What? Scones with fried chicken?

Today is Thanksgiving in the US, with many families enjoying the traditional meal of roast turkey, bread stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberries, pies, etc. While the food is important, Thanksgiving is a social event, bringing extended families back together, an especially appreciated opportunity this year after the COVID lockdown last November. While the collective meal represented by Thanksgiving is seen as special is the US, in most parts of the world, it is a regular occurrence. I’m reminded of an interview on NPR a few years ago with a Yemeni photographer. She was invited to a family Thanksgiving and was asked afterwards her impression: she responded that it was “like every day in Yemen”.

Popeyes in London

While Thanksgiving celebrates the 17th century migration of Europeans to North America, a story this week in the NY Times described a food migration in the opposite direction, back to Europe, actually to Great Britain, from the US. The first Popeyes fast-food chicken restaurant opened recently in London. Popeyes is known for its fried chicken, and recently made a splash with its very popular chicken sandwich (also seen as one of the unhealthiest fast-food options ever). Beyond chicken, another essential component of a Popeyes meal are its buttermilk biscuits, flaky, buttery, and tender. But when Popeyes set up a focus group to assess how Brits might view Popeyes, the reaction, according to the article was, “Why are you giving me a scone with chicken? I have no idea what you are doing.”

A buttermilk biscuit does look similar to a British scone, although scones are denser, drier and crumblier. But scones are not served with chicken or with meals generally, but rather with tea as a light snack, for example, for “cream tea” in the mid-morning or with afternoon tea. Hence the confusion on the part of the British diners. Interestingly, the word “biscuit” also is used in Britain, but refers to what is called a “cookie” in North America. Interesting as well is the socio-cultural significance of the terms. “Biscuits” in the US are considered a staple of Southern cooking and an essential part of “down-home” comfort food. In contrast to the blue-collar aura around biscuits, “scones”, if they are at all familiar to US folks, are likely seen as upper-crust and a symbol of privileged wealth.

As is the case with other fast-food outlets, Popeyes has made adjustments to cater to local conditions:

The chicken is halal to cater to the area’s Muslim population. Almost all of the ingredients are sourced from Britain, including baby gem lettuce, which is harder to find in the United States. The menu also includes the chain’s first-ever vegan burger, which is made of fried red beans, a nod to the strong demand for plant-based food in the British market

So far, the reaction to Popeyes and its strange version of scones seems to be quite positive. According to the article, the company is planning to open 10 to 15 new Popeyes locations next year.

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