Let’s buy a Cheeseburger, a Quarter Pounder and a Big Mac all at once, unwrap and bite into each one, and take pictures, comparing the craftsmanship at two different McDonald’s restaurants. This is what the Internet is all about. Be advised that I fully intend to repeat this activity with different pairs of fast food restaurants. (Psst: I’m headed to Louisville, Kentucky soon. There’s a KFC right there in the airport which will be the perfect baseline for KFC nom-offs).
Mc1: Queensway, Toronto, Canada (right next to the Roncesvalles Howard Johnson, where I tend to stay in Toronto). “Meal” price: C$18.71 (about US$14.20, not counting foreign transaction fees on my debit card) on Oct 27, 2018. I only had to walk this to the next building over to eat it, so it might have a slight transport advantage.
Mc2: IN-66, Evansville IN. “Meal” price: US$11.53 on Nov 3, 2018. I had to drive this meal a couple of miles down the road to sit down and eat it.
Round 1: FIGHT!
This is the family shot of Canada’s offering. US-franchised fast food in Canada always seems to be heavily “localized” (by which I mean “maple leaves added to packaging”). The Monopoly promotion that’s running here was also running in the States when I was on this trip, but the stickers are different. The important thing that Tarantino fans should note is that despite the metric system, the Quarter Pounder is NOT a “Royale with cheese”; it’s a Quart de livre avec fromage. I don’t remember what was shown on the menu last time I was in Paris, but I do plan to look next time (and in fact CDG is going to be one of my challengers for a future edition of this post, assuming I can find a reasonable equivalent to the Quarter Pounder).
And here is the Indiana equivalent family shot. We see here a typical understated Midwestern quality typical of mass market cuisine. The only item that looks superficially the same as the Canadian version is the Cheeseburger. Actually, the packaging isn’t the same (even if nothing else, the McDonald’s logo in Canada always has a tiny maple leaf in the center), but from a casual glance it might as well be. There are no Monopoly stickers on these particular burgers because the promotion had just finished when I bought them.
Round 1 winner: YYZ for slightly more exotic packaging and bilingual text. Round 2: FIGHT!
We begin with the Canadian Cheeseburger. I’m taking standardized pictures for all of these; wrapped, unwrapped and bitten.
The exterior visual is a little squashed-looking but on unwrapping we see a well-domed bun with only a superficial crease, and fairly good ingredient alignment. The cheese corners peek coyly out from beneath the top bun as they drape over the patty. The bite reveals a springy bun that returns to its original thickness after biting, and the ingredient stack as expected within. How now for the American cheeseburger?
Oh dear. Oh. Dear. Indiana, what are you doing? From the exterior, this burger looked fine (note the matte paper finish vs. Canada’s glossy, too). But what is this misaligned Tower of Pisa burger, with those fragments of onion pressed into the top of a sad, creased top bun? Even the cheese seems to be ashamed to be seen in this miserable example of the burger craftsman’s art; observe how it peers cautiously out of the bun at one corner only (and melted in the wrong direction, to boot). As far as one can easily compare tastes taken more than a week apart, the flavor was identical to Canada, but please! The first bite is with the eye! And the second bite goes on Instagram!
Round 2 winner: YYZ for more careful assembly and less Michael Douglas squished Whammyburger. Round 3: FIGHT!
We proceed to the Canadian Quart de livre (and I’m sort of unsure here if Canadian French capitalization for names like this matches France French, because “Quart de livre” feels odd to me, but no matter):
There’s not much to say about the box, except that as a child of the 70s/80s I miss the Styrofoam clamshell which is how a burger like this OUGHT to be clad. While the box must be given a certain amount of credit for auto-aligning the ingredient stack, I have to say that again Canada’s care in stacking is evident. The ingredients are well aligned and the unbitten burger is visually appealing with an intact bun. The bite shows, again, the expected constructional cross-section and an overall high standard of fast food delivery. Let’s go to America:
The first thing I didn’t notice until I juxtaposed these pictures for this post is … actually … the US packaging looks recycled. Or it looks like it’s trying to look like it’s recycled post-consumer dolphin-friendly packaging, anyway. Technically that’s a score over the Canadian box, which looks bleached and processed and liable to cause agita to sea turtles. Score to USA! However… Dat bun tho’. This bun was encased in a box. It wasn’t possible for it to get squished after they closed the lid. Why is the top so wrinkled? Too much steam? The Canadian bun was perfectly domed with sesame seeds sitting proud on top. The US bun is wrinkled and the seeds look like they’ve all been pressed flush to the surface. The bite, at least, is solid – though you can see from the bite pic that the ingredients were once again not vertically well aligned.
Round 3 winner: Sorry. It’s YYZ for a much better bun and an extra half point for being well aligned, though it’s a closer race than round 2 because of the environmentally unfriendly look of the YYZ box vs. EVV’s homespun simplicity. Round 4: FIGHT!
We build our finale around the Big Mac; the Canadian Big Mac, Le Big Mac if you will (yes, Tarantino again):
The Big Mac is a difficult burger to keep in one piece. It’s a lot of “stuff” and it’s not glued together by much in the way of melted cheese; all you’ve really got is special sauce. At a restaurant like (say) Red Robin, they’d hold it together with a toothpick but McDonald’s doesn’t do this for various perfectly valid reasons. Also, the Big Mac has shredded lettuce, which tends to spill out; again, table-service restaurants would generally use whole leaf. With all that said, you can see that the YYZ Big Mac has a perfectly shaped bun and, given the high stack, pretty good alignment. It’s hard to take a bite out of this unless you’re some kind of reptile with a dislocatable jaw, but I managed it and the only real complaint I could muster is that the lettuce and special sauce does tumble and ooze out. You can see the detritus in the bottom of the box.
And now the American Big Mac. Little known fact, if you hold the empty package of this quintessentially American food to your ear, and you are a true patriot, you’ll hear a bald eagle faintly squawking the Star Spangled Banner. (If you don’t hear it, then you’re clearly insufficiently patriotic).
Same deal with recycled-looking boxes (next time I must really check the printing to see if this is actually the case), so at least a provisional point to Team USA on this one. I think the buns they use are the same as for the Quarter Pounder, because comparing both this and the Quarter Pounder with their Canadian cousins, the US bun is significantly less glossy. I’m not sure if that’s objectively good or bad, but for sure the US Big Mac was properly shaped and stacked well. In fact, it was slightly better stacked than the Canadian Mac. The spillage on biting was, however, substantial.
Round 4 winner: I’m calling this for the EVV Big Mac, but it’s a close race and a rematch might be necessary.
Overall winner: YYZ by a significant margin, entirely for presentation. I do know that Canada’s McDonald’s use Canadian ingredients (since I saw the delivery truck parked outside one night stating that fact) but they are visually and tastewise identical to the US versions. It will be interesting to repeat this experiment in Europe next year.