Originally published in the Grapevine.is July 24, 2015
My first memory of a Dunkin’ Donuts (aka DnD) involved banking, Iceland. Yes, banking.
Almost every Saturday, my father would drive me and sometimes my siblings, to his bank in whatever city we happened to live in at the time, to do business. The bank people would have laid out in generous American fashion, pots of coffee, juice, creamer, and milk, none of which was of any interest to me. What got me out of pyjamas and away from my Saturday morning cartoons was the promise of basket upon basket of DnD munchkins also generously laid out, wide open and ripe for the picking.
That’s right, munchkins1. According to DnD corp-lore, munchkins are itty bitty donuts made out of the donut ‘holes’ other donut manufacturers so carelessly and foolishly disregarded. But not DnD. They saved their little donut souls, deep fried them, and rolled them in white powdered sugar2, sometimes cramming them with a squirt of jam.
Liberated by the ‘g’wan have another honey’ look on the cashiers faces, I stuffed mine with more and more munchkins. They were tiny. But vicious.
I remember how the dry donut shell puckered and deflated under the eager chomp of my soft palate, that if you were to slo-mo my mouth devouring one you would see the sugar spray out and slide down my chin like a powdery sugar avalanche.
Here is an informative National Geographic Video featuring the manufacture of donuts and munchkins (referred to here as donut bites…because the presenter is British):
VIOLATION BY CREAM
By the time my father completed his banking transactions and we got in the car, I was high enough from the sugar rush to be rendered mute, pressed up against the cool of the window, salivating like a Saint Bernard. Silence pervaded the car, less the ambient noise, unless the instance arrived that on the way home, I would spot an actual DnD shop out the window, squeal with delight and plead my case for another treat. My dad also had a soft spot for donuts, and me, and sometimes we would go and get the larger deal. He always had a french cruller, and I, the same sugary powdered donut but upscaled, stuffed, and violated to all-fuckery with a vanilla creme filling.
My stomach always hurt after one of those, but oh what a marvellous journey to pain it was.
MY CULINARY UPBRINGING
I grew up across the eastern part of the United States (and parts of Canada) in a household that was essentially two parts Turkish, one part Romanian, one part German, yet all American. Throughout my childhood, we were exposed to a range of foods, and my mother had a solid rule: “You have to taste – if you don’t like it, you can spit it out.”
My father was particularly fond of Chinese food. He sought to find the best restaurant in each new city to take us to. Admittedly I never tried the chicken feet. But neither did he. We ate well at home most of the time and I learned to cook at an early age, and practiced a lot and mostly ate good food. Except for my senior year in High School, when I ate so many McDonald’s tasty- crappy-meals that I had to let my prom dress out a size and buy a new bra two sizes up.
THE DONUT GAUNTLET
Consider that a child’s palate is almost never worldly enough to judge the difference between good sugar and cheap run of the mill sugar. It doesn’t matter at that age what sugar you get. Sugar is sugar. And some “children”3, with under-developed palettes, are over thirty years old.
These days I have to walk the DnD gauntlet whenever I am in NYC or Boston. This is difficult because you’ll find a shop about every 150 metres. The few times I caved in with relish, I was truly sick to my stomach. Still, I sometimes break out in a lip sweat and pace back and forth in front of their windows. Sometimes I go inside and stare at their racks, then walk out empty handed. But so far this year I have passed no less than 100 DnD shops and not had one…okay I had ONE munchkin by the Bedford train in Brooklyn late one night. And it was a dry deflated withered pip of a donut hole whose only saving grace was the lick of wet jam barley crammed inside it. I felt a bit queasy afterwards too.
I write this now from a hillside in Umbria sweating like a full scale donut in 190°C (375F) soya oil. Here, thumbing articles on my phone, I have learned that Iceland is about to receive its first ever Dunkin’ Donuts. F*ck I say.
Not because I hate their politics, their policies, the corporate machine, or hate anything for that matter. Or think that the Icelanders could manufacture coffee and donuts better for the same price and should. By the way, it’s not exactly difficult to make donuts better than the folks at DnD do. They are actually considered the lowest peg of donuts in America by now. Love donuts? Get a load ofthese donuts in LA and these ones in London. Be inspired. Why not open up a competitive donut shop in Breiðholt with low overheads? Give us somewhere else to go for a sweet fix in a blizzard.
