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Mark Moxon's Travel Writing

Indonesia: McDonald's, Indonesian Style

I arrived in Yogyakarta to a flourish of westernisation. I found a cheap hotel without too much ado, and after six weeks of forests, valleys, small villages, rice and noodles, I was mesmerised: Yogyakarta has McDonald's, Pizza Hut, shopping malls, TVs and CD players. These things have been constant companions in my life since the year dot, and after six weeks away from the tourist trail, I was so amazed by their reappearance that it felt like rediscovering technology all over again. It's a powerful drug, westernisation; I wanted to flash the plastic right there and then, to buy some music, some computer hardware, or some trendy clothes that didn't look they'd been dragged backwards though the rainforest.

And McDonald's was there, Ronald holding out his hands just like the tau-tau, enticing the tourists in. For Yogya (pronounced 'Jogja') is a tourist town par excellence, and although at first glance it seems that there aren't that many tourists, look again; there aren't necessarily that many white tourists, but there are plenty of Indonesians and Malaysians visiting the malls and the junk food stalls.

But it's not quite the same McDonald's as we're used to back home. Java is a Muslim island, and McDonald's here is halal; it has the halal sign plastered on its food packaging, on its publicity, and on the certificate from the nation's Islamic leaders that proves that McDonald's might be lacking in nutrition and redeeming qualities, but at least the meat has been bled properly. Then there are all the differences in the restaurant itself: there's McDonald's chilli sauce, which is an essential part of Indonesian cuisine western or otherwise; the McRice meal, an addition to the McRange that I gave a wide McBerth after my recent problems; the area in the centre of the restaurant where the tables and chairs give way to six-inch high tables and floor mats, so people can eat their Big Macs in their favourite manner; the sign above the door that proclaims, in Indonesian, 'Thank you, please come back tomorrow,' a rather more optimistic version of the more western 'Please come again'; the automatic question 'Do you want ice?' when you buy a drink, a result of the dangers of drinking iced drinks in a country where the water is dodgy and can only be purified by boiling, not freezing; then there's the fact that the most popular dish with the locals is chicken, cooked just like Kentucky Fried Chicken – Big Macs come in a poor second; and finally, the large number of staff who are ready to take away your tray, which is noticeable compared to Europe, where labour costs are much higher. But it's still McDonald's, with the same taste, the same gut-plugging effect, the same wonderful fries... and all at a price that's truly Indonesian, with a Big Mac meal going for 6900rp, or about £1.25.

Not that Yogya was just McDonald's, oh no. On the second night I went to Pizza Hut with four others from our hotel, and I swear that it was one of the most delightful meals I have ever had. Cheese, bread, meat that doesn't kill you... it was worth paying the western prices for the thrill of the taste sensation. It confirms what I've been suspecting for some time; Indonesian food is OK, but sometimes, only comfort food will do.

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