Fast Food Watch: Chicken and Shrimp Burgers From McDonald's, Just in Time for the (Chinese) Holidays
I can see the television commercials now: the young man walking through the snow with a heavy bag over his shoulder. In the distance, he sees the lights of the house where he grew up, in the village that he left to go work in the big city. He swings the door open, and as is required by all young people depicted on television returning home for Spring Festival are required to do, greets his mother by saying, "Mā." Of course, they do not embrace or otherwise indicate that they might be related. The filial son reaches into his bag and produces a McDonald's bag, and from that, two burgers: the Gongbao Shrimp Burger and the Pineapple Chicken Burger. He offers his mother the shrimp, as is custom, and despite the nearest McDonald's being 700 kilometers away, and therefore the food being hours if not days cold, the mother acknowledges her son's effort by saying, "Háochí."
And so the red-envelope season begins. McDonald's offerings for the upcoming Year of the Rooster includes the aforementioned chicken offering, along with the shrimp burger. We took both back to the Fast Food Watch Test Kitchen for sampling.
Both items come in their own specially-designed boxes. In Chinese, the Pineapple Chicken Burger is the 本宫风堡 běn gōng fēng bǎo, and the Gongbao Shrimp Burger is 朕好虾堡 zhèn hǎo xiā bǎo. Fans and avid students of our Mandarin Monday feature will love that first character. Pronounced Zhèn, it's the phrase the emperor uses to refer to himself, as in, 朕要吃麦当劳 zhèn yào chī màidāngláo, "I, the emperor, want McDonald's." It also sounds exactly like "really good shrimp burger." Well played, McDonald's.
The chicken burger is a slice of chicken breast, topped with a large ring of pineapple, a sweet barbecue sauce, and a bit of mayonnaise, on a sesame seed bun, but not of the same variety used for the Big Mac. The shrimp burger is three fried shrimp atop a friend shrimp patty, with what appears to be some Big Mac special sauce and also a bit of mayonnaise. The shrimp patty seems to have some kind of crisped rice on it. However, it has the unfortunate effect of appearing as some kind of shrimp pox. If you see these white specks, do not be alarmed: this is the correct appearance for this item.
I was frankly worried about the pineapple chicken burger. Pineapple is a turn-off unless it's part of a pina colada, and I expected the breast to have that is-this-actually-leg-meat texture often found at KFC and other McDonald's offerings. But in this case, while the combination of the barbecue sauce and the pineapple made this sandwich too sweet for all but the pre-teenage palate, it's a chicken breast more along the lines of Burger King's classic chicken sandwich. It's slightly crispy, and if you take off the pineapple, would not be displeasing.
Although there's nothing particularly gongbao about the Gongbao Shrimp Burger, it's a winner. Of course it's not fried to perfection like tempura, but if you enjoy any of KFC's shrimp offerings, this will also appeal. The burger comes on a blackened sesame bun (the sesame seeds are blackened, not the bread), and it's neither too salty nor too sweet. It was the clear favorite at the Fast Food Watch Test Kitchen: both halves of the burger were devoured in short order, whereas the chicken burger received a couple of perfunctory tasting bites and was then placed back in the box.
The Pineapple Chicken Burger is sold individually for RMB 22; the superior Gongbao Shrimp Burger will set you back RMB 29. Both can be ordered as a set meal and paired with curly fries. Our take: grab a Gongbao Shrimp Burger at the train station on your way out of town, it'll be the last Western thing you eat for at least a week. And bring one along for Mom: she'll pretend to love it, even if she'll whisper to herself later, "Chībùbǎo."
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Photos: Steven Schwankert