Where's the beef?
McDonald's, known worldwide as the "standard-bearer of the hamburger," will be opening its first two vegetarian restaurants in India in 2013, BBC reports.
The fast food giant will be setting up the meat-free outlets near the Golden Temple in the Sikh holy city of Amritsar and the small northwestern town of Katra, which is located near the Hindu Vaishno Devi shrine, India's second busiest pilgrimage spot, notes the Financial Times.
The vegetarian outlets are part of an ongoing effort by the fast food chain to increase its popularity in a country that has yet to fully embrace the franchise.
"There is a big opportunity for vegetarian restaurants as many Indians are vegetarian," said Rajesh Maini, a spokesperson for McDonald's in northern India. "At the moment, India is still a very small market -- we just have 271 restaurants in India, and across the world, we have nearly 33,000."
"When you look at the potential of the country, it's one of the top priority countries and we're laying the groundwork for capturing the market," Maini told the AFP, adding that the fast food franchise hopes to double the number of outlets in India in the next three years.
McDonald's has already altered its Indian menu to appeal to the country's large Hindu and Muslim populations, the Telegraph notes.
For instance, McDonald's restaurants in India do not serve beef or pork, instead opting for lamb, chicken, fish and vegetarian options, such as the McAloo Tikki (a deep fried patty of spicy mashed potatoes) and the McSpicy Paneer (a patty of traditional Indian cheese).
About 80 percent of India's population is Hindu, while more than 13 percent are Muslim, according to a 2001 census. For religious reasons, beef is not consumed by Hindus and Islamic dietary laws prohibit the consumption of pork.
The Financial Times reports that McDonald's is planning to "seriously bulk up its menu line-up for its all-green restaurants."
“Since this is going to be an exclusive vegetarian restaurant, we will have to look at opening more products," Maini said.
But even with its meat-free makeover, it seems that not everyone is excited about the franchise's new outlets.
According to the Telegraph, one of the two locations chosen by the fast food giant is proving controversial with an Indian religious group.
Swadeshi Jagran Manch, a Hindu nationalist group, said it would oppose McDonald's plan to open a restaurant in Katra, describing it as an attempt to "humiliate Hindus."
"It's an attempt not only to make money but also to deliberately humiliate Hindus. It is an organization associated with cow slaughter. If we make an announcement that they're slaughtering cows, people won't eat there. We are definitely going to fight it," said national co-convener S. Gurumurthy.
This is not the first time that McDonald's has provoked the wrath of Hindus.
In May 2001, McDonald's "restaurant windows were smashed, statues of Ronald McDonald [were] smeared with cow dung, and Hindu nationalist politicians called for the chain to be evicted" from India after the fast food franchise was slapped with a lawsuit in America over its beef-flavored French fries.
According to a 2011 New York Times article, plaintiffs representing the Hindus and vegetarians of America had accused McDonald's of "deliberately misleading its American customers" after it was discovered that the franchise's famous french fries were seasoned with beef flavoring before being sent to restaurants to be cooked in vegetable oil.
McDonald's, however, insisted that it had never claimed its French fries were vegetarian in the U.S. and that it did not use beef, pork or their by-products in its franchises in India and Fiji, as well as its outlets in Muslim countries.