What happens when you mix greasy McDonald’s food with the smog spewing factories in the growing economy of contemporary China?
You get the Modern China Burger, of course. This item may actually be the perfect representation of a country in burger form that McDonald’s has ever put on its menu. There have been plenty of other reviews of the burger plastered all over the internet, but I really wanted to analyze and break down what this burger really represents.
I was walking around Sea World (an expat area of Shenzhen) when a poster of the Modern China Burger caught my eye. Other reviewers have noted that the grey, pallid buns were an appetite killer, but when I first laid eyes on it, the novelty and ridiculousness of it ignited my adventurous soul and made me want to try it even more. Questions quickly filled my head: What does grey taste like? If I eat it will I die? What is this burger’s place in the universe?? To find the answer to my questions, I walked up to the front door and entered the realm of McDonald’s.
Here’s what it looks like:
Here’s what it really looks like:
Upon unwrapping, the burger doesn’t look extremely appetizing, kind of like viewing China from the outside. With its many factories, crowded cities, and news of all kinds of malpractices going on (like re-using street oil), if one only looked at China from an outsider’s perspective, you wouldn’t be tempted to bite any deeper into modern Chinese society.
The buns are actually mantou (馒头), a staple steamed bun found throughout China. Black sesame seeds provide their stone grey complexion, and represent the smoggy skies and the concrete ground that sandwiches the meat of modern China. Because if there’s anything that modern China is known for, it’s craploads of concrete and having polluted cities (though I’d like to note that there are many cities where the pollution level is much lower; I currently live in one).
Inside the Modern China Burger, we have the meaty centre of modern China. Meat is the fuel that keeps China’s population working towards maintaining its ever-growing economy, and it’s only appropriate that the meat be pork. China is the world’s largest consumer of pork, about 52 million tons of it in 2012 alone. And there is not one, but two pork patties, representing the increase in meat consumption among China’s increasingly middle-class population. And if two pork patties weren’t enough, a greasy strip of bacon tops it all off, because why the hell not? Though the bacon may seem ill-placed and excessive, upon deeper inspection we can see how it exemplifies modern China’s embrace of Western ideas and culture, the buns and meat absorbing the bacon juice and infusing modern China with a slightly Western flair.
The lettuce is scant, which is an apt depiction of the scant shrubbery of modern Chinese cities. The sauce, a neon-orange coloured mixture of Sichuan pepper sauce and mayonnaise, is akin to the bright lights blanketing the evening skylines of such futuristic cities as Beijing or Shanghai, and also embodies modern China’s tendency towards cultural fusion, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. In the case of the sauce, this particular instance of fusion worked.
Okay, so it looks alright, but how does it taste?
Upon biting into it, I was overwhelmed by a porky flavour, but it wasn’t overly salty. The buns were less fluffy than actual mantou, which gave the burger a stronger base to hold the ingredients inside. The sauce was just enough to detect a trace of spice, and the lettuce… well, it was lettuce. While munching on the burger, I noticed that something tasted a little off. At first I thought it could have been the sauce but after tasting the sauce by itself I quickly dropped that theory. I proceeded to taste the pork patties and discovered that they were the culprit. They had a distinct Sichuan peppercorn flavour infused into the meat, which would be a pleasant surprise for Chinese food connoisseurs, but could be a turn off for some unprepared Western palates. As far as burgers go, the Modern China Burger is an average tasting burger. I wasn’t repulsed by it but I also wasn’t preaching its flavour either.
Overall, this experiment in cultural fusion is not only an average tasting burger, it is… dare I say it… a stroke of genius. Kudos McDonald’s for making the Modern China Burger perfectly embody the sights and spirit of modern China.