The talk of the [expat] town lately has been the opening of the first American fast food hamburger joint in Saigon, Carl's Jr. While there are some fantastic burgers in town (American-owned Black Cat and Mogambo's spring to mind) there aren't fast food burger joints. Well, there's the Korean fast food hamburger chain Lotteria, but it just doesn't cut it. Sometimes you just have a hankering for a real fast food burger. Well my friends, that day has arrived.
After wandering around for what seemed an eternity in the bowels of Vincom Center, Saigon's newest and swankiest office tower-cum-high end shopping mall (shown at right), we finally stumbled across the entrance to the promised land in the food court.
The girl behind the register chirped "May I take your order?" with impeccable English. After I ordered the "Western Bacon Burger" [sounds good eh] she repeated the order back just to make sure she got it right. Damn good training. The rest of the staff were well-scrubbed, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed like the kid on the right.
Rather than wait at the counter for my order, I received a plastic number and a staff member delivered my delicious meal straight to the table. They also offered to refill my drink. To my friends in the USA, when was the last time you got service like that at a fast food joint?
On the way in I bumped into another friend of mine with his girlfriend in tow. "It's my second night in a row!" he crowed. Indeed.
Here's the meal:
Before the meal, my burger-loving colleague Carlton and I drooled in anticipation.
Amid all the excitement, I've heard a few Westerners lament the fact that restaurants like this are coming to Vietnam. A place like McDonalds opening its doors somehow marks the end of indigenous civilization [there's a rumor McD's is coming in the next few years]. "Aww," they say, "Vietnam is getting Westernized and losing all that makes it unique." This is baloney.
Vietnam will *never* lose what makes it different and special. Look no further than Japan. Has Japan lost its "Japan-ness" in the 65 years it's been open to the world post-WWII? No, it's gotten even weirder and more Japanese. Those who have been there know exactly what I mean.
Does the popularity of sushi or Mexican burritos, relatively recent imports into America, render America "less American?" I don't think so. There is little risk that sushi or burritos will crowd out stereotypical "American" staples like meatloaf, hamburger or fried chicken anytime soon. Similarly, there's little risk that Carl's Jr. or even McDonald's will cause Vietnamese people to stop eating pho.
I suspect some Westerners like being able to tell their friends they live in or visited a country without McDonald's in the same way that some people like to talk about the fact they don't own a TV. I don't hear any Vietnamese complaining -- the place was packed with Vietnamese when I went.
So to the anti-Carl's Jr. crowd I say "Relax. You know you want one!"