For about two weeks, I've had a huge craving for Church's Chicken. On Wednesday, Little Girl and I finally hopped on our first bus together and had our first fast food meal together. The bus ride was a hit, between watching the traffic from our high vantage point on our left and watching the man playing guitar on the bus to our right, LG was well entertained. Furthermore, she was very patient watching the other diners and the TV, whilst I plowed through my three pieces of crunchy, fried goodness. Ah, nothing like Church's!
But fast food is an enormous guilty pleasure for me, particularly in Mexico. Beyond the obvious reasons (nutritional quality, buying from a non-local business, environmental degradation, etc), fast food is even more ridiculous here. After all, paying roughly 6 USD for a meal combo isn't a terrible value for your money, provided you really, really want greasy crap packaged in cardboard (I'm clearly not judging, as obviously the urge strikes me, too). However, upon crossing the border, the price for a meal combo does not change a bit. A six dollar meal may be a fair price in the US, but here, where the price of food is much, much cheaper, paying 60 pesos for greasy crap packaged in cardboard is rather ridiculous. For this reason, US fast food chains are generally only located in the upscale neighborhoods. A happy meal is honestly unaffordable for the majority of the population.
Furthermore, the Mexican institution of comida corrida (roughly translated to "running food") makes US fast food chains appear downright vulgar. I stumbled on the comida corrida at the end of my semester at the UDLA ten years ago and promptly fell in love.
City centers are filled with small restaurants, mostly run by women, that have a set menu for the day, which is generally posted on a chalkboard by the door. For anywhere between $30 and $50 (roughly 3-5 USD) diners are treated to a noodle soup, lemonade, a huge plateful of rice, an entree such as enchiladas, fish fillet, or pork tenderloin; beans, tortillas, a few tomato slices, and a little cup of rice pudding for dessert. Not only is the food always excellent and very filling, but the service is impeccable. As soon as one's fork touches the plate after polishing off the last piece of rice, the entree is immediately brought out. Competition is tough, and these ladies refuse to lose clients to the restaurant next door.
Given this quality of "fast food" that existed long before the US chains ever entered the market, I am a bit baffled as to why these chains succeed here. I blame it on the kiddie playgrounds. Yes, Little Girl, I saw you eyeing that playhouse at Church's Chicken. And next year, I'd be delighted if you go and enjoy it while I finish my (and two-thirds of your) greasy deliciousness. But thanks to the comida corrida, we most likely will not darken the door of Church's Chicken for the better part of a year--it's just so hard to justify!