Fast food chains are changing dramatically. I’ve written about this before, and expressed hope that it was a symptom of social progress. Even the corporations that have long profited off of exploiting the worst of our habits have recently shown themselves to be responsive to heightened customer demands. And that’s very good news when modern demands demonstrate higher standards both in the quality of the product and in the behavior of the company.
Multinational corporations help to show themselves as open to change and evolution when they demonstrate sensitivity to the cultural preferences of local markets. McDonalds has shown some measure of that sensitivity in that it recently announced plans to open a location in India that will be the company’s first vegetarian restaurant. Now Burger King has also made a move to appeal to a specific local market with its introduction of the premium kuro burger, or black burger, to its stores in Japan.
The specialty sandwich will be available exclusively in Japan for a limited time starting today. So if you’re not living there and you’re in the mood for an ethnically-influenced gourmet burger served by one of the world’s largest fast-food restaurant chains, you’ll have to arrange a trip to Japan and find the nearest Burger King to the airport. Once you do, you’ll be treated to a beef patty seasoned with paprika and tomato, garnished with a ketchup flavored with black squid ink, and served on a bun made black by mixing bamboo charcoal into the dough.
We regularly share with our readers recipes that utilize bamboo as an ingredient, but this is one culinary creation that probably never would have occurred to us, if only because its target market is so geographically narrow. But that makes it quite surprising that it came not from the kitchen of a highly-prized Japanese chef, but from the long-ago creator of the Whopper. It’s a remarkable shift, so I guess we can’t be too disappointed that this upsurge in creativity is starting off with baby steps which will presumably keep the kuro burger from ever reaching other markets.
Burger King wins points in my book for being attentive to the flavors and ingredients that are unique or distinctive to foreign markets. But they fall short in that they apparently don’t think of their global customers as being ready to explore those things outside of the cultures that birth them. In that way I’m still more impressed with our recipe section, because although bamboo may be something that people still automatically associate with Asia, we’re actively interested in seeing that it isn’t confined there. It’s a fine ingredient for Western kitchens, as well as being a fine base for Western bamboo clothing and bamboo bedding. There’s a lot to be gained by importing its cultural relevance.
Globalization is a terrible and wonderful thing at the same time. I’m not thrilled about watching McDonalds and Burger Kings spring up like toadstools all over the world, rising as symbols of American hegemony. But it’s not so bad when the cultural exchange that follows allows far-flung tastes, ideas, and resources to blend together into something that raises the standards for all of us. That Burger King and McDonalds are experimenting with anything that you might call “gourmet” has to be a sign of the better aspects of globalization.
But it hasn’t gone far enough yet. Those companies are suddenly happy to respond to the demands of their local markets in the interest of increasing their profit margins, but the dominance of Western culture seems to still leave them a little hesitant about bringing some of what it’s learned abroad back to the United States or the UK. Consequently, while the Japanese market gets a burger made with paprika, bamboo, and squid, the impulse towards experimentation within the local US culture only gives us things like ice cream with bacon in it.
For the time being, you’ll have to use your own kitchens to build bamboo into your Western diets. Refer to our bamboo flavors section for some ideas to get you started. But with the way that consumer tastes and corporate practices are changing, I’m sure we’ll see the day when you can get a bamboo salad or stir-fry at a drive-through window. Won’t that be extraordinary progress?