Last week, the western world went wild over McDonald’s new “Halloween Choco Potato,” heralded as a harbinger of the pumpkin apocalypse, as if the trend had not already been done to death. Of the five McDonald’s I visited in Tokyo, none of them advertised the new creation in their windows, instead opting for signage of a melon-flavored Fanta or one of the chain’s standard lunch combos. Seemed like a misplay.
I went inside anyway.
At one location, I saw only two other diners order these fries with their hyper-pigmented orange and brown sauces. When I asked several of the cashiers (translated) about the popularity of the item, they were surprised to hear that everyone on the internet was talking about it, since there wasn’t much demand for the new menu item.
The mainstream media got it all wrong: There were no lines of people eager to try out this new creation. Only a few posts on Instagram were hashtagged #halloweenpotato or #halloweenchocopotato (and their Japanese equivalents), mostly from expats trying it out of curiosity. For context: There’s a lot more content under #mcdonaldsjapan, but it’s not quite the size of #cronut (95,000+) or #blacktap, that NYC-based novelty milkshake purveyor.
Long story short: People are missing out on a life-changing experience.
After scrounging up some cash (McDonald’s, like many shops in Japan, does not take credit cards), a friend and I ordered one box of pumpkin spice fries and a strawberry sundae. Opening the box was underwhelming — inside was a pile of limp and pallid french fries. The sauce box had a set of weird striations on the top, and I attempted to open it from the side — as one does with any usual sauce packet. After fidgeting with the packet, I saw the potential of this dish fully realized.
Those weird striations turn into tiny funnels, like what you’d see on a miniature squeeze bottle, for the chocolate and pumpkin sauces! Fold the small sauce packet box in half and a center seal breaks, allowing you to squirt layers of orange-colored pumpkin and chocolate sauces onto the canvas. Channel your inner Janet Sobel or Jackson Pollock and go crazy!
Other diners who’ve tasted these fries pronounced them, “Not that bad.” That’s probably not a great assessment if the prevailing opinion on McDonald’s regular french fries is that they are “good.” Chocolate is easily the dominant flavor here. There’s no indication that the pumpkin sauce contains any real pumpkin, but it is bright orange. The flavor of the orange-colored sauce is not as pumpkin-y or spiced as it could’ve been. The fries are as salty as usual, but these were unevenly crisp.
Would I order these Pumpkin Spice Fries again? Absolutely, but I would order any fast food dish that comes with that ingenious sauce packet over and over. It’s a true innovation in mass packaging, easy and fun to use. I’ll gladly welcome our pumpkin-spice overlords — as long as everything pumpkin spiced comes in that perfect little packet.