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Morocco loving the McArabia

McDonald's is part of trend to localize recipes in international franchises.

“Everybody is racing not only to be cheaper but to have more variety,” Lampel said. “They’re beginning to see it as an advantage and not a compromise.”

The McArabia was launched across the Middle East just after the United States’ invasion of Iraq — a troubled time when both American policy and consumer brands sought footholds in a newly hostile region.

For the Morrocan version, McDonald's scrapped the McArabia's garlic-based tahini sauce and seasoned the meat with spices Moroccans use for stews made in traditional cone-lidded pots called tagines. Elongated Quarter Pounder patties are first spiked with cumin, coriander and other flavors. Then they’re fried, slathered with a piquant tomato sauce, sprinkled with bell peppers and wrapped in soft, pita-style bread. McDonald’s officials here said the effort has been a success so far. Sixty percent of the country’s regular McDonald’s customers have tried the sandwich this year, according to a regional marketing and communication director, Abdellah Bniaiche, who said harder sales figures weren’t available.

At franchises in Rabat, the sandwich drew decidedly mixed reviews.

“It doesn’t work,” said Asma Smeli, 32, as she left a McDonald's in Agdal, one of the capital’s upscale outer neigborhoods. “It’s not really Moroccan. It tastes more Egyptian to me.”

Inside a McDonald’s in downtown Rabat, Laila Alami, 30, said she’s ordered the sandwich frequently since it came out.

“It’s not really a tagine, but it’s good,” Alami said. “It’d be better if they spiced it a little bit more."