Real Travelers Eat at McDonalds?

March 10, 2010

When in Oman, try the McArabia Kofta

I was just reading an article by Pico Iyer (author of Video Night in Kathmandu) where he lists 10 things every traveler should do. He’s an experienced traveler so I wasn’t surprised that I agreed with his tips, but I was surprised to see that he agreed with a tip I gave out a while back:

Go to McDonald’s.

His reason: “In Kyoto, you could see chicken tatsuta burgers, corn-potage soup, and, in autumn, moon-viewing burgers on the menu… The food is cheap and semipredictable, of course, but it’s all the ways in which the place is surprising that you will take home with you. What else are we looking for in travel (and in love and in life) but a tasty mix of the strange and the familiar?”

Exactly. Some people think that to be a real, hard-core traveler you can only eat street food, or you have to seek out little hole-in-the-wall places that only local foodies know about. Eating that way will certainly offer you new experiences, but will it really tell you much about the average Joe or Franz or Sayid?

How many people do you know who only eat at little out-of-the-way cafes? Probably not many. But most people eat fast food once in a while, and the tastes offered at large chains are meant to appear to the largest part of the population.

So if you’re in San Francisco and want to eat like the locals, you’re probably better off at an In-N-Out Burger than at Chez Papa, just like if someone is visiting Canada for the first time they’d better make a stop at Tim Hortons.

And the one place that almost every traveler in the world has experience with is McDonald’s, so it’s a great baseline for making comparisons. If Iyer had found corn-potage soup in a tiny restaurant in one village, all he would know is that some people in one village in Japan like corn-potage soup. Find it in McDonald’s and you can assume that it’s a national favorite.

Aside from all that, if you’re tired, hungry and running low on funds, McDonald’s can be a great haven to rest your feet, take a look at a map and get a cheap snack.

I’m lovin’ it,


  1. cool beans!

  2. […] along with the Louvre and the Sydney Opera House, you should also visit a McDonald’s or a laundromat or a neighborhood market. That’s how you get a feel for how the locals live […]

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