McDonald’s excels at providing consistency in their meals. However, an American may be surprised at some of the differences between McDonald’s meals in the U.S. and McDonald’s meals in other countries, even in neighboring Canada and Mexico. In India and Hong Kong, very little on the menu may be familiar.
Differences in the staples
Anything which is not part of the main menu may not be available outside the U.S. For example, Chicken Nuggets are much more widespread than Chicken Selects, which are only available in the U.S., the UK, Canada, Australia, and Israel.
Names often change from country to country. In Australia, Chicken Selects are known as Chicken McDippers. In metric countries, the name “Quarter Pounder” is meaningless, so the same burger in these countries is known as the Royal Cheese or the McRoyale.
Portions are generally smaller outside the U.S. Even “standard” burgers such as the Big Mac are smaller. As a general rule of thumb, the U.S. small sizes are comparable to medium sizes elsewhere. You won’t be able to find special upsized meals such as the Mighty Kids Meal outside the U.S.
French fries and burgers taste different from country to country because of changes in the way they are cooked and differences in spices and the amount of salt. The amount and type of salt may be doubled or halved. Unusual seasonings, such as seaweed, may be available to shake over the fries. Fries may be shoestring, straight, curly, or replaced by potato wedges. A poutine upgrade is available in most of Canada.
Some countries also use a local brand of potato. For example, Israeli French fries are processed locally, from local potatoes, as part of the 80% of McDonald’s ingredients which come from local sources in Israel.
The buns and cheese in McDonald’s hamburgers varies from country to country. Italy has a special Parmigiano Reggiano burger. In France, Emmenthal (Swiss) cheese is used on a ciabatta bun. Pita bread is common in the Middle East.
Most countries don’t include gherkin or dill pickles as part of their McDonald’s hamburgers. Some countries also omit the ketchup. Germany sometimes uses cucumber slices instead of pickles.
Religious dietary restrictions
Hindus don’t eat beef, so you won’t find any standard hamburgers in India. Instead, the Maharaja Mac is made of lamb or chicken meat. For strict vegetarians, the McAloo Tikki replaces the meat with a deep-fried potato and pea patty. India also has the McCurry Pan, which consists of a creamy mushroom, broccoli, bell pepper, and optional chicken curry in a bread box.
All burgers in the Middle East are made with halal or kosher meats. This refers to the way the cow was killed and prepared.
Pork sandwiches, such as the McRib, are not available in the Middle East, north Africa, and most of south Asia. Pork is forbidden under both Jewish and Islamic dietary laws.
You won’t find cheeseburgers in Israeli McDonald’s branches with kashrut certificates. They are against the dietary laws which do not allow mixing meat products with milk products. If milk products such as milkshakes are sold at all, they will be sold from a separate booth. During Passover, a Passover bun replaces the sesame seed bun. All hamburger patties at kashrut locations are barbecued over charcoal.
Although only 40 Israeli McDonald’s branches have kashrut certificates, all of them use only kosher ingredients. A kosher McDonald’s restaurant can also be found in Argentina. All restaurants with kashrut certificates are closed on Sabbat and Jewish holidays.
The McDonald’s sign for the 2 kashrut-approved branches in Tel Aviv, Israel, is in blue and white instead of red and gold, although the sign of the golden arches is still right beside it. This is the only time McDonald’s has ever strayed from using only red and gold.
Many McDonald’s locations in Islamic countries close during the day during Ramadan. Some McDonald’s locations in these regions offer special menus for the daily breaking of the fast, including items such as harira, a traditional Berber soup.
McDonald’s locations in many Catholic and Greek Orthodox countries offer special fish or shrimp burgers during Lent. However, Mexican McDonald’s locations do not serve fish at all.
= McRice =
Cheese products are difficult to find throughout the Far East, where most people are lactose-intolerant. Instead, many people opt for McRice, which is simply a side order of rice. Rice is also available as the “bun.”
