I met my friend Max diving in the Red Sea in Aqaba, Jordan. Each day we would wake up, drink tea, go for a dive, drink tea, swim in the pool, drink tea, go out for an authentic Jordanian dinner, drink tea, get McDonalds Ice Cream, come back, drink tea, then drink tequila.
I’ve never had a hankering for McNuggets or fries, but there is something indescribably crave worthy about cold, creamy, vanilla soft serve in a Styrofoam-esk cone. Dessert in the desert. Delicious. Refreshing. Predictable.
When Max and I travelled from Aqaba to Petra I left behind the golden fish and golden arches with hopes to shed some weight in the “lost city.” When it was time to part ways, I was more motivated than ever to get rid of my accrued Ice Cream weight in my next destination, Morocco.
The flights between Jordan and Morocco were one of my longest travel episodes, roughly 27 hours. I had a 7.5 hour layover in the stunning Abu Dhabi Airport, a destination of its own. It is not enough time to exit the airport, but long enough to people watch, have a meal, and seek out a cozy nook to sleep.
Burqa clad women adorned in weighty diamond rings and troupes of Chinese tourists would scurry around totting armfuls of luxurious duty-free merch. Terminal 3 smelled like a cocktail of sweat and Chanel No. 5. With this much money running around, it was no surprise that a meal from McDonalds was whopping $15. No more dollar ice creams. I opted for starvation, over fast-food robbery.
I found a quiet area with Ikea lounge chairs and power points and settled in for the next few hours. I fuffed around online and reached out to this Moroccan guy living in Casablanca. Before I boarded my flight, we had a plan to meet up for dinner in 15 hours at the Hyatt Regency in the medina at 8pm. Ooh la la, a fancy dinner, I’ll get to wear my “fancy” dress.
Landing in Casablanca, it was a train, a taxi, and a walk to my hostel. I had enough time to take a dip in the pool and meet some of my fellow backpackers. As I was getting ready, I started feeling a bit nervous, hoping that my new friend’s expectations were on the up and up. My hostel roomie’s comforted me with promises to alert the authorities if I didn’t make it home that night.
I was hungry, jet lagged and anxious, and hailed a taxi into the city. A few kilometers in, my driver got pulled over by the police (this would happen quite a bit as I travelled further through Africa). This driver was kind and got me out of a police bribe by hailing me another taxi, leaving him to deal the corrupt officer.
I arrived at the Hyatt a few minutes late, but still earlier than my host. I was famished and salivated over the menu. Authentic Moroccan cuisine in the Hyatt, I felt like a queen. I was already dreaming of ordering one of everything. I relaxed in the lounge and the air-con was a nice break from the August heat. I received a message that my new friend was waiting in front of the hotel. I stepped outside, greeted him, and offered to grab a table. He says, “Did you find it easy? This is such a great meeting spot. Let’s go to McDonalds. You are American, all Americans love McDonalds.”
I overlooked this broad generalization and felt tears start to well up in my eyes and my stomach cramping from hunger, disappointed that 1. We were not going to be eating anytime soon and 2. We weren’t going to be eating here. I knew we had to move quick or I’d become a real terror. I asked him for some other recommendations and his response was “what’s wrong with McDonalds?” “Fine, how about shawarma or KFC.”
I may be American, but this is my first night in Morocco, feed me tagine!!! Quickly working off the Hyatt Wifi, I sussed out a Spanish tapas bar with high marks, cheap prices, and a few blocks away. The paella and sangria hit the spot and I was able to overcome my hangry emotions and cultural misconceptions and enjoy the rest of the evening with my new friend.
Over the next few weeks, I would eat plenty of Tagines and Couscous. But when I was with different Moroccan friends all over Morocco, they always wanted McDonalds. They later told me, it’s the only place in the world they would eat it because the meat is Halaal.
I’ll take a hard pass on a McDonalds burger, halaal or not, but I love that soft serve ice cream.