Dec 29, 2021

Fast Or Fast Food? McNuggets In McMecca

The World’s Fair and a new snack come to Dubai

By Ed Goldman

For some religious observers, the word “fast” may now be followed by the word “food.”

Apparently, hundreds of thousands of people who made religious pilgrimages this year were seeking fried chicken nuggets along with enlightenment. Is Dubai turning into a branch of fast-food Mecca southern California—and if so, will it henceforth be known as Torrance of Arabia?

Edgy Cartoon

Welcome to Salty Arabia

Let’s drill down, an expression I abhor even when my dentist isn’t saying it. 

The World’s Fair—the historic venue where, over more than a century-and-a-half, everything from Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone to George Ferris’ eponymous Wheel, the monumental Space Needle and waffle cones for ice-cream made their debuts­—is being held in the United Arab Emirates. It’s the first World’s Fair ever to be held in the Middle East—and according to a piece in the Wall Street Journal, it’s expected to lure 25 million people during its six-month run.

The Journal reports that one of the fair’s major attractions, rather than being science- or agriculture-related, is chicken nuggets. They’re fried up by Al Baik, a fast-food chain that’s been around for nearly half a century in Arabia. The eatery “has a following across the Muslim world among Pilgrims who have visited its branch in Mecca,” which is Islam’s holiest city, says the newspaper. And it’s “grown to around 130 outlets in the Gulf, including two added in Dubai and Bahrain in the past year.” 

(By the way, there’s no truth to the rumor that with extra-large orders of the nuggets you can also receive a free sheik. And I’m sorry I started it. Sorrier still if you didn’t know that “sheik” can be pronounced either “shake” or “sheek.” And while we’re at it, that “either” itself can be pronounced to rhyme with “Hi, there” or “breather.” Please stop me.)

I attended the World’s Fair held in New York in 1965 when my family journeyed there for my eldest brother Jerry’s wedding. It was spectacular (the fair, not the wedding, though that was pretty cool, too).   

Disney revealed its “home of tomorrow” and Circarama motion picture innovation which made me feel as though I were touring the country by bus, even causing me to endure lifelike motion sickness. 

In truth, the malaise might have been caused by the other attraction with which I fell in love at that event: Belgian waffles piled high with whipped cream, fresh strawberries and enough powdered sugar to evoke the famous crop-dusting scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s “North By Northwest.” (I think this was the same year doctors discovered and coined the condition known as “adult-onset diabetes.”)

And while I also visited the Space Needle in Seattle in 1969 just after the city’s own World’s Fair had decamped and mainly to visit Stuart, my middle brother—I found the destination disappointing. Sure, Seattle is beyond beautiful. But could I buy a Belgian waffle piled high with whipped cream, fresh strawberries and powdered sugar? Nope. Plenty of salmon and raingear. But waffles? Zilch.

I should mention that the popularity of the Al Baik chicken nuggets were endorsed by no less than the no-nonsense, no-frills, no-longer-living Anthony Bourdain. He called the chicken “Saudi Arabia’s far superior alternative” to Kentucky Fried Chicken. I’m not sure that KFC sets the bar that high but I’m now curious about the Al Baik product. Maybe I’ll plan a trip to the World’s Fair before it closes at the end of March. I really want to ride on George Ferris’s famed Eponymous Wheel. 

Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).

Yes, Virginia

A Weekly Blog by Virginia Varela

President and CEO, Golden Pacific Bank

photo by Phoebe Verkouw


Michael Altshuler, the popular authority on valued-centered living and competitive edge selling, says, “The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.”

As we face 2022 with less certainty than we were hoping for, we also have to remember that 2020 and 2021 taught us a great deal about how to fly through the combined wind shears of a pandemic we thought had been downgraded to an endemic; an economy that was in constant flux; and political discourse as disruptive as the most turbulent air currents.

Yet we still managed to stay aloft—as a nation and more important, as a people. We demonstrated a renewed spirit of giving to worthy causes even as many of us navigated our way through the clouds of workplace changes—as in, Where is the workplace, Control Tower?

In short, we managed to adapt, changing our personal flight plans in mid-air if needed and facing the future with our figurative seats in the upright position.

I realize I’m belaboring the aviation metaphors here but I truly believe that we are on this flight together. We may have dissimilar routes in mind but we share the same destination: a smooth landing in that mysterious place they call the future.

President Abraham Lincoln said, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

Have you made any New Year’s resolutions? What do you want to create in (and for) your future—a more stable environment for your kids, grandkids and this planet on which we’re privileged to be tenants? Are you hoping to create a new business or make your current one improve its solvency? Are you excited or afraid of what’s around the corner?

This is no time to fear change. It’s everywhere—but what also remains, unaltered, is our need to connect with others, to create a future while savoring the joys of the moment.

So welcome aboard Flight 2022! Wherever you’re heading, we’re all on the same journey. I wish you, your loved ones, your employees and your friends a wonderful new year. The future starts as soon as you hop into the pilot’s seat.

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