You’ve got to hand it to McDonald’s.
The fast food giant is staying the course in Israel. The sands of the Negev are littered with the wrappers of those that have come and gone, like Ben & Jerry’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Starbucks; and those that have quietly dwindled to insignificance, like Pizza Hut and KFC.
McDonald’s has only been in Israel since the early 1990′s. All of its 160 restaurants in Israel keep pork off the menu and serve kosher beef, and about a quarter of them are certified kosher—they close on the sabbath, don’t serve cheeseburgers, and for the week of Passover the buns are made of matzah meal. Milkshakes and milk-based desserts have to be eaten in designated dairy-only booths.
McDonald’s Israel caters to local tastes with the McSchwarma, with spit-roasted shaved meat in flatbread, Israeli salad of chopped cucumber and tomato, and the McKebab with tahini served on pita bread. In a rare admission of defeat, last week the chain pulled the McFalafel from its Israeli menus, unable to compete with the thousands of street side falafel stands that do it bigger, better, and cheaper.
In place of the McFalafel, Israel is getting selections from McDonald’s Big America burger promotion, a series of two-fisted, half-pound, inauthentically themed burgers that play into stereotypical, slightly racist notions of America’s regions : the Big Miami is a hamburger topped with a taco; the Big Texas, has a bean-stocked chili topping that no self-respecting chili con carne-loving Texan could have dreamed up; the Big Idaho recycles the hash brown patties from McDonald’s breakfast menu; and there’s a gravy and egg-topped Big Hawaii.
McDonald’s Israel has had its share of controversy, from its insistence that Hebrew be spoken by all restaurant staffers to its refusal to open outlets in the West Bank and Golan Heights. The current fatty, beefy challenge to the traditionally light, Mediterranean-style Israeli might be the most contentious yet.