Restaurant review : McDonalds in Casablanca

Being a Muslim this is particularly shameful, but one of the few authentically halal places in Casablanca is the McDonald’s. It does not serve alcohol, nor does it have pork on the menu unlike most “Muslim” establishments nearby on the waterfront in Casablanca.

Surely the ultimate irony? The Trojan Horse of western cultural imperialism is the only one that feels the need to adhere to Islamic dietary principles in a predominately Muslim country.It speaks volumes about where the future of Islam will be.

Back to maccas. In a county that is poor and where the working class is resolutely observant only the secular middle classes can afford to eat at this place. The only other authentically halal places to eat were in the working class neighborhoods well away from our hotel. This was located on the waterfront next to the cathedral disguised as a Mosque.

So the Francophone middle class Casablancans turn up in droves on a Saturday lunch, ladies (not sisters) in backless sequin dresses with plunging necklines, men in safari suits, all plump and oily. Oddly in an American fast food place in an independent Arab Muslim nation on the African continent, the customers spoke to the staff in French.
When we arrived sweaty and disheveled in full Aussie tourist kit you can imagine the shock amongst the maccas set. It was impossible for them to process a Muslim women in hijab (which they see as stigmata of the illiterate poor) being able to afford lunch in MacDonald’s which is several months salary. So we sat down in the middle of proceedings and ordered ostentatiously off the menu in English.

Maccas food is quite tasty after a month of packet soup, but the novelty wears off very quickly. The burgers are so soft that one imagines that they can be sucked through a plastic drink straw. The chips were OK and they had Coke. In a pinch the paper napkins may also be edible.

However, it is essential that there be one genuine halal eating place in the foreshore at Casablanca, and western capitalism delivers it.

Jazak Allah khair to them

To sum up: Salvador Dali under the golden arches.

22 comments ↓

#1 dezhen on 01.31.07 at 3:57 am

Ummm… isn’t that the King Hassan II mosque?

#2 Tariq Nelson on 01.31.07 at 4:54 am

In my visits to Morocco, I have visited two McDonald’s in Casablanca (ad-Dar al bayda’) one in Rabat and one in Marakech. (Hey, I’m an American!)

I was amazed to find that McDonald’s was the place to be for the “in” crowd because McDonald’s in the US is just a step up from a twinkie and a bag of chips

Everything you say above is 100% true. Being able to speak English is awe inspiring to the people. A sign of class and education as you mentioned. I didn’t know that in my first trip to Morocco

My two Moroccan companions – who only spoke Arabic and were of lower economic class – felt ashamed of themselves there and were amazed at my ability to mix with these people and my great knowledge of the McDonald’s menu. (From my perspective, I was just acting as I would normally act in the US or any place else)

After they told me their feelings, I asked them why they felt ashamed and tried to explain to them the reality of McDonald’s (in the US)

They then pointed out to me how the other patrons were dressed and showed how the other patrons could see that they were low class. They also told me that they would be laughed at if they tried to order because they can’t even pronounce the foods, much less know what they are ordering.

On another note, during my first trip, I was dressed like a Saudi (with red headdress and all) and was chased down the street by a begger who mistook me for a rich Saudi.

The things you learn while overseas…

#3 gess on 01.31.07 at 6:18 am

“On another note, during my first trip, I was dressed like a Saudi (with red headdress and all) and was chased down the street by a begger who mistook me for a rich Saudi.”

ROFL ! :lol:

#4 gess on 01.31.07 at 6:22 am

Baybers,

I enjoyed your last two articles. Well done!

#5 Amal on 01.31.07 at 8:11 am

Nice piece, Baybers.

This reminds me of the situation in Jordan. Amman has always had its share of fast food restaurants (Popeye’s, KFC and Pizza Hut) but the last two times I have been there, Burger King was the new “thing”. It would be a treat for families from the poorer areas to have a meal there.

Incidentally, their burgers were great.

#6 Amir on 01.31.07 at 8:56 am

Being able to speak English is awe inspiring to the people.

Tariq, that’s funny.

I remember a few times in the Gulf walking past groups of Arab youths — dressed in Western clothing and aping what they perceived as ‘Western youth culture’ in their swagger and appearance — and having them scoff or pass comments about myself and my companions because they assumed we were just some backward mutawwa (religious police or, as they used it, a pejorative term for excessively religious people).

On one occasion, one of these youths said something rather offensive in broken English as myself and a Saudi friend walked past them; assuming, of course, that we couldn’t possibly know what they were saying. I always remember the look on their faces (shock and awe) when we confronted them — in English — and fired a barrage of questions at them about their dress, behaviour and poor language skills which they, obviously, couldn’t answer. Sadly, their knowledge of English never got beyond memorising a few lines from a Snoop Dogg video.

#7 Baybers on 01.31.07 at 6:29 pm

JZK for your comments

Dehzen, The Masjid feels really weird, and Casablancans have boycotted it.

