Headline: McDonalds has brought American style KFC Popcorn Chicken back to China.
Score: Four out of Five hao's - 好 好 好 好
One of my favorite fast food items has always been KFC's Popcorn Chicken. I remember as a child how this menu item would pop up every so often in KFC, only to disappear again a month later. I remember being really happy when it was announced KFC would start selling Popcorn Chicken permenantly. Popcorn Chicken and I have a long history together.
Upon moving to China, I was glad to see local KFCs not only had Popcorn Chicken, but the menu item itself was very similar to that on the US menu. I didn't eat it everyday, but every few weeks it was a nice snack after a night out.
Unfortunately (or fortunately if it's my waist line speaking) KFC China changed the receipt for Popcorn Chicken shortly thereafter. I don't know why the change was made; maybe the original receipt wasn't selling well and the new style plays more to Chinese tastes? Here was what KFC Popcorn Chicken used to look like 5+ years ago:
Here's what it turned into a year after moving to China:
Gone were the tiny little morsels of crunchy heaven, replaced by bland balls of chicken cubes. The new receipt did bring a little spice with it, but that couldn't make up for the change in consistancy and texture. Thus when I have returned to the US for the past few years, each time I make my traditional visit at a KFC and pay homage to the Popcorn Chicken I grew up with.
Yesterday I was on my way to the Futian Fedex/Kinkos when I saw this sign outside the McDonalds across the street:
"Woah," I thought, "that looks a lot like the old KFC Popcorn Chicken. Could it be..." My plan for the day was to stay healthy and eat nothing but fruit, but how could I resist this new discovery? I bought a small sized serving of McBites (9 rmb / $1.40 for a small box) and took the metro back home.
Okay, I lied. I bought two boxes. Sorry, but from the advertisement they looked amazing. How could I buy just one?
Upon arriving home, I opened the small box to discover would looked to be proper American KFC Popcorn Chicken, except made by McDonalds and in China and called Chicken McBites.
I took the first tentative bite...
Tender, juicy chicken meat encased in fired, crispy, peppery, extremely unhealthy coating. It was perfect. For the first time in 5 years I was eating genuine American popcorn chicken bought from a fast food joint (not from an expensive sports bar) and it was really good. So often you come across popcorn chicken whose crust is a little soggy or not up to its Full Crunchiness Potential (FCP), but each McBite sustained its FCP even after the 20 minute ride home. It was really good, no matter how unhealthy it probably is.
Every child proclaims at some point one food item they wish they could eat everyday for the rest of their life. For me that item was tuna casserole, but if I morphed back into a child today, I'd be proclaiming to my mother that it's my mission to eat Chicken McBites every single day for the rest of my life. I don't want to stop eating them until I feel absolutely sick and disgusted (which may take a while).
They look just like American popcorn chicken. Not much else to say. McDonalds could have designed a better box; the top is very flimsy and difficult to keep closed.
A small box of McBites is 9 rmb. Comparatively, this is the same price as a 5 piece McNugget box. For me, this makes the McBites a better value. You get an equivalent amount of chicken from each but the McBites are made from whole (not processed) meat and they contain enough flavor on their own not to necessitate the use of dipping sauce. The McBites are also at FCP, while McNuggets usually only reach Medium Crunchiness Potential (MCP).
The only value downside is each small box was only 3/4 filled with McBites, which you can see from my photo above of the opened box. Opening it is like when you open a bag of potato chips and realize half the bag is filled with air. KFC's Popcorn Chicken boxes (which unfortunately in China house inferior popcorn chicken) are bursting at the seems with chicken and can barely be closed, making it appear you are receiving a gracious amount of chicken. In contrast, each small McBites box still had space for 4+ chicken pieces, depreciating the value of the purchase in my mind.
Taste - I can't complain. They taste really good.
Convenience - Unlike the McNugget box, the McBite box is made for easy eating while walking. The intrinsic flavor of the McBites also means dipping sauce is not necessary.
Value - The McBite box isn't filled with as many McBites as it could be, but it costs the same and has a much chicken as a 5 piece McNugget and is less expensive than any sandwich item on the menu.
Piece Size - There are not enough smaller pieces. It's always nice to find those few small pieces which are 20% chicken and 80% crunchy coating. Each McBite was about the size of a chicken nugget, with only one or two satisfyingly smaller pieces in each box. That's not much of a complaint though when the larger pieces were cooked to their FCP.
Healthiness - It's a given: don't eat these everyday. Why don't we yet have the technology to make something that tastes just as good and has the same consistency but is also healthy? That's the dream.
Menu Item Stability - McDonalds has recently been experimenting with their menu, with many new items disappearing after only a few weeks. I discovered the Mexican Crispy Sandwich from the same McDonalds in May and this was taken off the menu two weeks after. Yesterday while buying the McBites I also saw advertisements for a mushroom chedder double hamburger, surely another menu item that might disappear soon.
This creates a conundrum... Eating McBites is surely bad for your health and waste line and I should eat these sparingly. However, this item may disappear from McDonalds' menus at any time, and so I should enjoy them as much as I can while I can. But if McBites don't end up disappearing and become a permanent menu item, then I've eaten a lot of popcorn chicken in a very small amount of time for no reason at all. But if I don't eat a lot of popcorn chicken now, McDonalds may think it's an unpopular product and get rid of what I now consider to be the best fast food menu item in all of China.
If they get rid of them I'll be sad. But if they don't get rid of them, I'll be tempted every time I walk by a McDonalds to pop in and buy a box, a temptation I really don't need right now. This is a true Catch-22.
Score: Four out of Five hao's - 好 好 好 好
Chicken McBites are amazing. Their crispy, juicy, flavorful, and convenient on the go. They're everything I wish KFC popcorn chicken would still be. If I had to choose, I would have them become a permanent menu item and trust my own will and self-restraint not to endulge in them every single day.
Maybe it's best I'm leaving this Sunday for a month back in the US. If McBites are still here upon my return, then great. If they aren't, at least I haven't spent two straight weeks eating two boxes a day for fear I'll wake up one morning and they'll be gone.
(McDonalds commercial below. Talk about false advertising - I had to reach two inches down into the McBites box before I hit the first McBite. Below, the box isn't big enough to contain all of them.)