Why There Isn’t a Chinese Fast Food Mega-Chain

As Chinese consumers devour more and more fast food (and begin to experience the correlated health impacts), and the multinational chains that cater to the growing appetite for processed convenience adjust their menus for the Chinese market, Paul French asks why China has yet to produce its own globally aspiring fast food mega-chain. From Foreign Policy:

There are any number of theories. My favorite is simply this: China may have only one time zone, but it has no national cuisine. That’s not to say you can’t find great food just about everywhere, just that there’s no one thing that Chinese crave everywhere — think of this as the cheeseburger-with-fries problem. It seems so paradoxical: Food in China is nothing if not quick, cheap, and filling, the foundation on which fast food is built. But it is also very much local. I have yet to go to a Chinese city that doesn’t have a superb delicacy to call its own: Gorgeous Shanghai soup dumplings (xiaolongbao) impregnated with pork gravy cost just pennies; crispy fried stinky tofu (chou doufu) in Changsha is equally cheap; and then there’s Beijing’s salty jianbing pancakes stuffed with fresh chives and also available for almost nothing, just like Sichuan’s spicy hot pot, Guangdong’s delicate dim sum, and Yunnan’s sumptuous “crossing the bridge” noodles (guoqiao mixian). It’s all delicious and inexpensive. It’s just not the recipe for a national fast food.

[...]Think of China’s food culture in the same way you might think of the European Union — as a large landmass where old borders between languages and cuisines endure, even as crossing those borders has become easier than ever. Over the years, I’ve talked to northern Chinese migrants in the sweaty factories in Shenzhen who still prefer noodles to rice, Sichuanese construction laborers in Shanghai who long for chicken blood-filled hot pots, and Muslim Uighurs eating cumin-scented lamb skewers in a Beijing back street. Nothing beats the taste of comfort food for someone working 18 hours a day thousands of miles from home. [Source]

Click through for French’s other theories on why a YUM! with Chinese Characteristics has yet to be born, including public concern over food safety leading to greater trust in foreign brands—a fact that fast food giant McDonald’s has capitalized upon. Also see prior CDT coverage of fast food and globalization.