From Rags to Riches – The Colonel In China

So whilst I love to try new foods, my overriding passion is Street Food, parrticularly Asian Street Food.

Every now and again, mainly when I’ve had a long journey, or have indulged in a wee bit too much of the naughty soup the night before my culinary requirements become much more carnal. I need fast food.

Many airports and older train stations tend to be somewhat lacking. Thankfully, the new high-speed CRH stations have at least one thing in common (although it is far from universal). A smattering of fast food restaurants on the second floor. Including a range of Chinese favorites. But also usually a McDonald’s and a KFC (always on opposite sides).

In fact, it’s hard to traverse China without bumping into a KFC somewhere. Ever asked yourself ‘What is the most popular fast food restaurant in China?’ KFC! KFC is not only big business here. But it is now an ingrained part of Chinese middle-class culture.

So let’s tell the history of KFC in China!

When Deng Xiaoping started his “open door” policy in 1978, few had in mind what changes it might bring. And I’m sure getting KFC into China was probably not top of the list. But in 1988 that is exactly what happened. When KFC, the Beijing Tourism Bureau and Food Production company entered into a joint venture to open the first restaurant. Which is in Qianmen, Beijing. Almost 30 years and exactly 5,138 restaurants later have meant being the first. Have also made KFC the biggest restaurant chain in China.

So why is KFC so popular in China? Whilst being first certainly helped things along, Fried Chicken has long been popular in China, and I’m fairly sure is something they claim to have invented. KFC China also regionalizes to a much higher degree in China than in other countries, with many dishes that would be considered Chinese street food, as well as a much heavier trend towards BBQ style Chicken, “Chinese” style fried Chicken (flavourless), and much less emphasis on the original recipe. In fact, if you enter a Chinese KFC at the wrong time of the day, they don’t even have Original Recipe. Blasphemy you roar! But alas very true. I once ordered a bucket. Yes, a bucket that arrived without Original Recipe. I lost my shit.

The Chinese element really kicks in at breakfast time. With the restaurant offering the following “treats” – Youtiao, a classic Chinese breakfast staple, sometimes called a Chinese doughnut or Oil Stick. I personally prefer to call it inedible. It is a long slightly salted deep fried bread type thing that is served with Dojiao. Which is (usually) heated Soy Milk and has the texture of drinking chalk water. The weirdest thing with the breakfast menu is seeing street stalls outside selling the same product. But for 1/10th of the price. But in China, face is face!

kfc china

So what should you order in Chinese KFC?

At breakfast, avoid the Youtiao and Soya Milk. Unless that’s your thing in which case buy it from an old lady outside that needs the money more. Oh did we mention they have coffee…

The most popular item on the lunch/dinner menu is the Zinger Burger. Which is usually of a pretty high standard. The Original Recipe (if available) tends to be a lot drier and less like KFC than in other countries. But is still better than the other deep fried options.

And if you end up in KFC in the middle of the night when its limited menu, get whatever they have. After all, you’re either very hungry or drunk….

KFC China might not be as good as in other countries. But hey it’s still KFC. And alongside McDonald’s and Burger King offers one of the few options for feel at home comfort food.

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