Although I've been off meat lately, I grew weak at the prospect of having a hamburger in Beijing. I've never had a decent burger in Ulaanbaatar. At best, they're OK. Usually they're just dry, salty slabs of meat with all the wrong condiments, stuck in an oversized bun. And you have to beg for ketchup.
So in the hotel I ordered a cheeseburger from room service, even though there were many tempting Asian options on the menu. It was perfect. A fabulous beef patty, the right amount of lettuce, tomato and onion, nestled in a warm bun. And the ketchup? It came in a tiny bottle, in just the right amount, along with a second bottle of mustard. Everything was just right.
A few days later, I had a craving for a Big Mac. I state for the record that I no longer view MacDonald's as junk food. Recently, I met an Australian who was a consultant to MacDonald's for a few years. He told me that the meat is completely pure, and that MacDonald's is totally anal about food safety and quality. "Have you ever heard of someone getting food poisoning from MacDonald's?" he asked. I had not. "It's the safest food in the world," he said. "If you ever can't afford to get sick when you're travelling, just go there. You'll be all right."
There's a MacDonald's near my hotel, so I went. I ordered a meal by pointing to a picture of a Big Mac meal and sat down to enjoy it. Bliss. The beauty of MacDonald's is that you always get what you expect, no matter where in the world you are. The only strange thing was that they let several women come in to peddle cashmere scarves from Inner Mongolia to captive diners.
There are a few places in Ulaanbaatar which might have good burgers. I should check them out, but I'm more likely to make a beeline for my favorite vegetarian restaurant instead.