Do you know what an Eclair is? It’s like a donut- but bigger and fancier.  You wouldn't expect to find one at a Pizza Hut, but if that Pizza Hut is in Beijing, Yangshuo or Kunming,  it’ll be there. And it's not just eclairs, Pizza Hut in China features an entire assortment of different kinds of pasta, steaks, and a full wine list. Unlike Pizza Hut in North America, you’ll actually get to sit down and eat in the restaurant itself. As strange as it may sound,  western food chains get pretty snazzy once they make their way to the middle kingdom.

The first Pizza Hut in China opened in 1990 and the American company saw a chance to reinvent themselves as a fine dining establishment. Decades later, the success of Pizza Hut in China is proof that the up-scale concept worked. Its success is largely due to the lack of preconceived notions about Pizza Hut in China. The exchange rate is another. 1 USD is equal to roughly 7 RMB, so a pizza that would cost 20 USD in the US would cost 140 RMB in China. With prices that steep, Pizza Hut created an upscale dining experience in China.

For a while, Pizza Huts in China also featured extensive salad bars but did not allow repeat trips to the bars. Customers started building 'salad towers' as a response. These carefully constructed salad plates allowed customers to stack the most food on a single plateThe salad bars were eventually removed. 

Pizza Hut is not the only American fast-food restaurant taking the Chinese market by storm. In 1987, KFC became the first western restaurant chain to make its way into China. This was less than a decade after Deng Xiaoping's open-door policy made China more accessible to the outside world. Western food was seen as something curious and exotic. This perception boosted KFC's sales. Today, KFC is the country's most popular western food chain, with more than 5,000 restaurants in 1,000 cities. 

What's behind its success? KFC mainly caters to Chinese tastes. Customers order from a menu, which features fried chicken along with congee, egg tarts, and deep-fried crullers.

Right behind KFC is perhaps the most famous fast food joint in the world:  McDonald's. Hamburgers do not suit the Chinese palate as well as fried chicken. McDonald's more than makes up for this with its wide array of side dishes and desserts. Whereas McDonald's in North America limits itself to the classic apple pie, their Chinese counterparts add flavors like pineapple, red bean, and the ever-popular Taro. It is a hit with Chinese and foreigners alike. 

Photo by Elizabeth Fisher

What's the only downside to such an amazing food experience: expats will miss it when they return home. In North America, Pizza Hut is still a third-rate restaurant,  KFC is still known for greasy chicken, and McDonald's doesn’t sell taro pies (though they occasionally appear in Hawaii).   One cannot expect to have everything,  but still, it’d be nice to get a high-end fast food joint in the States. 


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