When I was new to Indonesia and ordered a hamburger in a squalid Jakarta street-side restaurant, it was as if an elephant had taken a dump out of the back of a Hercules transport plane 30,000 ft above me.
This lump of dung reached 122 mph as it streaked through the clouds, possibly a record for an object originating from an elephant’s intestines, and crashed onto my tabletop. The shockwave overturned furniture, sending cats scampering for boltholes, and I stared with horror at the great splatter of steaming excrement on offer before me. If you want to avoid an experience that feels just like this, here’s a reminder of some more reliable fast-food options that are just like you get at home.
Let’s begin with the king of burger joints. Though in Indonesia it’s more of a chicken joint. In fact, McDonald’s in this country is indistinguishable from KFC, since most customers ignore the various burgers and order fried chicken and rice. The venerable Big Mac is there, of course, its addictive high fructose corn syrup making sure you’ll crave another one later on. In 2016, a 29-year-old man in the UK choked to death while attempting to eat a McDonald’s cheeseburger in one mouthful. While this might sound like the act of someone starving, it was in fact a party trick gone tragically wrong. His last words to his friends were: “Watch this“.
Head to KFC if you prefer Pepsi to Coca-Cola. Pepsico acquired the restaurant chain in 1986 for $850 million. Remember the slogan “Finger-lickin’ Good”? It implies that KFC fried chicken is so delicious that you’ll not want to waste the grease. If I were in a crowded restaurant where everyone was licking, sucking, and nibbling their fingers, I think I’d throw up. When I came to Indonesia twenty years ago, the quality of KFC chicken was way below what I’d known in the UK. The meat was grey and stringy. It tended to squirt hot fat into my face when I bit into it, as though it were still alive and fighting me off. The quality is much better these days.
If you like your fried chicken to taste like it’s wrapped in tracing paper, A&W is the place to go. I was first attracted by the word “beer” in their famous root beer, a drink I’d never heard of before. Ordering a large glass with my curly fries, however, I discovered that this American favourite tastes like Coco-Cola mixed with the urine of a man with prostate cancer. Inventively named after its creators, Allen and Wright, the A&W franchise was founded in 1919 on this special root beer recipe. Miraculously, it thrived.
Kenny Rogers Roasters
My friend in the UK overheard me talking about this restaurant and asked me if it was a real thing (having only ever seen it in the classic Seinfeld episode). Imagine a country-singing Colonel Sanders with an oven instead of a deep-fat fryer. It really is good chicken. I recommend you visit their website, where you’ll learn all about “Putting LOVE back into FOOD”, and their “Succulent, Tender, Aromatic Chicken DONE RIGHT”. A word of warning. Mute the volume on your computer. Otherwise, you’ll hear a looping song so brimming with… the only possible phrase is “chicken-loving gaiety” that you’ll want to stick your head in the oven alongside the chicken.
Imagine if a fairy godmother tapped her magic wand on McDonald’s and with a sprinkle of angel dust it transformed into a somewhat pricier restaurant with tasty, good-quality burgers. My friend once had a first date with a girl who “loved her burgers“, and wanted to take her to an upscale burger joint. I did not hesitate to recommend Carl’s JR. I would have liked to report that the date was a success, that the couple fell in love and eventually got married in the kids’ party section of McDonald’s, with a multi-tiered wedding cake that looked like a tower of snow-white Sausage McMuffins, with Happy Meals for all the guests, and with the newly-weds living happily ever after. Alas, I think they never hit it off.
Where has the Chicken Royale got to? This signature Burger King sandwich, sort of a giant chicken nugget in an oblong bun, was available when the Thamrin branch opened years ago. Then it wasn’t. Then it was. Then an “Unavailable” sticker was pasted across it on the menu. Then it wasn’t. Then it was. Finally, the Chicken Royale disappeared from the menu altogether and has not been heard of since. The throne is empty, the Queen is missing. So, what’s left? There’s always the Whopper of course, which sounds more like a 1970s kids comic than a regal burger. The “Carry On” movie’s cast would have had fun with it. Barbara Windsor: “Let’s go to Burger King, I feel like a Whopper”. Sid James: “I can give you a whopper right here and now if you want it… cackle, cackle”.
This “old-fashioned” restaurant puts square patties in round buns so that the corners stick out. This doesn’t mean that the kitchen staff are repeatedly failing a rudimentary shapes-matching test. Rather, the square patties are a cunning way of enabling you to see the juicy quality of the meat (according to founder Dave Thomas). Also on the menu is a baked potato topped with two types of cheese. Unfortunately, it looks like a baby has pooed and puked on it. Potato fans will overlook this yucky appearance and love it – even though Wendy’s cooks can’t seem to tell the difference between a regular oven door and a microwave oven door. Perhaps one is square and the other is round.
You can’t fault Pizza Hut’s delivery service. In 2001, they delivered a pizza to the international space station. The next time your pizza delivery is astronomically late, try phoning the Russian space agency to see if there’s been a mix-up. Pizza Hut regularly comes up with offbeat toppings and pizza modifications (sausage-stuffed crust), but in 2011, the restaurant outdid itself in Indonesia by introducing a corn flakes pizza. “Corn flakes Di Atas Pingirran Pizza?” enquired the promotional poster. Ask yourself: would you put cheese and tomato puree on your bowl of cereals in the morning? Would Kellogg’s ever release pizza flakes? Ultimately, I think Pizza Hut’s bizarre fusion of sunrise and sunset food failed because they never made it clear whether we were meant to pour milk on it or not.