Kosher McDonald’s: for many young kashrut keepers, this combination of words is the holy grail — you can find 62 kosher McDonald’s all across Israel (you can also find one kosher franchise in Buenos Aires, FYI).
But is it worth visiting McDonald’s in Israel even if you don’t keep kosher? The answer to that, is, well, absolutely individual, but for this Israeli expat: yes.
The first McDonald’s in Israel opened in 1993 in my home city of Ramat Gan, at the Ayalon mall — the location where I had my first, ever, McDonald’s — hallelujah! (Also, if you like a good mall, I highly recommend a visit to this recently renovated one.) Right now, the chain has over 200 locations across the country.
You probably know that McDonald’s menus change around the world — in Italy, McDonald’s serves espresso and in Canada, the fast food chain serves poutine. Israel also has its own, unique McDonald’s menu items, which change seasonally, and some of them may surprise you.
Israeli McDonald’s used to offer wraps and falafels, but they don’t anymore. Truly, why would anyone get falafel at McDonald’s when there is so much better falafel to be had at every corner! But there are some pretty great items that did withstand the test of time and popular opinion.
One item that seems to have stuck here in Israel and that isn’t available in the U.S. is the McDonald’s potato wedge, or as they call it here, the potato (say it with a Hebrew accent.) I almost never order fries with my McDonalds here because the soft and crunchy texture and spiced flavors of the potato wedge are superior, especially dipped in some cold mayo, which your McDonald’s cashier will almost always offer along with your order.
Another item that kids love here are corn sticks, or corn nuggets. Israelis love their corn schnitzel, or “schnitzel tiras,” mass-produced and popularized by the Israeli vegetarian company Tivol. This McDonald’s variation is sweet and savory fried nuggets with pieces of corn inside, and a crunchy breaded exterior. My toddler was a huge fan, and I may or may not have nabbed a couple from him.
Like so much of the country, most McDonalds in Israel are vegan-friendly. There’s a vegan burger option that I sampled and honestly, found even better than the regular patty, especially when served with their “spicy royale” sauce (yes, McDonald’s outside the US call their quarter pounders the royale, in case you haven’t seen “Pulp Fiction” — directed by Israeli local Quentin Tarantino — I wonder what his Israeli McDonalds order is?).
Israelis also have very strong feelings about health food — recently, the Israeli ministry of health has added red stickers to food with high fat, sodium, and sugar content. So, McDonald’s offers some traditionally “healthy” options like salad meals — of either a green salad or asian style cabbage salad, topped with crunchy chicken, chicken nuggets, chicken breast, fish fillet or the aforementioned corn nuggets. I tried one such salad and found it… sufficiently satisfying. The kids’ meals come with a fruit pouch or carrot sticks, which you can also get as sides.
Some Americans might find the patty of kosher meat lacking — especially when Israel offers both kosher and unkosher burger places which serve excellent, juicy burgers. But they do come with lots of fun toppings, like mushrooms in an Asian marinade and onion rings — they also have New York, Texas, Tokyo and Amsterdam-style burgers with interesting sauce and topping combinations. When I last visited the chain, it was offering a kebab burger, which added some herbs and extra spice to the patty and honestly made it quite delicious.
The chicken products at McDonald’s are honestly pretty good — from nuggets, to crunchy chicken, to the recently reintroduced McChicken (there’s also a chicken filet that I have mixed feelings about). Israelis love their chicken, so it makes sense that the chain is solid in that department.
If you’re a McFlurry fan, you can indeed get your cravings satisfied at the chain. This summer, they introduced pistachio ice cream, which I haven’t sampled, and honestly don’t plan to (Israel has plenty of great ice cream!). But if you’re missing that good ole soft serve, you can get your dose at most Israeli McDonald’s locations.
Overall, McDonald’s in Israel is pretty, pretty good. If you’ve never had McDonald’s before for kashrut reasons, what some call the “McBirthright” is a must — just for the experience. Israeli McDonald’s also offers gluten-free options, though not at every location — so people with gluten sensitivity and celiac can have their own “McBirthright.”
But if you’ve had McDonald’s before, I wouldn’t say you have to add it to your tight travel itenerary, but I would definitely never discourage you from it. And you’re stuck in a mall with two kids, like me, visiting Israeli McDonald’s is unavoidable — so the good news is that you, too can eat and hopefully, love it.