Because America wasn't enough, McDonald's is now terrorizing mainland China with its Mulan-era Szechuan Sauce. McDonald's China began a promotion for this cursed condiment on Wednesday, but the country—which, let's be clear, is the literal birthplace of Sichuan cuisine—is reportedly quite disappointed with the sauce's quality, Quartz reported on Thursday.
This is, at least, a conclusion Quartz has gleaned from combing through posts on Sina Weibo. “Is this really the chile sauce that the Americans go nuts about? It’s not spicy at all,” one user reportedly said. Another allegedly cautioned not to “put your expectations too high, otherwise you’ll be disappointed. It’s just OK.”
The particulars of the fiasco involving the sauce stateside are almost too stupid to revisit, but I guess I must for those of you lucky enough to be totally clueless about it. Last spring, Cartoon Network's Rick and Morty managed to get its atypically devoted fanbase pumped about the existence of a limited-edition sauce served exclusively at McDonald’s in June 1998, part of a tie-in with Disney’s Mulan. The collective hunger of the show's fans grew more intense as time went on. By October, McDonald's released the little sacs of the sauce for one day only.
But the chain's measly supply wasn't nearly high enough to meet that frenzied consumer demand, resulting in what may have been the most embarrassing display of widespread public hysteria in American history—a fine reminder that capitalism reduces us to the most harebrained, parodic versions of ourselves.
So the chain tried again, vowing it'd follow through on the promise it had originally made to the show's fans. McDonald’s relaunched Szechuan Sauce within the United States in late February, promising it wouldn’t run into a shortage this time. Hell, it even produced a three-part podcast series to convince people that it really understands how cosmically it bungled October’s campaign.
Since last month's stateside rollout, reviews of the sauce haven’t exactly been stellar. The sauce's taste has been likened to "corn syrup with maybe a tiny bit of Worcestershire thrown in” and “old cigarette butts," though some consumers have admittedly been more charitable.
As Quartz notes, Rick and Morty's fanbase is considerably smaller in China than it is in the United States, which may provide one explanation into how utterly confounded people are that this sauce has caused mass rioting in the States. But it also might have something to do with the fact that this sauce doesn't, er, quite taste like anything you'd find in dynamic, rich Sichuan cuisine. The sauce's ingredient list, as Eater notes, is “water, sugar, distilled vinegar, corn starch, wheat, soybeans, salt, corn vinegar, contains 2 percent or less: apple cider vinegar, ginger, soybean oil, sesame seed oil, xanthan gum, spice, yeast extract, garlic, wheat starch, natural flavor, citric acid, safflower oil, dextrose, potassium sorbate and sodium benzoate (preservatives).” Everything but Sichuan peppercorns, basically.
When reached for comment by MUNCHIES on Thursday, a spokesperson for McDonald's China confirmed that the sauce's ingredient makeup is the same in China as it is in the United States. "Being a global brand and part of local culture, we have been closely following latest consumer trend so as to introduce popular and unique menu items from our global system to Mainland China," Hui wrote MUNCHIES. "The Szechuan Sauce is one of the successful examples. We are thrilled to see the sauce has drawn extensive Chinese customers’ interest and attention."
Anyway, McDonald's China’s Szechuan Sauce promotion ends on April 17, which opens up the distinct possibility that I will never have to write about this red sludge ever again. Here’s hoping.