In the main, McDonald’s peddles in straightforward offerings: basic burgers, chicken nuggets, and fries. Maine franchises have a McLobster roll and every once in a while, the McRib makes an appearance, causing a stir across the land.
But McDonald’s restaurants around the world feature some strange and mysterious menus, and Japan leads the way in this regard. They celebrate the annual arrival of cherry blossoms with themed burgers and soda floats and the country’s obsession with characters means Happy Meal toys are top notch. In addition, the menu includes all manner of exotic burgers, sometimes tucked into unnaturally coloured buns. (Pink for cherry blossoms, black just because.)
This autumn, McDonald’s Japan unleashed Halloween Choco Potato, or their signature salty, near-perfect fries, with a delicate drizzle of pumpkin spice and chocolate sauces. While we’ve reached peak pumpkin spice frenzy in the States, with the divisive flavour featured in foods ranging from Greek yogurt to vodka, Japan has yet to experience similar levels of saturation. So when I happened to have a trip planned to Tokyo during the short window (the fries will be gone after Halloween), I decided a visit to McDonald’s would be on the agenda.
Outposts of the Golden Arches are easy to find in downtown Tokyo’s vibrant Shibuya neighborhood, and I order my novelty fries and take my tray up to a bustling yet civilized second-floor ‘dining room.’ The fries arrive in a box, naked, and there is a separate small packet of sauce, divided into chocolate and pumpkin. For a few seconds, I struggle to figure out how to unleash the sauce, and when I do, I may have sprayed myself in the face. (For the record: snap the packet in half to create tiny holes for drizzling.) But no matter, leave it to the Japanese to invent an innovative method for dousing fries in a perfectly uniform blanket of sugary sauce.
The verdict? It’s a widely accepted truth that McDonald’s fries are the greatest guilty, fast food pleasure, and the pumpkin spice and chocolate sauces produced a salty-sweet combo that shouldn’t have worked, but did. This isn’t a daily or weekly indulgence, rather it’s a ‘I tried them and they weren’t terrible’ treat. For those in Tokyo this month, between bowls of rich ramen and bites of fresh sushi, try your own box of Halloween Choco Potato. It turns out Japan may be well on its way to peak pumpkin spice saturation.