Make It a McFalafel

The rise of 'glocalization' means both fast-food chains and local eateries are tapping into the taste buds of their Israeli customers.

Michal Palti
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Michal Palti

An Israeli enters a local branch of the American fast-food chain McDonald's and orders not a hamburger, but rather kebab, chopped salad, tehina and even falafel. This is a perfect example of the phenomenon known as "glocalization." The same Israeli could also walk into a Pizza Hut outlet and ask for a malawach pizza.

These examples demonstrate how foreign franchises are opting to integrate items prepared with local raw materials or using local methods into their glocal menu, in order to make the customer feel at home. The McDonald's McFalafel may be an extreme case, but to hone in on Israeli tastes the chain has also increased the size of its burger patty by one-third and has shifted to broiling over coals (ie, McRoyal ) because of the local audience's fondness for charcoal-broiled foods.

But it's not only the Israelis who demand familiar dishes. In Greece, McDonald's sells the Greek Mac, a hamburger in a pita baked on the premises; Indian branches will not sell any burgers made from beef, because of the sanctity of the cow in Hinduism; and in the Hong King branches, they've gone so far as to sell a hamburger in a rice cracker.

Buying the bucket

Other international chains have also tried to appeal to the Israeli appetite, but not always successfully. Kentucky Fried Chicken, for example, tried to sell schnitzel in a baguette last year. But according to marketing director Larry Levine, there was not enough demand. "Customers wanted the chain's flagship product - a bucket of coated, fried drumsticks," he says.

According to Levine, the eating habits of Israeli consumers differ from those of Americans. In the United States, he explains, a customer puts away a bucket on his own, whereas in Israel it is shared by a group.

Israeli franchisees of the American chain Pizza Hut mainly take into account the tastes of their younger clientele - meaning children. They have made "crispy pizza," which is essentially malawach (fried bread ) topped with cheese, with sauce served on the side. Another popular product sold only in Israel is long sticks of pizza dough topped with chocolate spread.

Adults make do with cheese blintzes, also sold only at the local Pizza Hut branches, in addition to certain salads only available in Israel, like the local version of a Greek salad.

About a year ago, some Pizza Conus stands (from Romania ) were opened here, but did not appeal to local tastes. By contrast, Coneinn Pizza - a frozen, cone-shaped pizza from a company in Spain - has been successfully imported for sale in supermarkets. To adapt them to Israeli tastes, the pizzas were reduced in size from 155 grams per unit to 90 grams and had salt added to them. According to David Barnan, deputy trade and marketing director of the company importing the product, "The Israelis like smaller and saltier products. We though it would be more convenient for children to hold a pizza cone, instead of a triangle."

Glocalization is also evident inside the cupcake stores that have opened in the center of the country over the past two years. At I Love Cupcakes on Ben Yehuda Street in Tel Aviv, Danielle Levy, an immigrant from Britain, bakes an American-Israeli combination of cupcakes using halva. According to her, "This is something developed especially for Israelis, and it is indeed in demand."

Levy has also made another gesture to the Israeli clientele recently - cupcakes made with Hashahar Ha'oleh, the veteran Israeli chocolate spread. "With this chocolate, there is no argument," Levy says. "It was a gimmick that has worked with the clientele."

When pastry chef Doron Regev first caught site of the Hungarian treat kurtos kalacs (also known as chimney cake ), he knew he had to adapt this yeast pastry to Israel and not simply import it as is.

"The dough in Hungary is rubbery and hard. I made it softer and more delicate," he says. "In Hungary, the kurtos is not filled but rather is served with only nuts and sesame. Here I fill it with Nutella, nougat, chocolate and dulce de leche spreads."

Five years ago, Regev opened Kurtosh on Bogroshov Street in Tel Aviv, which has since grown into a chain of 14 branches.

Cubes yes, shakers no

The local palate demands special attention, and not only in terms of fast-food. The large food manufacturer Knorr, which specializes in prepared soups and seasoning mixes, developed a product for Israeli consumers called Tibuliot - cubes of spices and herbs for flavoring chicken or rice dishes. The corresponding product in Europe is a kind of shaker with spices. According to Keren Saar, the company's marketing director in Israel, the shaker was not received well in Israel, nor was soup in a carton like that used for long-life milk.

In addition, the international company Pompadour produces black tea with mint and lemon verbena and lemon grass, only because of the Israeli fondness for these flavors. And the Italian pasta and sauce company Barilla produces jars of pizza-flavored sauce, thanks to the local fondness for homemade pita pizza.



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