Photo: Courtesy of McDonald’s/YouTube
In 1986, economics journalist Pam Woodall devised the Big Mac Index, a tool still used today for measuring the relative purchasing power of different global currencies against one another based on the average cost of a Big Mac in each country.
In 2020, J Balvin devised the J Balvin Meal, a tool still used today to charge me literally $20 for McDonald’s. Like the Travis Scott Meal of
yore September, the J Balvin Meal, which launched on Monday, October 5, is an exclusive between the reggaeton singer and Mickey D’s to keep McDonald’s relevant and on the cutting edge without having to actually create any new food. And as we learned the hard way with the Travis Scott Meal, these collabs don’t even come with a Happy Meal collectible or some sort of unique packaging. They’re based on the idea that you’re getting an up-close-and-personal experience with celebs by ordering and eating the exact same food as they do. At a time when celebrity relevance is sustained by maintaining a constant illusion of access, mainly through audiovisual media like Instagram and Twitter, there’s just something so much more viscerally immediate, in an Annie Wilkes sort of way, about filling your guts with and pooping out the exact same fast-food order as your favorite star. This gimmick could be achieved only through McDonald’s, which is known above all for its consistency: A Big Mac is a Big Mac anywhere you go, whether you’re a Grammy winning Colombian recording artist or a blogger with seasonal eczema.
Here’s the thing about J Balvin, though: I’ve seen his Architectural Digest home tour, and on the basis of that, I refuse to believe this man puts McDonald’s in his body. In that video, from July 2020, he reveals that he drinks only water, doesn’t touch alcohol, doesn’t own a TV, has a Pilates room, meditates, and has incorporated Japanese principles of nature, design, balance, health, and minimalism into his life.
Furthermore, this is the J Balvin Meal as described by José Balvin himself in a commercial that dropped today along with the promotion:
• A Big Mac, “no pickles, please”
• Medium fries, “con ketchup”
• Oreo McFlurry, “of course”
Eagle-eyed viewers will catch the problem here immediately: A Big Mac “without pickles” is like a McDonald’s PlayPlace ball pit “without pee.” It doesn’t exist. The dominant flavor profile of Big Macs, even with the pickle element excised, is still pickle. They have those little, tiny McDonald’s onions, which taste pickle-y. They have that Mac sauce, which is mostly relish, which is also pickles. I understand ordering a cheeseburger or Quarter Pounder or even a McChicken without pickles. But if you’re going to McDonald’s and paying the upcharge for a Big Mac and you don’t even want all the pickle-y bits, why are you getting a Big Mac to begin with? The extra bread? I just have a hard time believing this is someone’s order.
But it was time to Pokémon ¡Llego! to the polls and try the J Balvin Meal for myself. As he says in the ad, the McFlurry would be “on him,” as in free, if you order within the app. And free is always good. But it turns out that trying to order an intact J Balvin Meal in New York City on October 5 was literally harder than writing the LSAT.
This McDonald’s was making promises it couldn’t keep. No McFlurries!
Photo: Rebecca Alter
When I opened the McDonald’s app — untouched since the Travis Scott Meal — a banner promised, “Get J’s meal & the McFlurry is free.” But every time I clicked on it, it just said, “Offer not found.” I quit the app and kept trying about five times before I felt really stupid and then figured the free McFlurry was probably just too good to be true in some regional markets, so I decided to piece the meal together à la carte, as they say in restaurants that aren’t McDonald’s.
Problem numero dos: The McFlurry machines were broken at every McDonald’s within a reasonable walking distance. When I tried to place an order in the app, no matter the location, McFlurries were off the menu. I walked to the second-nearest McDonald’s to try ordering in person. It had a big screen advertising the J Balvin Meal, but the staff told me they couldn’t make a McFlurry. This was starting to feel less and less like an elite celebrity dining experience and more like an insult: I had one job to do, which was order one lousy J Balvin Meal, and I couldn’t even do that right.
The solution was Uber Eats, which offered something called the “J Balvin” on the McDonald’s menu, costing $6.99 for just the sandwich before delivery fee, service charge, tax, and tip. The other parts of his combo cost extra, but at least they had a McFlurry. The J Balvin Meal on Uber Eats came to $21 after tip, which is the price of approximately three Travis Scott Meals, because J Balvin is fancy.
I like the sprinkles on the McFlurry cup. I ordered the snack size.
Photo: Rebecca Alter
And goddamn, it was so good. Even though the Big Mac was called “the J Balvin” on the app, it definitely came with pickles, and they were divine. Eating a Big Mac for the first time in a couple of years reminded me why I allow myself to have a Big Mac only every couple of years: They’re so, so dangerously good. They’re McDonald’s flagship item for a reason. The mellow, mild cheese and the patty, contrasted with that bright acidity from the pickles and sauce, held together by those squishy, soft sesame buns? Get the fuck outta town! There’s nothing more satisfying than biting into a big ol’ cartoonishly multilayered sloppy sando. It’s a joyful act. To paraphrase Cardi, I want to park that Big Mac truck right in this little garage (my mouth).
Photo: Rebecca Alter
The fries were the same fries as the Travis Scott fries, which is to say medium, but J Balvin likes them with just plain ol’ ketchup instead of barbecue sauce so minus points for that. Plus points for the four extra fries found in the bottom of the bag when I was through with it.
And was the McFlurry worth it after causing me so much grief? Definitely, if you like Oreo McFlurries. I am a heathen who’s less enamored with Oreo as a flavor than most (it’s just dirt-chocolate), so I got it snack size and dipped my fries in it and still liked it plenty! Would’ve tasted better if it were free, though.
Photo: Rebecca Alter
So that’s the J Balvin Meal: expensive, elusive, and delicious — like the man himself. Pair it with water to honor his AD home tour. (It should have come with a Takashi Murakami Happy Meal toy.) The 2020 Big Mac Index determined that the Swiss franc was overvalued 21 percent against the U.S. dollar, because a Big Mac cost a whopping (no pun intended) 6.50 CHF, or 7.09 USD. Does this mean the USD in New York, where a Big Mac costs over a dollar more than it does in the Big Mac Index for the U.S. ($5.71), is undervalued? I don’t know. I’m not an economist. I’m just a J Balvin fan and a professional food critic.