It’s Sunday night. I had a very filling dinner of ramen and curry, but when 9 o’clock rolled around, I was starting to feel hungry. Since it’s just a 5-minute walk away, I went to McDonald’s for a Big Mac. Japanese McDonald’s are amazing places. Firstly, they sell hot dogs. Only here, they call them “frank burgers.” Secondly, don’t want to buy the happy meal to get the toy? Well, you can get it from a vending machine next to the front counter. And all the different hamburgers! There’s the “Mac Star,” which is like a bacon double cheeseburger. There’s the “Bacon and Lettuce Burger,” and that name is pretty self-explanatory. There’s the Teriyaki McBurger, which is a pork patty smothered in teriyaki sauce, and right now, they’re serving this burger with a fried egg on it. Well, not a real fried egg. That imitation fried egg thing that they make Egg McMuffins out of. When my coworkers hear of this fascination, they fear that I’m getting all culture shocked. One of the signs apparently is eating a hell of lot at McDonald’s. But I’m not culture shocked. I just love fast food.
I find myself eating at Lotteria and Mos Burger about as much as I eat at McDonald’s. Lotteria and Mos Burger are two of Japan’s larger chains. I haven’t eaten at Mos Burger that much, though. They don’t have combo meals, so I have to order my fries and Coke separately. Lotteria, on the other hand, I love. One of my favorites that they make is the Shrimp and Curry Burger. Take a McDonald’s Fillet-o-fish. Mix some shrimp into your deep fried fish patty. Then, put a dollop of curry on top. That’s the Shrimp and Curry Burger. And man, does it make a good lunch.
But yeah, I love fast food. My coworkers laugh when I tell them what an average trip to Edmonton would mean. A Whopper at Burger King for lunch and a Big Bacon Classic at Wendy’s for supper on the way home. Burger King has just pulled out of Japan. The market is too oversaturated here to make room for the Whopper. Wendy’s does exist over here, and so far I’ve only found one. Japanese Wendy’s don’t make Bacon Big Classics, though.
Wendy’s has to be my all-time favorite fast food restaurant. I love them because I wrote their founder, Dave Thomas, a letter, and Dave Thomas replied personally. Well, I’m not sure if he actually did write the letter personally, but he did sign it personally. How this came about was I was curious as to why Wendy’s hamburger patties are square. Since Wendy’s ad campaign at the time involved Dave Thomas answering letters from customers, I thought, “Could I really ask Dave Thomas himself this question?” So, after making a few enquires, I learned the address of Wendy’s world headquarters, and sent a letter to Dave Thomas, c/o Wendy’s. A few months later, I got my reply, from Mr. Thomas himself. I don’t have the letter with me in Japan (it’s safely tucked away in a drawer in Entwistle), but Mr. Thomas said words to this effect: “Dear Mark. Thanks for being such a fan of my restaurants. Our hamburger patties are square because we don’t ‘cut corners.’ I’ve thrown in some coupons for a free burger and a free frostie. Next time you’re at one of my restaurants, have lunch on me. Sincerely, Dave Thomas.” So that’s why I’m such a fan of Wendy’s. The founder was still concerned enough about customer service that he answered my letter personally, he bought me lunch, and he gave me a straight answer to my question. All the things that McDonald’s didn’t do when they answered my letter.
Yeah, I wrote a letter to McDonald’s, too. See, I’ve noticed that in Canada, McDonald’s sells a cheeseburger, small fries and small drink under the name “All Canadian Meal.” I wrote McDonald’s and asked them, “So, what makes this all Canadian?” I got my reply, from the head of their consumer relations department, and he said, “Because it is.” Wow. Thanks, Ronald! But they did give me a coupon for a free Big Mac, so I won’t complain. Much. Wendy’s is still the best, because Dave Thomas answered my letter personally.
In fact, it was in the fall of 1998 when Camrose, the town where I went to university, finally got a Wendy’s. Guess where I ate when the university cafeteria didn’t appeal to me? Thanks to this, I began working on a project that I had in the back of my mind for a long time. I began to construct my ultimate fast food meal.
As I’m sure you all know, a person’s fast food tastes tend to vary with the restaurant. After you eat a lot of fast food, you might prefer this establishment’s fries, but not their burgers. The place across the street might make the better burgers, but their fries are sub-par. So, I started thinking that maybe, someday, I should get my burger from the better burger place and run across the street to the better fries place to get their fries. I began to look at the fast food places in Camrose, and began compiling my meal based on what was available to me. My brilliant goal was to put it together on the last day of classes and have an ultimate fast food picnic on Augustana’s campus. I never got to do it, though. But, for your perusal, here it is! My ultimate fast food meal, as taken from all of the fast food places in Camrose, circa April 1999:
Burger: Wendy’s Big Bacon Classic – Probably my all time favorite fast food sandwich. Made fresh to order.
Fries: McDonald’s Fries – Despite the controversies, McDonald’s does have some of the best fries out there. I’ve always found Wendy’s to be too soggy, and Burger King’s to be too much like McCain Superfries.
Drink: A&W Root Beer – It’s what made A&W famous! At all fast food restaurants, the default drink is cola. 9 times out of 10, that’s what you order. But not at A&W. They’re the only fast food restaurant that’s successfully switched the default to something else. That deserves to be recognized!
Side Dish: KFC Coleslaw – I think Kentucky Fried Chicken is the only fast food restaurant that’s ever been able to successfully market salads. And their coleslaw’s pretty decent, to boot.
Dessert: Dairy Queen Chocolate Sundae – Does anyone honestly go to Dairy Queen for the burgers? Nope. It’s their ice cream that’s the big draw.
And that’s pretty much it. No doubt this list would be different if Camrose’s Taco Time hadn’t closed up shop the year before, or if I compiled it a year later after Camrose’s Burger King had opened. I know it would be radically different if I compiled it in the big city, where I would have had a Taco Bell, Arby’s, Harvey’s, and several other chains available to me. I’ve considered revising the list over the years, but opted not to. Some day, I’m going to return to Camrose and put together this ultimate fast food meal. About the only big change might be moving the picnic location from the Augustana Campus to Centennial Park.
There’s a lot of fast food I miss in Japan, Whoppers and Mozza Burgers for some. But there’s a lot of new fast food I’ve been exposed to as well. I can’t explain why I love it. All I know is that I do. And, somehow, in this crazy, constantly shifting world, it’s almost comforting to know that a McDonald’s is always just a stone’s throw away.