bow to the pressure of a majority vegetarian population. Hey, we can all dream, right?

 

VEGGIE BURGER RATINGS: 4/10 (average)

OVERALL RATING: 7/10

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Travel Post: Zanzibar!

For the first few days of 2015 I found myself on the northern tip of the Island of Zanzibar, Tanzania, in the idyllic setting of the small, beach village of Kendwa. Kendwa, with it’s white sands and azure sea has become a popular travel destination over the years attracting a strange blend of wealthy Russian and Italian tourists, along with the usual mix of Western-European and Antipodean budget travellers. This latter group meant that veggie burgers were most definitely on the menu of the numerous restaurants that lined the sandy shore.

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After the amazing party at the beach of our hotel Kendwa Rocks, which brought in the New Year, the resulting hangover meant that I couldn’t look past the veggie burger on the hotel restaurant menu. Looks-wise it seemed exactly wanted I wanted, a big bun packed with fresh salad and goodness. Unfortunately though, much to my displeasure, the burger was below the standards of even the other distinctively average fare. The patty, which was akin to badly made bubble and squeak, was served in a weirdly sweet bun (a trait synonymous with all the bread served up at Kendwa Rocks) and the chips were too floury – not great for my hangover, and not a great first meal of 2015 either. My mood was lifted substantially, later on, by this though. 2/10

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The second day of the year brought another burger at the near by Essence, a slightly more high end restaurant also on Kendwa beach (the burger, subsequently, was the most expensive I had on the island coming to a whopping £4 …including fries!). The surroundings were a lot more pleasant and I certainly felt in better shape than the day before. When the burger turned up (second time lucky, after initially being brought it’s meaty counterpart) I was happy to not be disappointed like the burger I ate the day previous. The burger at Essence provided me with all the veg that I’d been craving over the previous 4 or so days on the island – aubergines, courgettes, gherkin – but that’s all it was, grilled vegetables. Melted cheese and an aioli sauce complimented the crispness of the veg, but the lack of anything to take command as the centrepiece of the burger meant it was a great sandwich rather than a good burger. The fries were delightfully light, and served with a very English-tasting ketchup – if that doesn’t sound too #britsabroad. 6.5/10

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January 3rd, and a third burger in three days meant that year had already been veggie burger consolidated. This third offering was at a restaurant called La Grande Luna – one of a bunch of Italian restaurants catering for the large contingent of Italians on the island. I had been there a couple of nights previous and the penne arrabiata was delicious. The burger however, was not. Although the patty itself – a blend of vegetables, tomato and mashed potato –  tasted good. It was let down by everything else though with the bun resembling – and having the consistency of – a savoury scone. The chips were of a quality similar to those at Kendwa Rocks, and the only thing that got me through it was an ice-cold bottle of the Tanzanian beer Ndovu. 1/10

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Really though I didn’t mind. The situation didn’t warrant good burgers. I think the fact that I found places selling veggie burgers in the first place forced my hand into buying them when I should have really eaten anything else. The fact that they weren’t great wasn’t really a surprise. The truth is that from all of these places you could hear the sound of the waves outside and, in the case of La Grande Luna, you could even feel the sand beneath your feet. There is good food on Zanzibar and good vegetarian food at that but, when you’re up on the northern tip of Zanzibar, steer clear of the veggie burgers, and just enjoy the beach.

VEGGIE BURGER RATING: 3/10 (AV. SCORE)

OVERALL RATING: 10/10 (AWAY FROM THE RESTAURANTS!)

Follow me at @LdnVeggieBurger