McDonald's swings and misses with new 'Chinese burger'

Li Anlan
An honest review of the new roujiamo that customers have been complaining about for days.
Li Anlan

On the first day of the twelfth lunar month, McDonald’s announced its latest collaboration with Chinese animation IP “Nezha” to introduce a limited seasonal dish inspired by Chinese cuisine. The new product is the American fast food chain’s interpretation of roujiamo, the Shaanxi-style meat-between-bun Chinese “burger” from the northwestern province.

As soon as the Chinese burger hit McDonald's menus, customers posted reviews pointing out its numerous inadequacies. The top complaint has been its lack of meat.

The actual roujiamo looks quite different than in pictures, which is common for fast food chains, but the dearth of what's included between the buns is beyond the pale for many.

The tag #麦当劳肉夹馍被曝肉量极少遭吐嘈# (#McDonald’s roujiamo teased for having very little meat filling#) on Sina Weibo has gained 190 million views to date. On January 13, blogger @北京人不知道的北京事儿 posted more than a dozen misleading roujiamo photos gathered online, which received more than 3,000 comments and reposts.

McDonalds swings and misses with new Chinese burger

Unflattering pictures of McDonald's roujiamo went viral on Weibo.

McDonald’s official response to the complaints is that customers should reach out to individual stores for solutions, and it's making adjustments to the burger.

The collaboration also includes sugar-roasted-chestnut-flavor ice cream, Angus beef burgers with minced meat sauce and pies with red bean filling.

Today, I ordered one McDonald’s roujiamo plus a classic grilled chicken McMuffin online to compare the two, delivered by the Eco1788 branch. The price of the roujiamo was 12 yuan, and the McMuffin was 11.5 yuan. Both are only available during breakfast hours.

The roujiamo weighed 130 grams and the McMuffin 107 grams. The extra weight is mostly from the flatbread, which is visibly larger and denser than the muffin bread.

McDonalds swings and misses with new Chinese burger
Li Anlan / SHINE

McDonald's 12-yuan roujiamo (left) weighed 130 grams, the 11.5-yuan grilled chicken McMuffin 107 grams.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the traditional roujiamo:

  • The soul of roujiamo is a bun known as baijimo, essentially a baked flatbread with a thin, crunchy skin and dense texture; the color must be white on the outer edge with golden gradients in the middle.
  • The heart of the dish is the stewed pork filling known as lazhirou. The pork used is rich pork belly with skin, and it’s cooked for hours with more than a dozen spices and seasonings until the meat easily breaks apart.
  • Beef and lamb are also used to make roujiamo, but lazhirou uses pork.

McDonalds swings and misses with new Chinese burger

A traditional roujiamo with a proper amount of meat filling.

McDonald’s problem is mostly with the filling – it uses chicken, with shreds and chunks of chicken breast meat.

Chicken might seem a healthier alternative to traditional red meat, but turning such lean meat into rich filling requires additional fat and oil which translates to more calories.

Shaanxi cuisine is famous for hearty meat and staple dishes that are rustic and heavily flavored with chili and cumin, a great contrast to sweeter southern flavors. But roujiamo's chicken filling lacks the necessary strong flavor of Shaanxi food and tastes a bit sweet, which is unacceptable for hardcore fans of northern cuisines.

The roujiamo I ate had a decent amount of chicken filling and was very hot.

The bun receives a passing grade for being close to the baijimo, but mass production doesn't result in the same quality as handmade varieties from time-honored neighborhood shops. However, it does have thin crunchy skin and a soft interior. One problem with the bun was a slightly burned surface, much like the photos posted by other customers on Weibo.

McDonalds swings and misses with new Chinese burger
Li Anlan / SHINE

McDonald's roujiamo uses chicken meat as filling instead of pork.

Price-wise, McDonald’s roujiamo is less expensive than many dishes at Shaanxi restaurants in the city. Because the price of pork remains high, a regular roujiamo on the street is usually priced between 15 and 20 yuan, and vegan versions are around 12 yuan. The price difference is likely due to McDonald's use of less-expensive chicken instead of pork.

The fast food chain's roujiamo, along with a hash brown and small cup of soy milk, costs 19.9 yuan, a better and more filling bargain.

For highly promoted releases like this one, the product often fails to live up to the hype.

The risk is also high when Western brands try to impress Chinese customers with something deeply rooted in Chinese culinary culture. People are picky when it comes to food they grow up with, especially regional specialties.

As the fast-food market becomes more competitive every year, top Western chains have worked hard to localize their menus and create new items to appeal to customers. Some dishes have turned out well, like congee, youtiao (fried dough sticks) and spicy marinated skewers at McDonald’s and KFC, but roujiamo illustrates the risks involved.

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