Global burger behemoth McDonald’s Corp yesterday opened its first branch in the historic heart of communist Hanoi, a conservative city renowned for its traditional — and cheap — Vietnamese staples beloved by locals.
Customers lined up for Big Macs and Chicken McNuggets at the Vietnamese capital’s first McDonald’s location overlooking the tree-lined Hoan Kiem Lake, which draws millions of tourists annually to see French-era colonial buildings and sample street-food favorites like pho noodle soup and banh mi sandwiches.
The restaurant is the first outside of the southern commercial hub of Ho Chi Minh City, where 16 branches have opened since McDonald’s first came to Vietnam in 2014 to much fanfare, especially among the rapidly growing middle class and US-obsessed youth.
The global fast-food chain yesterday received a similarly warm welcome in Hanoi, as diners crammed into the two-story eatery for a first taste.
For 84-year-old Tran Dinh Luyen, who fought against the US in the Vietnam War, the restaurant was a sign of warming ties with a former enemy.
“I am happy that McDonald’s has opened a restaurant in Hanoi. It’s a very famous American brand, so it shows how far US-Vietnam relations have come,” he said, after eating a Big Mac with his daughter and granddaughter.
However, not everyone agreed.
“It’s a rip-off ... this fast food is for kids only, it’s not good at all,” 90-year-old Ta Xuan Huong said, espousing his love for traditional cuisine.
Some curious tourists stopped to see what all the fuss was about, perplexed that a brand ubiquitous in the West would draw so much attention.
“It’s kind of random to see McDonald’s opening ... it’s an interesting cultural experience to see how important it is that the store is opening here,” American Dan Moore said, after his wife said she might not have expected to find one of the most salient symbols of capitalism in the communist country.
The one-party state has seen dizzying economic growth over the past few years as it has opened its doors to foreign investment — which has included an influx of western chains such as Starbucks Corp, KFC Corp and Burger King.
Growth in the fast-food sector has been buoyed by rapidly rising incomes — annual per capita income has more than doubled in the past decade to about US$2,100, especially among under-30s, who make up half of Vietnam’s population of 93 million people.
The fast-food industry in Vietnam has seen double-digit growth annually for the past five years and the country has the highest growth this year in Asia-Pacific for fast-food chains.
Although meals can cost as much as three times the local fare, customers are still showing strong appetite, market research firm Euromonitor International said.
“Young people like to hang out in fast-food restaurants as they are seen as a cool and nice place ... and these customers also like the taste of the food,” Euromonitor analyst Samuel Huynh said.
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