NOT SNOBS JUST BETTER
I’ve made the decision that if I am going to pay with a stomach ache or an ounce of bulge on my gut, I’ll do it with some decent above average sugar. Fatten me up and clog my arteries with a firm Italian Tiramisu or the best Carrot Cake Babalú has to offer. Or, also available in Iceland, those chocolate eclairs from Kaffi Vest (from a bakery not far away), they’ll do. They are all superior to a DnD donut, hole in all.
And as for coffee? Ok I can understand the attraction to coffee in 20oz cups on drip. It is harder to come by in Reykjavik than a finely pressed espresso or latte at Reykjavik Roasters. But DnD coffee? It’s like having your caffeine fix from a paper bag in an alleyway. Sure I like it like I like a filthy super sized meal. Once in a while, but not every day. My university Alma mater keeps coming to mind: “We’re not snobs. We’re just better.” The universal question of taste divides us, not only on donuts. But that is another article.
HERE TO STAY
Whether you are worried about this American invasion or plan to to be first in the queue for your fried four hundred calorie treat, DnD has hatched its plan to conquer smoky bay. It’s only here to stay if your taste is on par with their formulaic determination of the status quo mass manufactured donut.
10-11, an over-priced shop, good for buying nothing in unless you desperately need it at 1am, is bringing the DnD franchise to Iceland (the CEO of 10-11 is Árni Pétur Jónsson). They are betting that you want it Iceland. And even if not you, your swarming tourists, especially DnD deprived Brazilians, want it. You already have a taste for it. I’m willing to bet that you want it. And I fear that you do. Because traditionally, as I understand it, you boil the life out of the lesser fish reaped from the sea (because you export 70-80% of the top shelf stuff – thank you very much – and the rest goes to restaurants) along with potatoes, mash it, and serve it with ketchup. Hot dog (though superior in Iceland), hamburger, pizza and kebab shops populate any area crowded enough to have a built-in toilet.
Your palate is right down the cheap American dark and dirty alleyway. I bet you wouldn’t know good sugar from brown sugar if it smacked you in the face, and you don’t care. God save you.
As for my future dessert choices I hope I can continue to aim high hit for hit. DnD I don’t hate you. You are an institution and I still drink your never ending coffee on long American road trips. Thankfully there are toilets every ten miles or so (that’s roughly 16km) and I don’t feel the desperation to shit on any flammable moss covered areas or graves.4 DnD, I remember the joy and entertainment you brought me as a child. And the close brush with Type II diabetes. I don’t deny that you still bring joy to some. You’re just crap. And my palate demands much better than that.
On a footnote; of the three main aims of DnD’s philanthropy, two have to do with eating. Spot the irony, win a prize.
1 Mason Reese pictured as a child and as an adult in the banner above, was a wildly successful child advertising actor who Dunkin’ Donuts used to promote their munchkins. Here he is in that commercial as a child, and here he is, a man about town, in this unusual NYU student film, partly funded by Stephen Spielberg according to the director, and I think featuring Rebecca Gayheart. Is that her in the limo? Here is Mason crying, scroll down for the video.
2 Titanium Dioxide has been used to make DnD’s powdered donuts appear whiter and brighter in the donuts made in the USA. I’m sure I ate more than a few dozen of those in my lifetime. DnD announced this past March that they would be removing this ingredient from donuts in the USA. According to the Guardian the UK is not affected as this ingredient is not used in donuts there. And why not? What about the donuts in Iceland? I wonder why it needed to be there in the first place? There is some debate about the ingredient’s harmfulness but I’d like to err on the side of caution. Be aware of what you’re stuffing your face with.
3 No children were harmed in the creation of this article. I love some children. But most of them have palettes like a melted styrofoam cup. Marginally impressionable, limited, not fully formed until adulthood, and then possibly never formed if not exposed to a range of experiences.
4The entire tourist-in-Iceland roadside fire and grave relief situation is disgusting, shameful, and anyone who needs to go to the loo on the road in Iceland in the absence of a purpose built toilet should do it in those ziploc bags provided in abundance by airports across the world, already intended for liquids. Do it, zip it, and dispose of it in the nearest garbage/rubbish bin. We may have too many tourists per toilet to go around the island, but until we build more toilets or limit the number of tourists allowed in, bag it, hold it, or both. You animals.