Blending local cuisine with its American-style fowl fare, KFC is now offering its increasingly sophisticated Chinese customers an even broader selection of tastes: regular, extra-crispy - and Beijing duck.
And here's the kicker: The new entree based on the Chinese capital's ancient flagship dish tastes like chicken - because it is.
"Chicken Roll of Old Beijing" debuted Wednesday at KFC outlets in Beijing, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. Rolled in a thin pancake with scallions, cucumber slivers and traditional sauce - typical accouterments of Beijing-style roast duck - the new item contains not duck meat, but fried chicken.
"We have always been looking for new tastes which fit Chinese customers, and we found Beijing roast duck is very nice and favored by Chinese people," Chen Guangquan, general manager of KFC in Beijing, told Xinhua.
KFC marked its 50th anniversary last year, and Chen said it would have more difficulty continuing its global success "if it only stuck to American tastes without giving any due consideration to the diversified cultures and customs of local consumers in other countries," Xinhua said.
The chicken chain has opened scores of outlets in the Chinese capital since its first in 1987, and today there are more than 700 across the country as it competes fiercely with McDonald's for a growing market of increasingly prosperous and fast-food-minded consumers.
The chain's name in Chinese is simply "kendeji" (kun-duh-jee) or "Kentucky."
While a deft marketing ploy, KFC's new fare is also part of an ongoing evolution of the Beijing duck tradition as the always food-conscious Chinese populace seeks out more modern - and more convenient - ways of dining.
Many companies - including Quanjude, the old Beijing restaurant that once roasted ducks for the imperial Qing court - now sell microwaveable "duck in a bag" in street side kiosks and department stores. Quanjude also offers delivery of hot fresh ducks, and one local sushi restaurant, Hatsune, serves Beijing Duck hand roll.
Beijing duck, a recipe that involves roasting a whole duck in an open wood fire until its skin becomes smoky and crispy, then slicing it thinly and wrapping it up in gossamer pancakes, is the Chinese capital's best-known dish. There's even a local basketball team called the Beijing Ducks.
KFC's experience in Beijing hasn't always been easy.
Last month, it moved one of its restaurants out of the imperial-era Beihai Park, obeying a new law that requires such historic sites to maintain their traditional flavor. And last year, it came under fire for using U.S. potatoes the government said contained too much bleaching powder.
By Ted Anthony