Tariq,

The difference between the creeps one sees in these sorts of places and the average religious Moroccan is amazing. The latter have a true Islamic Adab, and are the salt of the earth. They are so wonderful to be in the company of, and religiously very sophisticated. I found Fez the most welcoming and friendly place to visit.

Mind you when we arrived by boat in Tangiers (a mode of arrival that i would recommend), I was ripped off by a fraudster between the gangplank and Morococan soil. That warm inner glow of arriving in a Muslim country evaporated. But this initial setback was small compared to the very wonderful visit.

Gess, JZK

Amal, the best story is of a friend of mine who arrived for a lecture tour of Pakistan ands was taken out by his hosts for the 5 star treatment at a Pizza Hut, he related how the highlight of the evening was when his hosted demonstrated their influence by going past the long queue straight to a table. Impressive.

Its a long way from the halal McDonalds in Australia where one sees middle class muslima matrons cheek by jowl with red eyed drug addicts (whose crystal meth induced tremor prevents them from even eating french fries). One such Pakistani lady was trying earnestly to order her chicken burger in a la carte fashion, much to the amusement of the staff.

#8 dezhen on 01.31.07 at 9:58 pm

Baybers: Sure, but that is not the same thing as it being an undercover church, is it?

#9 Shadower on 01.31.07 at 11:19 pm

A Maccas meal in Beirut was like 6000L (about 4USD). And I am sure it was the Supersize me meal, because I ended up throwing out half the chips and most of the drink, there was way too much.

Though Pizza Hut in Lebanon is upper class lol. I found that hilarious.

#10 aboo_talhaa on 01.31.07 at 11:33 pm

A couple of years ago a friend of mine went inside the McDonalds in Pakistan while on a vacation and he said everybody kept on staring at him (Big beard, pants above the ankles) as if he had landed from moon but ofcourse when he ordered in English, everybody was awed.

#11 Yusuf Smith on 02.01.07 at 4:30 am

As-Salaamu ‘alaikum,

WRT the Hassan II mosque, the possible reason why the people in Casablanca boycotted it is that it was built with “generous public contributions”, which in fact (according to Moroccans I’ve spoken to) means people were intimidated into paying for it.

#12 thabet on 02.01.07 at 4:38 am

It’s not just the local middle classes in “Muslim countries” who are fascinated with these fast food outlets.

The first place Western Muslims I know (esp. those who grew up in Muslim households in the UK) visit when they enter a “Muslim country” is the local BK, McDs, etc. simply because they’ve grown up never eating a Big Mac or Flame Grilled Whopper. It was funny watching two of my friends spit out a BK Whopper after they had spent all day talking about eating there (largely to wind me up, since they know how much I dislike these places!).

It’s funny Amir should mention rich youths in the Gulf. I’ve just walked into this internet cafe past a gaggle of obviously rich kids, all blinged up with their souped-up cars, looking like something out of one of those awful 20 pence music video.

#13 Andrew Reynolds on 02.01.07 at 6:44 pm

thabet,
It is not just Muslims that are fascinated. The first McDonald’s to open in Moscow had exactly the same result. It is not one of those things where culture matters – it is new, different and from the outside. People, it does not matter who they are, will be very interested until they are everywhere and affordable. Then they lose interest for the next new thing.
Starbucks is another example – the reaction in China was just astonishing for what is really only middle grade coffee served in a clean mug in a (reasonably) clean room.

#14 Baybers on 02.01.07 at 7:52 pm

Dezhen,

I was not trying to say that the mosque functions as an undercover church, which it clearly does not, but rather it appears architecturally very similar to a cathedral, it is not intimate, it is large and makes the individual feel small, and it is dark. Although I prayed there as often as possible, I could not overcome this feeling.

I was intrigued not find that Sheikh hamza yusuf had exactly the same impression, but I was astonished when only last week a Hindu architect whose interest is Islamic architecture, said that the feeling that he got inside that place was that it was very odd, and he also felt that it did not feel like a Mosque.

It also has a laser beam from the minaret that is pointing to Mecca, an addition (straight from the kinglet) that appears to have all the kitsch style that comes when royalty and despotism are combined.

#15 Umar on 02.02.07 at 6:36 pm

I think it’s more than the McDonalds being seen as merely something new or fresh. I think it’s symptomatic of the fact that more and more young people and upwardly mobile people in the Middle East look to the West as the beacon of everything that is great and good.

#16 E. Mariyani on 02.03.07 at 4:41 am

Similar story as above in Indonesia. The middle class are the only ones who can afford to go to McDonald’s, but curiously, it is not seen as a “spectacular” dining experience. Merely being there seems to be the point – esp. for rich high school teenagers; just hanging out there is “cool” – but very, very few think the food is actually any good.

