It will happen so don’t pretend that it won’t. The first time I went to China I was actually upset with my parents and brother because they wanted to go eat at an American restaurant during our time in Beijing. I felt it was sacrilegious.
When I became less obstinate and obnoxious in my later years I came to appreciate the fact that the China experience is not based on being more hard core than everyone else. Indeed I found that every time my business took me to the big coastal cities I seized the opportunity to indulge in a few tastes of home. Few things can dispel a bout of home sickness like a little taste of good greasy Americana – and if one can get it, maybe some Italian and Tex-Mex too.
So, for when you are feeling desperate:
The fact is Western fast food is ubiquitous across China. Every first and second tier city – and most third tier ones – have KFC, McDonald’s and Pizza Hut. KFC was the first to arrive, moving into the Chinese market in 1987. Since then it has become the absolute leader in the fast food market. Pizza Hut arrived in 1990 and was the first Pizza delivery company in China. By virtue of their first mover advantage, both companies have been able to shape the fast food market and influence the development of the tastes of many young Chinese. Both brands have tailored their menu options to suit local tastes. Furthermore, Pizza Hut is actually quite a nice sit-down restaurant – not the grease bucket it is in the US.
McDonalds is more or less the same but with other menu options including more chicken sandwiches and pork burgers. The portions are also generally smaller than in the US but perhaps that is a good thing – or at least it would seem to be for anyone who has seen “Supersize Me.” I must confess whenever I was in Beijing, I could not help but indulge in breakfast at old McD’s. I never eat it in the US but can’t say no to Sausage McMuffin’s and coffee when I haven’t had either in a good while.
So what to do when fast food won’t cut it? Then the options begin to thin – somewhat. Even third and fourth tier cities will have some semblance of Western-style food. When you need a fix, head for Taiwanese coffee shops like Shang Dao Coffee or Cross Straits Coffee. These and their independent locally-run kin offer passable – if somewhat expensive – Western food in addition to Chinese dishes which seem to be somewhat similar to the Chinese take-out we are used to back in the US. Simple dishes like pizzas or spaghetti are usually pretty good bets.
China also has a wide variety of local steak chains. The steaks are usually strip steaks and are pan fried, often served with a fried egg and spaghetti on the side. These restaurants usually have a salad bar as well although the selections are usually limited.
Most second and third tier cities will also have all-you-can eat Pizza buffets. For 50 RMB, you can indulge in pizza, fried chicken wings, soup, salad and fruit bar, and even all-you-can drink beer. The ice cream at the end is a nice touch. When you really need to stuff your gut and get your food coma on, you can’t go wrong with these chains. Names include Origus and Pizza Fun. Origus has over 80 branches across China and at least 40 in Beijing. It may not be the best quality but it certainly helps take the edge off.
The larger cities typically have an array of Western food options. These range from expensive but authentic steak, barbeque or pizza places, to fabulously expensive five star options serving cuisine worthy of Michelin stars.
In Beijing I recommend checking out Mexican Wave. In Guangzhou, try out Danny’s Bagel. Both are well established restaurants with a long history of serving a taste of home to the homesick. Hence they are also good places to meet up with other westerners when you feel a need for a kvetch session. Mexican Wave has been in business since 1988. In those days, the small expatriate and diplomatic community did not have many options. Mexican Wave did very well for itself. It remains an institution among many other bars and restaurants that have gradually opened up to its right and left over the last 22 years.
In general, when you need a fix, it is there to be had. Enjoy!
Mexican Wave (墨西哥风味餐厅)
- Guanghua Road, Chaoyang District (010-65063961)
- 188 Huangpu Ave West, Tianhe District (020-87561993); 4th Floor, Wei Jia Si Furniture Centre