Have you ever heard of it the Big Mac Index? I hadn’t until I read this article. It’s an economic index that shows the difference between a currency’s exchange rate and its actual purchasing power.
Specifically, the difference between what you’d pay for a Big Mac in different countries. The premise being that MacDonald’s is available everywhere. It is afterall, the largest fast food franchise in the world with over 36,000 stores in 100 countries.
By a curious twist of fate, I’ve managed to live without MacDonald’s for most of my life. Even so, I remember its impact in every place I’ve ever lived.
When I was in Jamaica in the 70’s burgers and fries were mystical foods. They were a constant feature in American TV shows and commercials but totally absent in real life. In my real life, burgers were homemade meatballs squashed between two slices of bread.
I had my first Big Mac as a teenager when I spent a summer in Toronto. It was a mealtime supplement to atrociously bad dinners prepared by my host family. MacDonald’s was my savior from under salted, overly grey meals. Even so, I never developed a taste for Big Macs. I preferred the Filet-o-Fish sandwiches. Firstly because of the novelty (boneless fish SQUARES!) and secondly because I could buy two for the price of one Big Mac.
Fast forward to my college years where student food was pizza and sold-by-the-inch subs. Back then, MacDonald’s were located in suburban neighborhoods, far away from campus. By the time I was in yuppie-dom, Cajun-anything were my meals of choice and cheezburgas was food for SNL comedy.
My re-enchantment with MacDonald’s happened in Beijing. The sensory overload of living full-time in China precipitated a hunger for ‘regular’ American food. Whether by mind or matter, Beijing MacDonald’s was brighter and tastier than anything at home.
For Asian markets MacDonald’s regularly customized menus for regional tastes. I remember an improbable purple (taro) pie which echoed apple pie in texture if not taste. In Singapore there were more daring variations on local specialities.
Nasi lemak for example, is a dish made with coconut rice, a fried egg, sambal and anchovies. The Nasi lemak Burger was made with a fried chicken patty, egg, sambal and onion confit. It was sloppy to hold, messy to eat and fishy in a chicken-shouldn’t-taste-like-this kinda way. I was not a fan.
In Japan, MacDonald’s had more normal fare. In the mornings it was a welcome reprieve from expensive hotel breakfasts. Did you know that outside of US, Japan has the most MacDonald’s in the world? Suffice to say that it was easy to find one in Tokyo.
Japan’s unusual menu item was salad in a cup. It was my preferred side for the breakfast special. Can you guess how to eat salad in a cup? With chopsticks of course!
Now that I am back in Canada, I hardly ever feel the need to eat at MacDonald’s. There are so many other healthier options. The only time I crave a MacDonald’s is when I’m in Ucluelet and forcibly cut-off. That’s because Ucluelet and Tofino have municipal bans on all franchises. There’s not a MacDonald’s, A&W, Starbucks or even (gasp!) a Tim Horton’s until the nearest town two hours away.
Here is the latest Big Mac Index for 2022.
To my friends in Switzerland & Norway, I’m sorry but you’re paying way too much for a Big Mac. China and Japan still have sweet deals for under $4 but the cheapest burger is in Russia at $1.74. The index though, is based on last year’s data. The real price in Russia today is probably quite different … assuming they can even find one.
Notice that Jamaica is not shown at all.
That’s because Jamaica is one of the few countries that doesn’t have MacDonald’s. Why is that? I’ve heard that it’s because the Big Mac isn’t big enough for Jamaican appetites. Maybe in real life, it just doesn’t stand up to a really great Jamaican meatball sandwich. 🇯🇲