And Finally

Making a packet

Back by popular demand: McDonald’s 20 year-old Sichuan sauce


Collectors’ item

Many Chinese cinema fans disliked Mulan, Disney’s cinematic version of the tale of the eponymous heroine from the Northern Wei Dynasty, about 1,600 years ago. Chances are they wouldn’t have much enjoyed the “SzeChuan” sauce that McDonald’s introduced in the American market to coincide with Mulan’s release in 1998 either. The dipping sauce proved popular in the US but was discontinued after the promotional period, disappointing its fans.

Of whom there are seemingly many with deep pockets. In April this year a single packet of it – supposedly discovered by a man cleaning out an old car – earned a winning bid of $14,700 on eBay.

Why? McDonald’s has a different cartoon to thank for the renewed interest in the sauce: the animated sci-fi show Rick and Morty.

The cartoon gained a strong following during its first two seasons, and then took a two-year break until season three started in April this year. The McDonald’s Sichuan sauce [to use the province’s more correct Pinyin spelling] was an unexpected feature. “That’s what this is all about Morty… I’m driven by finding that McNugget sauce… If it takes nine seasons. I want my McNugget SzeChuan dipping sauce,” Rick told his grandson Morty at the end of episode one.

Salivating fans latched onto the promise. One of them happened to be a McDonald’s chef and he determined on reviving the decades-old sauce. He brewed four jugs of it and sent one to the show’s creators on the day that the second episode aired. The remaining jugs were given away to fortunate fans, and one of them decided to sell it on eBay. He received 100 bids, the highest of which was for $15,000. That deal seemed to fall through, but the seller said he then sold the jug to DJ Deadmau5, a Canadian record producer, for an undisclosed amount.

Things then got more absurd. At the beginning of this month, McDonald’s announced the sauce would make a limited return at American stores for a promotional day. The move sparked a frenzy. In some locations customers queued for hours to get their sauce, and some of them then tried to make a quick buck: at one store, a man with a single packet was charging fans $10 for a dip. Noting the hype, McDonald’s announced plans to bring the sauce back again this winter in much larger quantities and not for just a single day.

China’s media has looked on bewildered. Indeed, Chinese would find the scenes all the more incredulous if they ever tasted the recipe – according to one chef who managed to get hold of a list of the sauce’s ingredients, the fast food giant’s ‘SzeChuan’ dip doesn’t even have a hint of Sichuan pepper.

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