The East-West divide of food

Updated: 2013-06-21 14:59

By Tiffany Tan (China Daily)

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HEADLINE: The East-West divide of food

To many mainland Chinese, Western food is still an adventure, a treat for a big date or a weekend brunch with family. Western fast food is not quite in that category, but a McDonald’s Big Mac meal (regular price) in Beijing at 27 yuan ($4.40) is not cheap when you can already get two bowls of noodles or three orders of dumplings for the same price.

Wei Dongjian, business development manager at a Beijing interior design firm, himself spends only 20 yuan a meal even though his 14,000-yuan monthly take-home pay is almost triple the average salary in the Chinese capital.

"I cook at home most days, since it's cheaper that way," says Wei, 30, who is engaged to be married and is saving up to buy an apartment, maybe even a car.

But compared with the other cities we surveyed, Beijing and Shanghai actually have the second least expensive Big Mac meals. The top spot, at the equivalent of $8.58 for the meal, goes to Paris, ranked as the world's 8th most expensive city in an annual survey by the Economist Intelligence Unit. New York City takes second place with the meal at $7.28.

Western fine dining, however, is another matter. It's even pricier in Beijing and Shanghai than in major Western cities. A three-course meal for two – complete with wine – at an American steak house in Beijing would cost about $300, the lower end of what you'd already expect to pay for dinner at a Michelin three-star restaurant in Paris.

The bill is also more than what one Wall Street professional spends for an equivalent meal. Joseph D'Alessio, a mortgage consultant at HSBC in New York City, says that steaks for two, along with appetizers, wine and desserts, at an international chain in the Big Apple usually sets him back $250. That already includes the tip, which has not been factored into the Chinese restaurant bill.

But even though the food selection in New York City is "unparalleled in the world", as D'Alessio says, he'll probably still be hard-pressed to find pork dumplings that cost only a dollar per order.