Big Mac Index

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.

Cheezburga-cheezburga-cheezburgah! Can you spot all the soon-to-be-famous SNL alumnae?

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.

MacDonald’s Singapore – Special menu

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.

Infographic from DailyInfographic.com

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. 🇯🇲

21 Comments

  1. McDonald’s was the go-to meal place in Hong Kong even though the patties smelled of fish oil. In India it was a treat with special ‘Alu’ (potato) burgers especially for Indian vegetarian market. Now, in India, they have competition from other food chains.

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  2. I call it McDont’s. I had my share of it in Vienna with sister and friends years ago and now can’t understand why. I remember regional differences too. The last time I was in one, at the Mestre train station near Venice, I entered, realised that I should use a terminal, a screen of some sort, to place my order and pay, as there was nobody at the counter. I stared, turned around and left. And had a slice of pizza at the neighbour. That’s an interesting index, never heard of it. Such differences too. As for Tim Horton’s, first time I hear of it…

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  3. I’ve known about The Big Mac Index for awhile and it never fails to fascinate me. When I was craving ‘meaty American food’ in Beijing, I usually headed straight to Fat Burgers. Ironically, I haven’t gone back to Fat Burgers in the seven years since I’ve left Beijing (but I have been to McDonalds) 😀

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    1. I’m not familiar with Fat Burgers. I see that it’s located in mostly in BC, AL & NWT. But I know what you mean that location has a lot to do with food yearnings. In Toronto I never ever feel like a burger but put me in Beijing for 12 months straight …!

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  4. Russia is no longer on the list, sorry to say. McDonald’s was a treat I looked forward to on the 3.5 hour drives to my grandparents lake cottage. We always stopped at the same one. I also enjoy the local flavors of Asian McDonald’s. Jollibee is a Pilipino version that is even better.

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    1. Philippines is one of the few places where MacDonald’s tried to enter the market and failed because of local competition. I think somewhere in MacD’s HQ there is a Jolibee headshot with an X through it 🙂

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    1. I’m sorry to tell you that pretty much everywhere else, MacDonald’s give you ketchup for free. I imagine there’d be riot in North America if they started charging for it 🙂

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  5. I’ve eaten in MacDonalds from time to time, usually motorway service stations where there are few alternatives. But only once or twice abroad, if that. We resorted to the Beijing MacDonalds for breakfast one morning, and I had (actually rather good) espresso in one in Germany, again a service station. But generally I steer clear of them, preferring to eat more local food.

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    1. It’s funny how perceptions differ according to country and generation. In some of the countries I’ve visited, MacDonald’s is an exotic treat, the stuff of dreams that’s suddenly within reach.
      In other places where it’s common, it’s an integral part of childhood & family outings. For kids, it was a fun place to be and for parents, a predictably clean and affordable venue.
      I am like you, when I travel I prefer local cuisine. Sometimes though, like for breakfast, it is a simpler option.

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      1. It wasn’t your usual McDonalds that’s for sure. We just had to go in because of the food we experienced in Lyon already. Luckily there wasn’t the usual American crap stuff but still had a few items that you would expect.

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    1. Ha! I bet they didn’t dare sell McCroissants in France 🙂

      I must say that one of the fanciest MacDonald’s I’ve ever seen was in the Nyugati railway station in Budapest. I didn’t realise what it was at the time and only clued in on my second walk-by.

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  6. I love that Jamaica holds out against this bastion of fast food!
    I have only eaten their ice creams and occasionally, when the boys were small, their fries. I had one bite of a Big Mac once and hated it. A fish burger as an 11 year old made me sick, so I never wished to experiment further with their fat-laced menu and plastic cheese toasties. Apparently if you keep one of their burgers in the fridge it never deteriorates. They can keep their heavily preserved food. I don’t even want their cones anymore! The Big Mac index is an interesting comparison though.

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    1. For sure, MacDonalds is not health food. Although, I think the real culprits are high fat, salt and sugar. But like I said to Sarah, views of MacDonalds vary depending on culture & generation. While I never took my kids to MacDonald’s, it was a regular outing for times spent with their grandpa. They are way past that now but many fond memories are tied up with those trips.

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      1. A good point, Sandy. I like to hear this p.o.v. If one can look past the overarching capitalism of the business and that creepy Ronald McDonald smile (?) Lol, then it is the people you spend time with at this location that is more important than the structure surrounding you.

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