Inkstone
    Mar
    29
    2018
    Mar
    29
    2018
    McDonald’s’ (over)hyped Szechuan sauce lands in China. We give it a try
    McDonald’s’ (over)hyped Szechuan sauce lands in China. We give it a try
    FOOD

    McDonald’s’ (over)hyped Szechuan sauce lands in China. We give it a try

    Triangle 4
    arrow left
    arrow right
    by
    Alan Wong
    Alan Wong
    Subscribe to the Inkstone newsletter
    By registering you must agree to our T&Cs

    The second thing to know about McDonald’s’ hyped “Szechuan” sauce is that it has precious little to do with Sichuan, the southwestern Chinese province known for its spicy, mouth-watering cuisine.

    The first thing? The taste is beside the (selling) point.

    When the fast-food chain began providing the sauce in China on Wednesday – to no particular fanfare – it was promoted as the “viral” sauce, in the metaphorical, internet sense of the word.

    “The viral sauce is here!” reads a banner on McDonald’s’ page on Weibo, China’s popular Twitter-like social media.

    Sichuan boiled fish: this is what a real Sichuan sauce looks like.
    Sichuan boiled fish: this is what a real Sichuan sauce looks like. Photo: Jonathan Wong
    Subscribe to the Inkstone newsletter
    By registering you must agree to our T&Cs

    In the sauce’s supposed country of origin, the hype it generated in the US has become the product itself.

    Inkstone went on a field trip to break down the transnational phenomenon for you – the taste, the hype and all.

    The hype

    The backstory goes all the way back to 1998, when McDonald’s released the sauce to go with Disney’s Mulan, the animated film based on the Chinese legend of a brave daughter posing as a man to take her elderly father’s place in the army.

    The company stopped supplying the sauce when promotion for the film ended, and the world moved on just fine – until almost 20 years later.

    In 2017, screaming mentions of the sauce in the popular cartoon series Rick and Morty brought it back to the American mind, and fanboy pressure (or good marketing) prompted McDonald’s to bring back the sauce.

    The problem was, the rerun was weak sauce.

    Supplies ran out quickly, disappointing fans who waited in line for hours and even causing riots in places. 

    McDonald’s said it was sorry, and began serving the condiment in the US again last month – 20 million packets of it. 

    The hype went from there. Fans – some in places as remote as in Guam – went into hyperventilation. 

    There was the hoarder.

    The purist.

    And the activist.

    The taste

    Now on to the realist.

    China’s social media has reacted to the sauce with a collective “meh.”

    Our intrepid reporter, Xinyan Yu, visited a McDonald’s in Beijing and had a try.

    “It’s very sweet, a little sour and saltier than other sauces,” she wrote in Inkstone’s Slack channel.

    Sichuanese food is usually pungent and spicy – sometimes numbingly so. Szechuan sauce at the McDonald's was none of that.
    Sichuanese food is usually pungent and spicy – sometimes numbingly so. Szechuan sauce at the McDonald's was none of that. Photo: Xinyan Yu

    There were no lines at the shop, no crazed fans, and there was absolutely no riot.

    Her verdict: the sauce has nothing to do with Sichuan, much like how fortune cookies aren’t a Chinese tradition (they were invented in the US).

    But you already knew that. Right?

    ALAN WONG
    ALAN WONG
    Alan is editor at Inkstone. He was previously a digital editor for The New York Times in Hong Kong.

    ALAN WONG
    ALAN WONG
    Alan is editor at Inkstone. He was previously a digital editor for The New York Times in Hong Kong.

    arrow right
      Rotate the screen
      Please rotate for best experience.
      Your privacy is important. We wish to inform you what data we collect from you and how we process such data. Our Privacy Notice aims to comply with all relevant data privacy and protection laws. You should read the Privacy Notice in full here.