McFoxy next to McDonald's. All photos by Séan Schermerhorn
My friend Séan recently moved to Kiev, Ukraine, to experience what it was like to work in a foreign country, but he might have gotten more than he bargained for. The EuroMaidan protests that have been taking place since November in Kiev’s Independence Square have gone through a terrifying, bloody week. Last night, protesters and police agreed to a shaky truce, but by this morning, the ceasefire was broken. The death toll continues to rise, with reports from the Kyiv Post that at least 37 people have been killed—mainly from police gunfire.
Séan is safely outside of the violence. He’s a San Francisco transplant who decided to move to Kiev to teach English to Ukrainian students between the ages of 18 and 25. His ambitions of creating a pop-up burger restaurant in Kiev were quickly crushed, however, as he realized that the global heavyweight champion, McDonald’s, is dominating the Eastern European fast food scene. Despite the protests—which are in favor of building stronger ties with the European Union—the Ukrainian youth isn’t embracing the Western “foodie” movement, but people do love them some American fast food chains. According to Séan’s students, you’re most likely to find “beautiful young people displaying their affections—sucking face—in and around every McDonald’s in Ukraine.”
In Kiev, McDonald’s is perpetually swamped with people, and riding somewhat sadly on Ronald McDonald’s coattails is McFoxy, a Ukrainian knockoff version of the Golden Arches. Sterile and seemingly neglected, McFoxy looks like a Detroit motor company on the brink of extinction, but what it lacks in the quality of its offerings it makes up for in catching the traffic overflow from its monolithic Western neighbor. I recently spoke with Séan to get the American combo-meal connoisseur’s perspective on what’s happening in the McFoxy kitchen.
Séan eating a McFoxy burger
VICE: What were your first impressions of McFoxy?
Séan Schermerhorn: Fuck, it’s so bad. Nothing tastes real there. How could anything be that bad in a fast-food restaurant? Take the bread, for example: At McDonald’s, there’s a chemical element to it, like something perfectly engineered so that you don’t really notice that the chemicals make the food taste good, but at McFoxy, you’re like, "What the fuck did they do to this bread?!"
McFoxy is known for menu items like chicken balls, chicken sticks, and the “burger chicken barbeque.” What did you order?
We only tried the chicken sticks and the burger, which were both very weird. They weren’t even hot, and were probably stuck under a heat lamp forever because the crispness wasn’t there. There was a sponge-like texture instead. It tasted vaguely like chicken in a strange but familiar way, like that familiarity of cheap, prepackaged ramen where you put the artificially-flavored chicken seasoning packet into the boiling water. The burger was really sugary.
McDonald’s has the same shit, but you mostly taste it in their ketchup—there’s so much sugar in theirs that it’s overwhelmingly sweet. The McFoxy burger was overly sweet in each of its elements. To make things worse, the bun wasn’t toasted, which kind of contributed it to being…
The saddest sandwich?
The saddest sandwich.
McFoxy burger and chicken sticks
Did anything stand out about the burger? I’ve also heard that McFoxy is acclaimed for its sauces.
The cheese is runny, almost like a sauce, but the sauce itself is seemingly neon. It didn’t taste good.
Did you discover any benefits to eating at McFoxy over McDonald’s?
You can get a beer at McFoxy for a dollar, which was the best part of the meal. They didn’t fuck that up. Overall, it might be cheaper, but most of the McFoxy menu costs the same as McDonald’s. It’s weird to me that the chicken items are much cheaper.
Is there any reason why Ukrainians should choose McFoxy over McDonald’s?
The McDonald’s by the Vokzalna train station is always insanely busy and packed at lunchtime. It’s the grossest McDonald’s because of the volume of customers coming in and out, the disgusting bathrooms, and the trash that’s everywhere. I guess, in a way, McFoxy is more peaceful because there’s a patio where you can sit and not be bothered.
Peaceful? Do you think there is anything uniquely Ukrainian about McFoxy?
How would you describe the food culture in Ukraine?
There’s a food culture here, but it doesn’t exist—or at least not in the same way as it does in the US. For younger people, it’s a lost generation. There’s an existing cooking tradition here, but it’s mostly older people who partake of it. The food culture is not trend-based like it is in the West. Food is primarily considered sustenance here.
The best part of the meal is the Ukrainian beer.
Do you think the accessibility of fast food is a quality that’s still relevant and appealing to people?
Fast food is really popular here. Most young people work all the time over here, so it’s hard to find the time to make your own meal. That sort of thing might be specific to Kiev—the grab-and-go lunch—but in every city across the country, it’s a similar scene at every McDonald’s: busy. The only other quick lunch option around here is a Middle Eastern burrito, which is mostly cabbage, street meat, and a weird spicy mayo that’s only good when you’re completely wasted. It’ll save you from vomiting.
Do you think Ukrainian culture will ever reject fast food?
I don’t think so. The biggest fundamental difference from my perception of the situation as an outsider from San Francisco is that young people don’t have the luxury to make certain decisions here, and they don’t have the time or money to really think about food in the way that Western food culture does. If you’re already eating at McDonald’s or McFoxy on a weekly basis, you’ll probably continue to eat at those places for a very long time until the negative health repercussions catch up.