The Adventures Of Fatrick: The Mega Mac At McDonald’s Japan
May 16, 2011
Shortly after finding out I’d be teaching in Japan post-college, a friend and I got to talking about a subject near and dear to both of us…McDonald’s. The conversation went a little like this.
FRIEND: They’ve got some pretty neat items on the Japanese menu.
FRIEND: Yeah, like the McTeriyaki burger. I’ve always wanted to try that. They’ve also got shrimp burgers.
ME: Ugh, that sounds gross.
FRIEND: Sorta. But you’d love the Mega Mac. It’s like a Big Mac…but bigger!
ME: Intriguing. I’ll add it to my “must do” list!
Thing is, the Mega Mac isn’t even that alien a concept to me. I distinctly remember McDonald’s America featuring an item very similar to it at some time during my childhood, possibly during or after the Monopoly game. My local franchise might have just been a testing ground for slightly unhealthier options…at one point, you could buy a “bucket of fries” which is as terrifying/delicious as it sounds…but being a portly elementary school student riveted by new fast food menu options, I know I tried it. Though, since I also was an immensely picky eater, it probably only had meat and cheese on it.
Still, when I saw the big poster at my local grocery store screaming “MEGA MAC” I knew destiny had come knocking. The Mega Mac…a, uhhhhh, beefed-up Big Mac wherein the number of patties gets doubled to a slightly disturbing four…stands as a classic “crazy Japan” fast-food staple. A quick Google search reveals headlines like “The Mega Mac Is Back!!!”…from 2007. NPR reported about the burger that was “all the rage in Japan” in early 2008. It’s not exclusively the domain of Japan…Malaysia and Australia seem to have had the item available at various times…but most of the Western press on it focuses on the Japanese-ness of it, code for “loogit how weird this is!”
Honestly, the Mega Mac doesn’t seem all that bizarre following the chain’s “Big America” items which struck me as way more twisted. Compared to Burger King’s Meat Monster, the Mega Mac might as well be endorsed by Jenny Craig. Yet it still serves as a meaty metaphor for modern Japanese culture, or at least the chunks of it people in the Western world hear about. I’ve always thought Japan embraces trends from America or Europe, but then takes them to bizarre extremes (see: five-hour lines to buy Krispy Kreme donuts as gifts, a Forever 21 store in Tokyo apparently modeled to be like a nightclub). The Mega Mac serves as an easy symbol of this.
Plus, I was pretty hungry at the time.
Save for the beef increase, everything else about the Mega Mac mirrors a regular Big Mac. Insert the famous jingle here if you fancy viral marketing. Evan upon opening the box, it looks just like a Big Mac, the relatively thin patties failing to intimidate. Once you try to bite into it, though, its size surprise you as one must extend their jaw just a little more than what is comfortable to properly eat this.
Food blog Serious Eats recently wrote that the key to the Big Mac’s trademark taste was the perfect balance of ingredients present in the burger. It’s true – since the majority of McDonald’s food comes off less like quality cooking and more like a science project, the Big Mac is basically the perfect the combination of semi-gross fast-food staples, engineering perfecting what is for better or worse one of the definitive tastes of America. No seriously…live in a foreign country for an extended period of time and, when culinary homesickness kicks in, you can find the Big Mac almost everywhere. A brief escape home even if it’s a bit of a fantasy.
The Mega Mac screws up this balance. While the same amount of lettuce, pickles, semi-melted cheese and sauce remains, the increase in meat results in a burger dominated by beefy taste. Which might be OK with some places but this is McDonald’s and if you’ve ever eaten a plain hamburger you know how bland they are, bland to the point everyone in elementary school speculated they were made out of sawdust/oatmeal/kangaroo. That’s the Mega Mac. Though it promises so much more…it’s like a Big Mac BUT BIGGGGGER…it actually ends up tasting like less.
At least I can cross it off my list.