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Many may remember the 1998 film Mulan, the tale of a young Chinese girl who pretends to be a man to take her ailing father’s place in the army.
In a joint promotion for the original animated feature, McDonald’s released a condiment called SzeChuan sauce for a limited time.
Hong Kong-born Kevin Pang, who was raised in the United States, remembers it well from his teenage days.
“It tasted very much like American Chinese food, it was too sweet. The texture was very gloopy, very sticky, and I think it was a little bit too out there for an American audience. If you eat chicken nuggets, you have barbecue sauce, you have hot mustard, but you don’t have this vaguely Asian style sauce. It was a novelty,” recalls Pang.
Interest in the sauce soon dissipated and it was forgotten until 2017, when an episode of cartoon show Rick and Morty – which featured a mad scientist and his adventures with his grandson – mentioned the SzeChuan sauce.
Fans of Rick and Morty began demanding the return of SzeChuan sauce, and a few months later, McDonald’s announced it would be revived – but for one day only – on October 7, 2017.
However, on the day, the fast-food chain was completely unprepared for the onslaught of people who turned up to get their hands on the sweet, Asian-style sauce.
Each McDonald’s only had two dozen packs of the sauce to give away, and customers who had queued for hours were very angry, shouting: “We want sauce!” At one outlet in Newark, in the American state of New Jersey, the police had to be called in to calm things down.
Sachets of the sauce have appeared on eBay selling for up to $250 each.
However, the sauce created by McDonald’s lacks any authentic Sichuan flavor. Sadly for fans of the too-sweet McDonald’s sauce, there is no such thing as a generic “Sichuan sauce” in the Chinese province, says cook and food writer Fuchsia Dunlop.
“A really good Sichuan meal is like a roller-coaster ride – you have spicy notes, sweet and sour notes, numbing and gentle flavors,” says the British cook who has been researching Chinese cuisine for 25 years. That’s a far cry from what McDonald’s was trying to emulate.