In Costa Rica, the national dish of gallo pinto has a McDonald’s version. It consists of mixed rice and beans, and is served with scrambled eggs and sour cream.
In addition to McRice, Hong Kong McDonald’s branches offer a particularly wide variety of local items, ranging from pasta soups to mung bean ice cream. Standard items are given a local twist in Wasabi Filet O’Fish and Shogun Burgers. A special bun is used during the Cheung Chau Bun Festival.
Pasta is also a popular side option in many parts of the world. Many locations from Italy to the Philippines offer spaghetti, twisty pasta, or some other variant on local pasta as part of the standard McDonald’s meal.
= McSoup =
Soup is a very popular item in international McDonald’s locations, but the flavors vary from country to country. In Portugal, the McSoup is Caldo Verde cabbage soup, while corn soup is served in Taiwan.
= McArabia =
This comes in 2 versions: grilled chicken and grilled beef with spices (kofta). The sandwich is served with tomatoes, lettuce, onions, and garlic mayonnaise, all wrapped in a pita. It is available throughout the Middle East, except in Israel.
Other related sandwiches include the McFalafel (“ta’miya”), which is a seasoned, deep-fried ground bean patty with tahina sauce, lettuce, and tomato on a bun. It can be found in Egypt and Iafa, Israel. Israel is also home to the McShwarma and the McKebab, which is made with turkey.
= Kiwiburger =
This nostalgic New Zealand burger is fast developing a cult reputation similar to the McRib’s reputation in the U.S. It adds a fresh egg and beet slices to a standard Quarter Pounder.
The Kiwiburger has been canceled and reintroduced 3 times since its invention in 1991. As of August 17, 2011, it has returned to the New Zealand menu for the fourth time.
= Pies =
McDonald’s pies feature local foods. Some flavors are sometimes available only for a short time, such as Canada’s blueberry maple pie. Taro pie can be found in Thailand, Guam, and Hawai’i. Other flavors include custard (Cyprus), banana (Brazil, Hawaii), corn (Japan), and cheese (Mexico, Guatamala).
= Beverages =
In many parts of Europe, such as Italy and Germany, you can order beer with your McDonald’s meal. Even in these countries, not all McDonald’s locations are licensed to sell alcohol.
Popular local non-alcoholic beverages include Irn-Bru (Scotland) and Inca Kola (Peru). Frozen Coke can be bought in Australia and New Zealand. Green tea is available in China and Japan, as well as green-tea-flavored ice cream and milkshakes.
= McLobster and McCrab =
You can find this lobster sandwich in New England and the east coast of Canada. In eastern parts of Quebec, it is known as the McHomard, after the French word for lobster.
The McCrab is the McDonald’s version of the Chesapeake crabcake. It can be found along the Delmarva Peninsula.
= Oatmeal =
After a successful market test, oatmeal is now available throughout most parts of the eastern U.S. and Canada. Flavors include fruit and brown sugar & maple.
= Spam =
Hawaii is crazy for Spam, and its McDonald’s food is no different. Breakfast meals come with Spam or Portuguese sausage, rice, eggs, and optional pineapple.
The Big Mac Index
The price and relative cost of a Big Mac varies greatly around the world. The Big Mac Index is a tongue-in-cheek measure of purchasing power parity (PPP), based on the cost of a Big Mac or Maharaja Mac in each country. It does not take into account the different size of Big Macs in different countries, or the different meat of a Maharaja Mac.
Its combination of exchange rates with PPP can yield values which are different from the store price. For example, in Norway as of May 2012, the store price of a Big Mac was 96 NKR, which is close to $16.70 USD. In contrast, the PPP- and exchange-adjusted cost of a Big Mac in Norway in 2012 is $6.79.
An even stranger example recently played out in Argentina. In 2011, the Economist claimed that “burgernomics” showed that the average annual rate of burger inflation was nearly double the official rate of inflation. Shortly afterwards, the price of a Big Mac in Argentina became strikingly lower than all other comparable Argentinian McFoods, and stayed that way until June 2012.