Imagine that if you travel or work in China for the first time, you are looking forward to eating the most authentic Chinese food.
However, you are not ready– maybe just got off the plane — in order not to bring nightmares to your first Chinese food experience due to lack of knowledge, you decide to eat something you are familiar with.
At this time, you walked into a Kentucky Fried Chicken. Unfunfortunately, that is not wise enough.
Because of KFC’s attempt to localize in China over the past 10 years, its menu is entirely different from any other country. To some extent, China’s KFC is more like a Chinese cuisine brand, specifically Sichuan-taste fast food.
It has a different flavor, but it will be a bad experience if you can’t take spicy food or want to find some familiar tastes. So let’s take a look at what you will eat in KFC China.
Staple food and permanent menu
There are only three hamburgers left in the permanent KFC menu in China, namely, Zinger Burger, Extra tasty crispy burger and New Orleans Roasted Burger, and only the extra tasty crispy burger is not spicy.
Those not-so-spicy hamburgers have disappeared from regular menus, such as Mini Burger and Cod Fish Burger.
Unlike other regions, China’s KFC offers a large number of staple foods other than hamburgers. One of the most popular is the Dragon Twister series. The Chinese name of this series is literally translated as old Beijing chicken wrap.
This dish has a magical process of invention:
KFC opened its first Chinese mainland store in Beijing on November 12, 1987. American fried chicken quickly became a favorite snack for Beijingers. But for consumers in Beijing at that time, KFC was still very expensive. As a result, many local street food restaurants in Beijing have begun to offer American fried chickens that imitate KFC.
By the beginning of the 21st century, American fried chicken had become everywhere. Street food stores add it to Beijing’s leavened pancakes and add fried sauce and vegetables to make American fried chicken a kind of food for students’ lunch, which is highly similar to the chichen wrap.
Soon after, KFC imitated the menu of “chicken rolls” from the folk and launched the well-received “old Beijing chicken wrap”.
In fact, the term Old Beijing is somewhat ironic because it refers to “old Beijing American fried chicken”. The term is real in Beijing. It refers specifically to fried chicken sold in American fried chicken restaurants opened by Beijingers that were born in the last century.
In addition to the old Beijing chicken rolls, China’s KFC also offers a rice-set meal. For example, golden soup fat cow set meal, crispy chicken leg set meal, Hong Kong-style roast meat set meal.
However, these staple foods are not worth recommending. Chinese diners have commented that they are “irrelevant” —These dishes belong to neither China nor Western.
Take the crispy chicken leg set meal as an example, which basically consists of a pre-cooked sauce-flavored chicken leg, a piece of Original Recipe, some vegetables and a cup of Coke. It sells for 40 yuan (about $5.65), but if you buy a similar set meal in a Chinese restaurant, it costs only 30 yuan (about $4.24), and everything tastes better than it.
KFC also sold Chinese savory crepe (or just called Jianbing), a street food from northern China. Cooking it is so enjoyable that the cook pours the liquid batter into a boiling pan and adds eggs, chopped onions, coriander, Youtiao and sauces before it sets completely. This dish is called “everything in a big pancake” by KFC in China.
During breakfast, KFC offers a set meal of soy milk, Youtiao, rice porridge and spring rolls. Rice porridge menu includes Minced Pork Congee with Preserved Egg, beef and egg oatmeal, mushroom chicken porridge and potherb mustard chicken porridge. This is even richer than the average Chinese breakfast restaurant.
KFC has creatively added an egg to its Youtiao, a trend that has even affected traditional Chinese restaurants.
It is also worth mentioning that besides hamburgers, the most popular staple food in KFC in China is actually Taco Bell Crunchwarp. As the operation of Taco Bell in China has not achieved excellent results, KFC China “leased” this product from them, and unexpectedly won the favor of Chinese consumers.
Snacks and seasonal menu
KFC’s seasonal menu contains a lot of Chinese food, and it is often unexpected.
In this field, many dishes do not belong to western fast food at all, or we should say that except for the fried chicken you have seen in KFC overseas, all the snacks of KFC in China are Chinese food.
In 2011, KFC launched “Deep-fried Golden Crab,” an authentic Chinese snack. The cook took out the crab meat and crushed it, mixed the starch on the crab shell, and then fried it.
In 2013, KFC began selling spring rolls. Spring rolls are a traditional Chinese festival food, and people will eat them during the Spring Festival. KFC’s spring roll stuffing contains three kinds of mushrooms, namely, Tricholoma, mushrooms, and Flammulina velutipes.
In 2015, with the collective transformation and upgrading of China’s instant noodle industry, many new flavors of instant noodles conquered consumers.
And You know what? KFC launched a shocking instant noodle hamburger. This hamburger adds a piece of cooked instant noodles to the standard Extra tasty crispy burger.
In the summer of 2019, KFC launched Chuan Chuan buckets in ten Chinese cities. Unlike the buckets you see overseas, KFC China replaced chicken nuggets with Chuan Chuan. Chuan Chuan is a traditional Chinese snack from Chengdu, derived from hot pot. Chicken, tripe, bean curd and other ingredients are strung on bamboo sticks, cooked in spicy hot pot, and then handed over to diners.
Also See: 7 Kinds of Pot Cuisine that You Shouldn’t Call Hot Pot( Including Chuan Chuan)
By the summer of 2020, KFC had expanded the series by adding another traditional Chinese cuisine, “marinade”. This dish refers to the long-term pickling of ingredients cooked in clear water with a series of Chinese spices (such as cinnamon, cloves, tangerine peel, cumin, pepper, etc.).
KFC’s marinade set includes chicken hearts, wingtips, gizzards, and other ingredients never used in Western cuisine.
Since Chuan Chuan and marinade are often paired with a beer in Chinese cuisine, KFC has also sold China’s famous Yanjing beer in its stores.
In 2018 and 2019, KFC also sold crayfish Taco and hamburgers, which were seasoned with thirteen spices. Crayfish was a trendy ingredient in those two years, but most Chinese will choose to stir-fry it and eat it as a dish to drink.
In the summer of 2020, KFC launched dried scallops, salted egg yolk zongzi and salty fresh meat zongzi. Zongzi is a holiday food that Chinese people must eat during the Dragon Boat Festival. KFC’s zongzi has not gone through any innovation, only two classic flavor zongzi are sold directly.
Another magical special product of KFC this year is six gods flower dew flavor coffee. If you don’t know, six gods flower dew is a very famous mosquito repellent in China. It has a strong mint and floral flavor.
KFC’s attempt to localize is commendable, especially since some of its efforts to combine Chinese Western food and beverage cultures have brought a new experience. But not all such innovations are well received and are often criticized by Chinese consumers due to its odd ingredient combination and weird taste.
So, on the whole, eating at KFC in China seems like an exciting adventure. But as I said at the beginning, if you want to look for a “familiar smell,” you should still go to McDonald’s.