9 Feb 2014

Vietnam gets first taste of Big Mac

11:16 am on 9 February 2014

Fast food giant McDonald's - often seen as a symbol of American capitalism - has opened its first restaurant in communist-controlled Vietnam.

Hundreds of people queued for the opening of the restaurant in southern of Ho Chi Minh City.

Henry Nguyen outside Vietnam's first McDonald's restaurant.

Henry Nguyen outside Vietnam's first McDonald's restaurant. Photo: AFP

The city - known as Saigon during the Vietnam War - was where the United States-backed government was based until it fell to communist forces 38 years ago.

The restaurant is being run by the prime minister's son-in-law, Henry Nguyen, who flipped burgers at a McDonald's restaurant while growing up in the US, where his family fled at the end of the war, the BBC reports.

McDonald's is following US rivals Burger King, KFC and coffee giant Starbucks into Vietnam, with its 90 million-strong population and average per capita income of more than $US1,500.

Critics say that Vietnam's rapid economic growth since "Doi Moi" reforms opened up the country in the early 1990s masks rising inequality and inefficiencies in an economy still dominated by state-owned enterprises.

Signs of the country's rising affluence were on display Saturday as hundreds of people queued at the McDonald's store on Dien Bien Phu street - named after the battle that forced the French to withdraw from their former colony Vietnam.

A Big Mac costs about $US2.85 at the new outlet, while a bowl of traditional pho noodle soup can be bought on most street corners for around $1.50, AFP reports.

The arrival of McDonald's marks a full turnaround for the fortunes of US brands in former wartime foe Vietnam.

Brands such as Coca-Cola were available in US-allied South Vietnam until the end of the war, but the companies pulled out after the communist victory which paved the way for the unification of the country in 1975.