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Travel—especially abroad—can change your outlook and stretch your palette to the brink. For the chronically nomadic, it’s the shitty comforts of home that help keep them upright. Last year (and part of this year), I spent months loitering in foreign countries. My nostalgic guilty pleasure of choice just so happened to be McDonald’s.
Along with an incredibly diligent friend hell-bent on trying whatever the fast food chain had to offer in every country he set foot in, I began racking up online check-ins, shitty Instagram posts, and calories as I strove to eat my way around the world. Though McDonald’s in the United States is typically reserved for when I’m under the influence or under the weather, I voraciously chowed down anywhere I saw a crappy translation of their “I’m lovin’ it” slogan.
Some McDonald’s had all the awful comforts of home while others took that shit to the next level. These are the best of perhaps the worst food I voluntarily ingested abroad, minus the drunk binges at 7-11 and Lawson.
Hidden beneath fresh tomatoes and greens grown in the Italian countryside is a legitimate piece of lobster. It’s what you might only glimpse at a seaside McDonald’s with a crustacean problem if you were back in the States.
There’s a reason Italy’s McLobster Roll costs a full 13 euros. It’s beyond me why McDonald’s didn’t dub it the McAragosta to add a bit of Italian into the mix—especially since the chain was marking the return of the World’s Fair to Italy with nationalistic burgers that included large chunks of Parmesan cheese set atop actual goddamn meat. Va fangul!
Sorry y’all but I still have depression, despite what Singapore McDonald’s led you to believe. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from darkening the doors of the golden arches in every country, it’s that nothing can change what a McNugget happens to be. Singapore instead excelled with its sides, the seaweed shaker fries being the absolute best of the bunch. These bad boys are a staple across southeast Asian franchises, including in Malaysia, where I spent a month trying to figure out what the hell a samurai burger is.
Just about every summer, the McDonald’s franchise in Slovenia trots out an American-inspired menu because it’s fairly convinced that all we do is attend cookouts and clog our arteries. We certainly don’t have all of August off like most of Europe, hence the whole fast food thing. Slovenia tried to play catch up on our intermittent and unhealthy feasting in a pretty grand way in 2015, rolling out the New York Classic and Miami Hit, both of which have returned to endanger even more Slovenians this summer.
What they didn’t include was the Denver Gold, a flaming dumpster of a burger with too many patties, suspect onion chips, a whole lot of bacon, and the world’s most gratuitous hashbrown patty tying it all together. Hungover April couldn’t finish this beast, instead choosing to dissect whatever the hell an American fry is while watching pigeons mack on each other. Still, there’s something downright memorable about that bullshit burger.
Like any great country with a healthy offering of red meat and shockingly good milk, Argentina is obsessed with steaks and dulce de leche. The latter won out when I walked my exhausted ass over to the nearest McDonald’s one rainy morning with a friend to try its dulce de leche pancakes. Its Milka McFlurry was also a particular treat simply because as soon as I dug into it, I started having flashbacks to eastern Europe—aka the place where I ate my weight in chocolate and once spent 20 euros on a shitload of s’mores Milka candy bars. Good lord.
That desperate chicken burger? Not so great. Like McNuggets, the French fries were exactly the same as they always are, no matter what country you’re in or how sober you may be.
If there are suspiciously packed sauces in containers they don’t typically appear in, chances are that I will spill them. You should’ve seen me manhandling bags of milk in Argentina. Making cereal was a very confusing process until I started putting that shit in a jar. These mini-pancakes from McDonald’s Japan (that were served all day, I might add) were just as perplexing.
That humble dipping sauce container included white chocolate icing and milk chocolate icing, which were supposed to be squeezed together to elegantly drizzle the sweet stuff onto the pancakes. Every ad for the pancakes I saw on the train made them look so kawaii. And yet in my first attempt, I spilled 70 percent of the sauces into my palm, then lathered the pancakes with them like I was washing the hood of a sports car. It was all pretty American. Even if I was 7,000 miles from home.
A former Weekend Editor at the Daily Dot, April Siese's reporting covers everything from technology and politics to web culture and humor. Her work has been published by Bustle, Uproxx, Death and Taxes, Rolling Stone, the Daily Beast, Thrillist, Atlas Obscura, and others. Siese joined Quartz in December 2016.