Interestingly, McDonald’s was being ripped apart by KFC until they changed their menu to suit the cultural mores: viz. rice and chilli sauce. In Indo, if there is no rice on your plate, then you simply aren’t eating a meal … at best, it’s a snack … and when it’s a snack involving bread, then it’s a slightly bizarre snack at that.

Also, when I was there at least, the Maccas’ TV ads were quite religiously over the top. The attempt to emphasise the fact that it was halal meant the ads looked more like advertisements for Islam and salat than for burgers. (In fact, from the ads, you would never know that burgers were the staple product.)

#17 Bint-Yayat on 02.03.07 at 8:48 pm

Assalamu’alaikum,

Ditto the above (E. Mariyani’s comment). I’d further argue that for many Indonesian Muslims today, “dining” at a McDonalds joint has passed the mere symbolism of material affluence and modernism; it’s become a necessity for those eating out (either by choice or circumstance).

As bizarre as it may seem, it’s actually Western fast food joints like McDonalds and Pizza Hut that have become the beacon of Indonesia’s halal eating movement. To date, they are the only eateries that would go at length in responding to the ever-increasing concerns of Muslim consumers by cooperating with our Majelis ‘Ulama via MUI’s halal certification scheme.

Being barred from an endless list of glorious, undoubtedly healthier (yet dubious, nonetheless) local food is actually a pain for the nation’s expanding adherents of the halal diet. Even more so in a predominantly Muslim country like Indonesia. Yet another addition to the country’s jam-packed list of ironies.

#18 E. Mariyani on 02.04.07 at 3:47 am

Salaam.

Another comment on Indo to follow up Bint-Yayat’s observations … and what I think may be a clarification.

(Note: the following refers to Bandung – I have no idea about Jakarta and frankly, never want to know.)

It is abolutely true that the fast food industry is scrupulously “officially” halal – that is, these places are very keen on being MUI (Majelis Ulama Indonesia) endorsed, but it doesn’t follow that almost everywhere else is not in fact halal. For the vast mjority of Indonesians – i.e. the poor – a “dining out” experience is a 30 second walk to the nearest little warong murah (i.e. el-cheapo food stall with el-cheapo plastic chairs and plates, a tarp for a ‘roof’, and cooking equipment that hasn’t been cleaned properly, well, ever).

Almost every single one of these hundreds of thousands of establishments is almost inescapably halal by default. Although there is no sanctioning by the MUI, people very often have “do it yourself” halal meat: the bismillahs are done in backyard chicken coops across the country every day; as Indonesian Christians know, pork is a “special order” item; and alcohol simply isn’t on the menu at these places.

As far as I can tell, people only really worry about whether something is MUI-endorsed when it is a “manufactured” or imported product – for everything else, one just assumes it is halal (and there is no-way you can or should ask … unless your objective is to offend the warung-owner and embarrass your friends with your impertinence).

Final amusing aside. When Kentucky Fried Chicken set up in Indo, the less popular coat tail-rider Californian Fried Chicken followed soon after. When Kentucky changed to KFC, yes, Californian rebranded itself CFC. Ahhh, love it.

#19 Insider on 02.04.07 at 9:29 pm

What issac learnt today: irony

http://isaacschrodinger.typepa.....l#comments

“You have just made a fool of yourself Isaac.

Obviously liberals like you are lost in a cul-de-sac of your own self righteousness, and are unable to see irony or perhaps you are unfamiliar with the English language.

The author was quite obviously being ironic.”

#20 UmmFarouq on 02.05.07 at 2:36 am

Assalamu Alaikum,
I stumbled upon your blog, mashaAllah, and saw my blog linked here. JazakullahKhayr! A surprise, indeed.

I used to ask my students (ages 18-50) if they remembered Amman before globalization brought the burger joints here. They did remember. I asked them if they’d rather have a falafel sandwich (super-sized!) or a McDonald’s burger. Most responded, “falafel.”

You can’t miss what you don’t know. Sadly, now Jordanians are said to be the most overweight citizens in the MidEast.

#21 Wanie on 09.20.07 at 4:40 pm

i have just found out this blog.Im really interested to know how many exactly Mc donald in Casablanca ( the exact location, if possible) and other cities of Morocco. Is there any other fast food like KFC , or burger king in Morocco.
Im actually doing a research relating to food sectors in Morocco. Hope anyone can give mesome points.

Thanks.
Salam.

#22 Rabii on 04.26.08 at 3:18 am

Look Wanie, i’m from morocco and i found this website at random, in Morocco you can find whatever you want and in casablanca there’s so many mcdonald but the biggest that you can find is in front of a beatch called AIN DIAB,a wonderfl place and i can say the surface of Morocco.i have a researsh about mcdonald in usa and i’m expecting to help me and i want to make a camparison between mcdonald in morocco and in america and i read an article which says that mcdonald in america made for poor people but in morocco i see that only reach people from noble classes who can go to mcdonald frequently and 10q in advance and i’m expecting to send me your hepl

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