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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 June 2018

Communist Hanoi gets its first McDonald's

One-party Vietnam has seen dizzying economic growth in recent years as it has opened its doors to foreign investment — which has included an influx of western chains like Starbucks, KFC and Burger King

Performers beat drums during the opening ceremony of the first McDonald's restaurant in the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi, on December 2, 2017. Hoang Dinh Nam / AFP
Performers beat drums during the opening ceremony of the first McDonald's restaurant in the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi, on December 2, 2017. Hoang Dinh Nam / AFP

McDonald's opened its first branch in the Vietnamese capital on Saturday, a conservative city renowned for its traditional — and cheap — street food beloved by food-obsessed locals.

Hungry customers lined up for Big Macs and Chicken McNuggets at the fast food chain's first Hanoi outlet, overlooking the tree-lined Hoan Kiem lake.

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 America-obsessed youth.

The chain received a similarly warm welcome in Hanoi on Saturday, as hungry diners crammed into the two-storey eatery for a first taste of the Golden Arches.

For 84-year-old Tran Dinh Luyen, who fought against the United States in the Vietnam War, the restaurant was a sign of warming ties with a former enemy.

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"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.

But 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 remarked that 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 in recent years as it has opened its doors to foreign investment — which has included an influx of western chains like Starbucks, KFC 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 (Dh7,712) today — 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 2017 growth in Asia-Pacific for fast food chains, according to market research firm Euromonitor International.

Though meals can cost as much as three times the local fare, customers are still showing strong appetite.

"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," said Euromonitor analyst Samuel Huynh.