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It has been awhile since I have been able to talk about McDonald’s. There were none in Cambodia, Vietnam or Laos (although there were KFC’s in Vietnam and Cambodia). Dubai, however, has everything manner of fast food you can think of. In addition to McDonald’s, I’ve seen KFC, Pizza Hut, Burger King and the oh so rare Taco Bell.
The McDonald’s here has a few things on the menu I haven’t seen elsewhere. They have the McArabia sandwich, which appears to be a normal beef or chicken patty with flatbread instead of a bun. They also sell chicken strips which are something like you’d see at a Long John Silvers. Just fillets of chicken, no bones, no sandwich.
As in Malaysia, hamburgers are not called hamburgers, so there is no confusion about there being pork in the meat. In many countries, the nutritional brochure you can get in the store will point out how the food is locally produced. Beef in Australia, fish in Japan, etc. As there isn’t a lot of ranching or farming in the Arabian peninsula, there isn’t much to showcase for local production. They do hint at some regional production of dairy products, but they don’t say where it is from.
Since I’ve been in Dubai I’ve visited the Mall of Dubai (which still seems to be under construction) and the Mall of the Emirates. Both are megamalls with ridiculous attractions like the indoor ski slope in the Emirates mall and a giant aquarium and skating rink in the Mall of Dubai.
I’ve noticed something in the malls here which I first noticed in Singapore about 10 years ago. The food courts are the mirror image of food courts you will find the US. In your typical US mall you will have some sort of ethnic food, usually Chinese, and a bunch of different western options: baked potato, pizza, sub sandwiches, tacos, etc. The food courts in Asia are the opposite. In Singapore you would find every sort of subdivision of Asian food: South Indian, Japanese noodle, Chinese seafood, Indian hot pot, Thai….and then you will find the generic western food stall. Usually something like a McDonald’s.
In Dubai, you see a lot of different Middle East or Mediterranean food stalls. In the Mall of Dubai I saw Iranian, 2 or 3 Lebanese booths, and Greek in addition to Indian, Thai, Chinese…and then the obligatory western fast food.
Many people flip out with the idea of western restaurants in non-western countries. They lament “globalism”, which is usually defined as elements of western culture in non-western countries. Whereas non-western cultural elements in western countries is considered “diversity”. It isn’t quite that simple.
Just because you have McDonald’s and Starbucks doesn’t mean a country’s culture has been destroyed, any more than Chinese restaurants destroy American culture. (and it should be noted that there are more Chinese restaurants in the US than there are McDonald’s, Wendys, KFC and Burger King COMBINED). You can add elements from another culture and still keep what is essential to your own.
I think the food court phenomenon is evidence of this. You can take something like a mall or a food court and put a local twist on it to make it your own. Dubai is a very modern city, but there is no doubt that you are in the Middle East.