KFC Brings Tasty Treats to North Vietnam

Consumer groups have welcomed the news that KFC will be phasing out trans fat from the frying process. In Hanoi, many people are just happy that KFC has finally come to the heart of communist Vietnam.

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Consumer groups in the United States have welcomed the news that KFC will be phasing out trans fat from the frying process. In Hanoi, Vietnam, some consumers are just happy that KFC has finally come to town. Here's our Southeast Asia food correspondent, Michael Sullivan.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN: The colonel has come to communist Vietnam's capital - the first American fast food chain to hit Hanoi since the end of the war more than 30 years ago. There have been KFCs in Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City for years. But business took a beating after the recent Avian Flu scare when chicken was temporarily pulled from the menu and replaced with Kentucky Fried Fish.

But chicken is now back. Sales have rebounded nicely, and the colonel is now pushing north of the former DMZ, deep into the communist heartland. KFC Country Director, Ponchi Torato(ph).

Mr. PONCHI TORATO (KFC Country Director, Vietnam): The timing for us, I think, is the right time for now, because we have done quite a very good survey and we have good response from customers. And we offer them a very good service, good food, food hygiene, good ambience, and I'm pretty sure they would prefer to have more choices of dining experiences.

(Soundbite of crowd chatter)

SULLIVAN: Hanoi is a city where people take their food very seriously - a city where the narrow streets and alleys are infused with the smell of lemongrass and cilantro and grilled meat, where street vendors serve up traditional and tasty Vietnamese fast food, the noodle soup pho or bun cha - grilled pork and noodles - for less than a dollar.

The colonel's chicken mashed potatoes and gravy will set you back around three times that amount. But on opening day, Hanoi's first KFC was packed.

Ms. LANUP CHONG(ph): (Foreign language spoken)

SULLIVAN: Lanup Chong, a 20-year-old student, came on the advice of some foreign friends. She likes the taste, but says the food made her feel too full too fast. Another customer, Lan(ph), said pretty much the same thing.

LAN: (Foreign language spoken)

SULLIVAN: The flavor's good, but it's much too fattening, Lan said. I wouldn't want to eat it all the time - which made me wonder, would the novelty wear off for the northerners? And would they eventually turn back the vanguard of the American fast food invasion? A return visit was needed to find the answer.

Unidentified Woman: (Foreign language spoken)

SULLIVAN: And that answer was an emphatic no. Three months on, business at the KFC is booming. The lines at lunch, six to eight people deep. Twenty-year-old student Vu Wong Jong(ph) says she's been here ten times since opening day.

Ms. VU WONG JONG: I and all of my friends like it very much, and I think it's going to be very popular in Hanoi because it's a little bit different than with other foods. It's fast food, yeah - convenient for people.

SULLIVAN: On this trip, though, she's brought her parents, not her friends. It's her parents' first visit, and they seem unimpressed with the experience and don't quite understand what all the fuss is about.

But around 65 percent of the population here is young, born after the American war ended, and KFC clearly knows its demographic. A few hours later, my 8-year-old daughter - who's never lived in the states - got home from school and opened the fridge. Hey, she said, who went to KFC without me?

Michael Sullivan, NPR News, Hanoi.

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