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Thursday, 14 March, 2002, 15:26 GMT
Hong Kong hungers for fast food
McDonald's, Hong Kong
Has Hong Kong become McDonaldised?
Despite a vast array of Chinese food to feed on, in a city of seven million food fans half a million people per day choose to eat at McDonald's in Hong Kong.

There are more than 10,000 restaurants squeezed into Hong Kong, including 158 branches of the fast food giant.

So recognisable is the golden arch logo that it no longer seems a "western" outlet, but according to anthropologists, it has become a "trans-national" institution.

"I think that McDonald's has helped the diversity of Hong Kong culture"

Daniel Ng, Chairman McDonald's, Hong Kong
Speaking to BBC World Service's Global Perspective programme, Gordon Mathews, a Professor of Anthropology in Hong Kong said: "there is no doubt that McDonald's does lead to places becoming more similar.

"A Big Mac is a Big Mac wherever you are in the world and that does represent a greater homogenisation."

Red bean sundae

Whilst certain dishes may be standard across the globe, "unique foods" are often added to the menu to suit the location.

In Hong Kong delicacies such as "shake shake fries" and "red bean sundae" ice-creams are the order of the day.

The increased popularity of fatty western food has led dieticians to warn of the health risks associated with high cholesterol diets.

'Fast food plague'

But now individuals have also argued that it is not just the types of food on offer that have an impact on people's lives, but that the fast food invasion has also affected the social fabric.

One Hong Kong restaurateur explained to the BBC the possible wider social implication of a fast food culture.

"The table manners have gone, because the parents are not teaching them how to eat properly at home."

He added: "The restaurant industry is suffering in Hong Kong, not just because of this fast food plague, but also it's the social structure of the family that is changing."

Slow food

With both parents often working full-time, often the traditional Chinese diet with several shared dishes is being swapped for convenience food.

For some, a change in eating practices is an indication that Chinese culture is being diminished.

A queue outside the opening of a new McDonald's in Hong Kong
Queue monitors maintain the first come, first served principle

In an attempt to stem the fast food flood, Wilson Kwok was prompted to found the Hong Kong chapter of the slow food movement.

This organisation originally began in Italy in the late 1980's. It is opposed to future generations growing-up with a foreign food culture and so gently deals with "local issues," because as Mr Kwok explains, "we want our local heritage to continue."

However, Daniel Ng , Chariman of McDonald's Hong Kong, certainly doesn't feel that he's sold his culture out.

He told BBC World Service: "I don't take the cultural purist view. Chinese culture is very precious, but sometimes when you mix two cultures you get something even more exciting.

"I think that McDonald's has helped the diversity of Hong Kong culture."

Wholesome fast food?

McDonald's recipe for an increased success relies, according to Mr Ng on the company's implementation of basic principles and attention to detail.

It represents "good wholesome food, the price is low, it's clean and the service is courteous and fast," he proclaims.

And he adds: "We go to unending lengths to make sure that these claims happen."

Indeed worldwide 46 million people eat at McDonald's everyday. However, restaurants of the fast food chain have also been attacked in at least 50 countries.

The reason for this, says Luisa Tam of the environmental pressure group Greenpeace in Hong Kong, is partly the sheer scale of the organisation.

"They have 29,000 restaurants in 120 countries, they have a work force of 1.5 million - that's the equivalent to the population of Brussels," she explains.

"A company of that size has a lot of responsibilities and if they don't deliver, that's when they become a big target."

Global Perspective on BBC World Service
"Everyday half a million people in Hong Kong choose to eat at McDonald's"
See also:

08 Jul 98 | Americas
Big Mac back in Nicaragua
23 May 99 | Health
Hong Kong fat fears
11 Sep 99 | Asia-Pacific
Fast food Hong Kong style
23 Nov 01 | Business
The cheapest Big Mac in the world
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