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November 20, 2013

An American burger in Haifa: Israeli takes on fast food

http://www.jewishjournal.com/blog/item/an_american_burger_in_haifa_israeli_takes_on_fast_food/

Recently, a friend of mine was visiting from Israel and extolling the virtues of American fast food as the most divine dining experience on God's green earth. I would argue that the most divine dining experience is an al pastor taco from a truck at 2am, but that's a debate for another time.

Either way, I started thinking about American fast food worldwide. It's been the subject of many anthropological studies like Melissa Caldwell's  Domesticating the French Fry  (an article I'd highly recommend reading if you're interested in "Americanization" of other cultures.)

One thing I've always found fascinating while traveling is the local take on American fast food. On one hand, I find it rather disconcerting to, say, march into a Pizza Hut in the Costa Rican jungle, but I also find it culinarily exciting to see how local cultures adapt "American" cuisine to make it, well, not as American---semi-defeating the "Americanization" issue.

I decided to see how Israel turns three American fast food staples into local fare:

Restaurant: McDonalds

The twist: The golden arches are well-known for their local versions of fast-food. In Israel, this includes the McKebab (kebab served on flatbread), McShawarma (same idea, but made with turkey), corn schnitzel sticks and Israeli salad (as optional sides.) For half of 2011, they also served a McFalafel, but it never took off.

It should also be noted that no pork products are served in Israeli McD's, and it's one of two countries where the burgers are barbecued on charcoal rather than fried (the other is Argentina.)

Not all Israeli McD's are kosher, but the ones that stay kashrut are closed on Shabbat and Jewish holidays, sell no dairy products (or sell them in a separate part of the restaurant) and have special Passover buns for the holiday.

Restaurant: Burger King

The twist: They remain the most untouched of the fast food chains. They keep their restaurants kosher (and are certified kosher for Passover) but that's really the only major change. Burger King in Israel also has a special limited Passover menu that includes fries, salads, chicken wings and hamburger patties without buns.

Restaurant: Pizza Hut

The twist: The pizzeria offers most of the same American staples, albeit with ingredients based on the local palette.

For example, you can get feta cheese on everything (pizza, bread, salads) and the house breadsticks are made with za'atar and sesame (also available as pizza toppings.)

There are a large number of eggplant dishes, as well as tuna and grilled cauliflower.

For dessert? Cheese blintzes.

Finally, there is a marked absence of any meat--one way to help ensure the restaurant stays kosher.

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