Vietnamese attack US fast food

June 23, 2006



By Kay Johnson, dpa
Eds: epa photos available

Hanoi (dpa)- The term "fast-food restaurant" took a new twist Thursday when hundreds of eager customers and curiosity seekers jammed into the lunchtime opening of the first KFC restaurant in communist Vietnam's capital.

The line to the counter was so long Thursday that Phan Huyen Trang, 26, had to wait 25 minutes for her meal of 11-secret-spices chicken, cole slaw and mashed potatoes and gravy.

"You have to wait for a longer time to have a KFC meal than to have pho," Trang complained, referring to the Vietnamese national dish of beef soup with rice noodles.

"I just come to see what it's like," she admitted, adding. "It's not as good as I thought. The chicken is too dry. It's not as good as Vietnamese dishes."

The company formerly known as Kentucky Fried Chicken already has 20 outlets in southern Ho Chi Minh City, making it one of the few international fast-food brands to compete with the country's wide range of street vendors and small shops.

But Hanoi, the communist capital heavily bombed by US warplanes during the Vietnam War, has never had a major American chain restaurant until now.

Even ubiquitous Starbucks and McDonalds have failed to enter the market, which is dominated by local chains such as Trung Nguyen and Highlands coffee shops and a burger franchise called "McHanh's."

That may change soon, since Vietnam's long-awaited entry into the World Trade Organization, expected later this year or in early 2007, will pry open up Vietnam's domestic service markets to more foreign competition.

In the meantime, the opening of a well-known US restaurant – strategically located on busy Huynh Thuc Khang Street, close to a popular children's playground, a golf driving range and a large cinema complex – proved a novelty.

"You see, there are many people … we will have to expand," said Nguyen Chi Kien, deputy general director of KFC Vietnam. The company plans to open three more Hanoi outlets by year's end.

Whether American-style fast food will continue to appeal remains to be seen. A typical KFC meal, priced at around 3 dollars, is about triple the price of a bowl of pho or bun cha, another popular street food made of grilled pork, rice noodles and fresh greens.

"I think there are so many people here today because they come for curiosity," said customer Vu Khanh Trinh, 29. He said he had already tried KFC chicken in Bangkok and said he liked it.

"You cannot compare KFC with Vietnamese traditional dishes. Each has its own tastes," he said. "But honestly, I prefer Vietnamese food."

Other customers, though, were impressed.

"The food is very good. It tastes different and delicious," enthused 16-year-old Vu Viet Anh. " I think I can eat KFC every day."

Health advocates might not advise that, though. Last week, KFC was named in a US lawsuit by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which said the hydrogenated cooking oil the company uses contributes to obesity and heart disease.

Vietnamese customers Thursday seemed unconcerned.

"I'm not afraid of getting fat, because I'm too thin now,"said construction worker Vu Cam Trang, 28. "I hope other foreign food chains like McDonald or Starbucks will enter Vietnam soon so that we will have chances to try many different kinds of food."

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