29 Jan 2021
A story of how the McDonald’s CNY staple kept a friendship going for over 20 years.
When do you know Chinese New Year is on the horizon in Malaysia? When the Prosperity Burger returns to the McDonald’s menu, of course. It’s unclear why the combination of an oblong patty topped with black pepper sauce, curly fries and an orange flavoured drink adds up to Chinese New Year, but it does, even if the orange drink is the only seasonally appropriate component. Yet, that is what McDonald’s Malaysia decided would be their festive menu item in 1994. An event that is registered, rightly, on their official corporate milestones.
For me, the Prosperity Burger, and McDonald’s in general, is tied to my late teens and early twenties—20 years ago now. I had the freedom that comes with a driver’s license and my own car, and the freedom to order more than just the six-piece nuggets from McDonald’s, a childhood treat from my grandmother.
The 24 hours McDonald’s in Old Town PJ formed an indelible part of those years. Late at night, post-clubbing, my friends and I would attempt to order our food in various stages of tipsiness. I have a distinct memory of my friend Marsha asking for extra black pepper sauce for her Prosperity Burger and receiving it in a sundae cup. She wanted to reverse engineer the sauce so she could make it in New Zealand, which has been home for her since she was 14. In fact, if we were ever at McDonald’s instead of a mamak late at night, it was probably so Marsha could get one more Prosperity Burger.
Marsha loves Prosperity Burgers so much she tried to bring one back to New Zealand. She brought five burgers with her from KLIA for “a mid-flight snack and also so I could see if I could enjoy my favourite burger while on NZ soil,” she said.
Unfortunately, her dream of eating the Prosperity Burger in New Zealand was not to be. “When I went through customs, the customs guy was half-amused, half-disgusted. He told me cooked beef from Malaysia was contraband… which I don’t get. It’s cooked!”
And so now my desire for Prosperity Burgers is tied to Marsha. A bite of the burger brings back all the memories of her visits and our first forays into what we thought adulthood was. Our friendship, which started in primary school, has survived and thrived since she moved away. When I attended her wedding four years ago as a bridesmaid, one of her friends asked how we knew each other.
“You’re primary school mates?!” he said incredulously.
It was the first time I reflected on just how remarkable that is. I’ve outgrown my share of primary and even secondary and university friendships, but my friendship with Marsha has become one of the most enduring relationships of my life.
We’re different in many ways. I am impulsive, while Marsha is more thoughtful about decision-making. (She made a list of pros and cons when giving me advice on something most recently.) I have annoyed her on more than one occasion by blurting out a secret. But we can make each other laugh, and have always listened to each other with deep sympathy. At this point in life, I recognise those as some of the most important things in life.
We last saw each other in 2019. I was seeing her and her husband, Jameel, off at KLIA. Of course, we stopped at McDonald’s. Marsha got a beef Prosperity Burger and I got the fish one, which sadly isn’t available this year. Jameel, who is Kiwi, got something else since he pronounced Prosperity Burgers “biasalah” after trying it once. (Marsha: “I was pissed”). She’s now living in the UK, and I don’t know when I will see her next.
It’s never the same without her, but I think of her every time I have a Prosperity Burger. And I thought of her when I had my first one this year. It’s a small way to toast our friendship, and everything we’ve been through together. Whatever happens, the legacy of our friendship will always be intertwined with that combination of an oblong patty topped with black pepper sauce, curly fries and an orange flavoured drink.
Deborah Germaine Augustin is a writer born and raised in Malaysia who dreams of a world where everyone has freedom of movement.