The Globalization of the Shishkebab

Guest post by Sharon Gefen

If there’s one good thing I can say about globalization, its that you can be sure that wherever the hell you are – the junk food is always the same. I’m not a big fan of globalization or junk food, but the familiarity of things when you’re abroad is kind of nice sometimes. And junkfood makes for the best kind of comfort food when you’re hungry.

I’m aware and proud of the fact that in most cases, the stuff that appeals to American taste doesn’t really work for local markets. Fabulous local examples for that are the miserable failures that were Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts here in Israel (may they rust in peace), which just didn’t get *it* about Israeli coffee drinkers (who don’t like their coffee “to go”, and prefer it to be made of real coffee, rather than brown water).

Sure, we Israelis like our burgers grilled rather than fried. We’re not big on the whole greasy-spoon diner scene, but we love our barbecues. Plus, its healthier too. I get that. This is the kind of food tweaking that I find acceptable. On the other hand, I occasionally find these attempts to customize certain things to the local taste to be rather pathetic.

For example – those miserable attempts to import local street food (which is already pretty junky) into the menus of fast food restaurants. That’s just something I can’t accept. I simply fail to understand why the hell people buy this junk.

Kebab is one of the simplest, tastiest local street foods you can get your hands on. Its cheap, messy and wonderful. Nice, juicy kebabs made of well-seasoned ground meat, grilled just right, with some hummus and tahina, and some yummy salads all around. All of it tucked tightly into a pita, which usually explodes as you eat it, which makes eating a messy, yet fun adventure. For me, thats what Israeli food is all about (sure, its originally from Turkey, but who cares? we adopted it, changed it a bit, and we love it).

The same goes for “Arab” salad. Tiny cubes of cucumbers, tomatoes, maybe some green pepper, and some olive oil, lemon juice, salt and black pepper. Simple, minimalist and delicious. And above all – fresh.

Enter global fastfood MegaCorp, who seem to be desperate to eliminate all competition. On a planetary basis. As part of their quest towards world domination, they decide that they need some local dishes. They add tahina to their burgers in egypt, make up a cute little croquette dish in Holland, and keep “improving” local dishes in every single country they have invade. At some point, they decide there is still some resistance in the Israeli market towards their plastic burgers and salads made of dry lettuce, three croutons and four (I counted) semi-rotten cherry tomatos. Obviously, this means that the Israeli market is hungry for a clean, plastic version of the popular street foods which the local market has already proven that they like.

The other day, I found myself wandering around some mall, on the verge of death by hunger. Unaware of my actions, I ended up in line at a franchise of said global fastfood MegaCorp, waiting for service that never arrived. Bored and hungry, I started looking around, when I saw, to my horror, a couple sitting at one of the tables there.

She was opening a container of the MegaCorp version of the “fresh” chopped salad (calling it an “Arab” salad is probably not considered politically correct), which looked flat, tired and not-so fresh (although MegaCorp’s current campaign insists that your salad is hacked to bits especially for you, as you order).

His portion was even more depressing – He was zipping off the stylized, hygienic cardboard wrapping surrounding MegaCorp’s version of a kebab in a pita (altho it pretty much resembled a taco), specifically engineered so as not to ever let you enjoy the experience of eating, with or without the messiness.

I might be wrong. Perhaps MegaCorp’s versions of these dishes are delicious. I’m willing to give them that slight benefit of the doubt. I’ve never tried it, so how can I know for sure?

But still – something was definitely not right about that picture. Not when just around the corner, there’s a decent, non-expensive restaurant that serves the same stuff, only using the real ingredients, where you get to enjoy this food as it was meant to be served. Without the cardboard wrappings, plastic containers, or mass-produced sauces.

(In case you’re curious: No, I didn’t stick around till someone there acknowledged my existence and allowed me to purchase a plastic burger. Instead, I bought my junkfood elsewhere, and regretted it)