musings on music, travel, books, and life from Southeast Asia

Posts tagged ‘KFC’

Fast Food Freedom in Myanmar


Thanks to various reforms that the Myanmar government has enacted in the past two years — not to mention the elimination of Western sanctions — many Western companies are now eager to do business in the long-isolated country. Yes, plane-loads of get-rich-quick capitalists are practically having orgasms at the thought of access to a new untapped market. Coca-Cola has opened a new bottling plant, car manufacturers are eyeing the country, there is a bidding war going on for lucrative telecommunications concessions, and credit card behemoths such as Visa and MasterCard are belatedly making their presence known. It’s all both exciting and frightening. How will the humble people in Myanmar deal with all these sudden big changes?


As you would expect, in the wake of such new commerce, we will be sure to witness the arrival of Western fast food franchises. An article in the Myanmar Times last month announced that Kentucky Fried Chicken would be opening up outlets in Myanmar this year. Just think: Colonel Sanders rubbing shoulders with Aung San Suu Kyi. On second thought, let’s not think too much about that. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t rank KFC on any list of fine dining establishments. And yet, based on the write-up about KFC in the Myanmar Times, you would think they were reviewing an upscale restaurant. Here is what the very excited writer for the newspaper had to say: 

“This time it’s the real thing, not a lookalike like the place that recently sprang up in Dagon township. To set local mouths watering on May 11, KFC held a tasting session at Inya Lake Hotel.

My friends and I arrived at 4pm, which just happens to be the time we normally stop work for a snack. So after listening to the welcoming speech of the vice president and chief marketing officer of Yum Restaurants International, Vipul Chawla, we were ready to sample the goods.

First I went for the original recipe: attractively aromatic, crispy without excess oil. From my first bite I found it pleasingly crunchy on the outside and juicy and moist within. But it was quite salty, so I think it will go well with rice.

Then I turned to the hot and spicy version. I believe many Myanmar will find this most palatable, along with other similar dishes on the menu, though perhaps the original recipe is preferable for children.

In other countries, KFC adapts its fare to local taste. In Thailand, for instance, you can get chicken with rice and green sauce. Here in Myanmar, they are already busily researching local eating habits to craft a product aimed at Myanmar taste buds.

When KFC does officially open, their menu will feature fried chicken, sandwiches and salads, along with various drinks.

This month’s tasting session represents KFC’s first attempt to survey local demand and assess consumer needs in Myanmar. Now they are going to decide where, when and how many KFC outlets they will open.”


Well, obviously someone is excited about the advent of KFC coming to town. And I suppose when you’ve been denied such treats your entire life, discovering the Colonel and his buckets of crispy chicken breasts must seem terribly unique and exotic. This news brings back memories of the KFCC outlet that opened in Mandalay about three or four years ago. Yes, K, F and a double C. As you would suspect, it was a total KFC ripoff, complete with a Colonel Sanders logo on their sign. Alas, it didn’t last more than a year or so. Perhaps the pizza they were plugging didn’t captivate the local diners.


I have no doubt that the younger generation of Myanmar consumers will be drawn to Western fast food franchises like KFC, judging by the popularity of donut shops and local attempts at fast food that have sprung up in shopping malls in Yangon and Mandalay in the past decade. Who needs Kentucky Fried Chicken when you have Tokyo Fried Chicken!  But I can see the younger generation in Myanmar forsaking local institutions such as the Burmese teashop, in favor of shiny and mesmerizing fast food joints. Some people would say that it’s all about choice — freedom to choose, baby! — and that you can’t deny people the right to eat where they want. Yeah, that’s true. But in a country that has gone for so many decades without the blight of Western fast food franchises, it saddens me to see such “progress” spoiling things. Then again if Pizza Hut opens and offers a Pickled Tea Leaf topping, I’ll be first in line to try it.



Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass

One of my guilty listening pleasures is Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. They were hugely popular back in the 1960s, and continued to have hits into the early 70s. They were hard to categorize, straddling the line between light jazz and instrumental pop, although some cynics might dub their music as “cheesy” or even “easy listening”. While they were never considered innovative by music critics, the listening public loved the Tijuana sound and bought their records in droves. Tijuana Brass albums were full of deliciously addictive instrumentals — and once in a while a vocal (“This Guy’s in Love with You”) by Herb — that would always make you smile. For many of us who grew up in the 1960s, this music evokes tons of good memories.

The most famous of the Tijuana Brass albums was Whipped Cream and Other Delights. That album was packed with the band’s typical brand of peppy instrumentals, but what set it apart from the crowd was THAT COVER: a beautiful tanned-skin young lady wearing nothing but whipped cream (although legend has it, that she was actually covered with shaving cream), the froth barely covering her breasts. She was pictured gazing seductively at the camera, calmly licking whipped cream from her fingers. And let me tell you, back in 1965 when this album was first released, such an album cover was almost scandalous stuff!

For many years I owned a CD compilation of old Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass tunes called Classics (Volume 1), which contained 25 of the band’s most famous recordings. I still play this one a lot, but I missed listening to some of the original albums, so I’ve been going back and buying some of the original Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass albums on CD in past couple of years. Most of these reissues also contain extra material. The “40th Anniversary Edition” of Whipped Cream and Other Delights, for example, has two extra tracks that weren’t on the original album. The CD reissue also includes a fold-out poster of the famous album cover along with a 20-page booklet. I proudly taped my copy of the poster to the wall of my bookshop, next to the drinks menu (yes, we have whipped cream!). At least once a week someone will comment on the “Whipped Cream” cover, usually along the lines of “I used to have that on vinyl” or “My father used to have that album.” One recent customer, however, told us that “My grandfather owned that record!” What can you say to that, except, “Hey, we’re all getting older!”

In addition to that album, I picked up Going Places and South of the Border, two other excellent studio albums by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass with extra cuts. I also bought a copy of Lost Treasures, a collection of previously unreleased recordings. Released by the excellent Shout Factory label, the 22 tracks on Lost Treasures range from covers of classics like “Fire and Rain,” “Close to You” and “Tennessee Waltz,” to oddball takes on “Popcorn” and “Flowers on the Wall.” If you are a Tijuana Brass fan, this is an album you need to have.

The musicians in the Minneapolis band Soul Asylum were inspired by Whipped Cream and Other Delights, or at least the album cover, and in 1988 they released a six-song EP called Clam Dip and Other Delights — complete with a similar-themed cover, except that their model was a guy covered in gooey clam dip. Or maybe they used shaving cream too. The music, however, bore no resemblance to that of the Tijuana Brass.

And then there was perhaps the most bizarre Tijuana Tribute of them all: Colonel Sanders’ Tijuana Picnic. Yes, this was a real album released in 1968 on an obscure label called Mark 56 Records. I had a copy of this on vinyl back when I lived in Florida. I have no idea what happened to my copy, but suspect it was with stuff I had in storage that was eventually dumped. I recently saw a copy selling for $100 online! There wasn’t much in the way of information or musician credits on the album, but the music was practically a carbon copy of what was on the Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass albums. In other word: fun stuff. But the big appeal here is the crazy cover. The picnicking family look absolutely thrilled with their bucket of chicken, and seem oblivious to the famous white-suited chicken king sitting in their midst.



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