When completing important background research for our ongoing project to categorise countries by their Western fast food development I came upon an interesting fact: Buenos Aires is the only city in the world outside Israel to have a kosher McDonalds.
Visiting became a small fixation for me, rated higher than the fine arts museum on our sight seeing list. I wanted a Big Mac that would come without cheese, to see how the deserts menu would shape up without dairy (is there really milk in a sundae, anyway?) and to taste a burger patty that, for reasons of Jewish law passing my understanding, is cooked on charcoal rather than with gas.
The truth is, kosher McDonald’s is meant for the Jewish community here, and not for me. I know this now because, if I were Jewish, I would never have sought out the Kosher McDonalds on the sabbath, when it would be obviously closed and I would be left having struggled with subway directions and a labyrinthine food court only to find a roller door between me and a kosher happy meal.
The Argentine Jewish community is the largest in Latin America and the seventh largest in the world. Settlement began when Jews were expelled from Spain in the sixteenth century and there have been several waves of immigrants fleeing persecution since. After fleeing Argentina when they became persecuted under the junta here in the 1970s and 80s, the population is now down under 200,000.
More McDonalds than anywhere else we’ve been
Though it severely dampened by spirits and forced me to sample yet another cut of beef instead, the presence of a kosher McDonalds says something about fast food development here. If you have a McDonald’s that caterers specifically to a relatively small population group it must be pretty darn popular. And indeed so it seems to be. In Buenos Aires at least, the concentration of McDonalds is waaay more than anywhere else we’ve been. In the same mall of our kosher misadventure there were at least two other McDonald’s.
The pricing seems to be accessible to ordinary portenos. With our black market exchange it’s very cheap – a combo for $3 – 4USD – and even without it seems comparable to home, though more expensive than a slice or two of cheese pizza.
This leads us to the conclusion that, like men carrying babies, well organised rubbish connection and hot water in public bathrooms, in fast food terms, Buenos Aires feels more like home than anywhere else we’ve been. That means it is the first stage four we’ve encountered: Western fast food is ubiquitous and amongst the cheapest meal you can buy.