One of America's most influential — and sometimes controversial — exports is fast food. From the earliest chains, like White Castle, to healthy newfangled concepts like Freshii, there’s a seemingly infinite number of options for a quick, inexpensive lunch or dinner from a chain restaurant. But once you look outside of our borders, you’ll soon realize that there’s a whole world of fast food out there, and some international fast food and fast-casual chains are so good that we wish they’d come over to the U.S.
Just like the U.S. is saturated with major chains like McDonald’s, Burger King, and KFC (all of which have established presences outside of the country as well), many countries are home to fast food chains that have become household names in their native land but are completely unknown stateside. While some of these chains, like the U.K.’s Pret a Manger, the Philippines’ Jollibee, Canada’s Tim Hortons, and South Africa’s Nando’s have managed to make inroads in the United States, some of the world’s most beloved (and legitimately delicious) fast food chains have no current plans to expand into the crowded and competitive American market.
It’s generally considered a faux pas to eat at a fast food restaurant when traveling abroad, but there’s a big difference between stopping at, say, a McDonald’s versus at a famed fish and chips chain while in England. It’s a shame that these restaurants haven’t yet opened any locations in America, but until they do, they’re definitely worth seeking out the next time you’re overseas.
Since being founded in Dublin in 1982, Abrakebabra has expanded to 31 locations in Ireland and one in Northern Ireland. As the name implies (if you can decipher it), the specialty of the house is kebabs — meat, vegetables, and sauce all wrapped up in a pita or flatbread. Kebab varieties include original doner (lamb), chicken shawarma, falafel, pulled pork, and fried chicken and remain top sellers, but additional offerings include burgers, baguette sandwiches, more than 10 varieties of loaded fries, and sides including wings and onion rings.
Chefette has 14 locations in Barbados plus an outpost in the Grantley Adams International Airport, and travelers are so eager to take their food out of the country that the website actually includes instructions for how to do so. The chain is famous for its roti, made with curried vegetables and meat and wrapped in wheat flour wrap. Try the chicken and potato roti or the beef and potato roti. The menu also includes pizza, fried chicken, hamburgers, chicken sandwiches, veggie burgers, and salads.
With $700 in his pocket, Ashton Leblond opened Chez Ashton, a snack bar, in Québec in 1969. Three years later, to differentiate his snack bar from competitors, he added poutine to the menu. Though the 24 restaurants sell roast beef sandwiches, hamburgers, and hot dogs, Chez Ashton’s poutine (a hearty serving of golden french fries topped with brown gravy and fresh cheese curds) is what has made Chez Ashton famous, and we wish it was as ubiquitous stateside as it is in the Great White North!
China’s answer to KFC is Dicos, a fast-food chain serving up buckets of fried chicken, fried chicken sandwiches, and wraps. Recent specialties include the chicken cheese sandwich (chicken tenders sandwiched between two pieces of white toast), a potato cake egg burger, and a smoky chicken pineapple wrap. Wash down this golden fried deliciousness with hot soybean milk.
Going strong in the U.K. and Ireland since it was founded in 1928 in West Yorkshire, Harry Ramsden’s is today the British standard-bearer for great fast-food fish and chips. The recipe has changed little since Ramsden opened the first shop, with cod, haddock, and plaice being fried to a light, golden crisp and served alongside perfectly fried British chips, mushy peas, and all the standard fixins. Long John Silver’s ain’t got nothing on this perfect fish and chips chain.
With locations in Australia, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, and Thailand, Japanese burger chain MOS Burger is a common sight in Asia. MOS Burger first opened in Tokyo in 1972 and has since become the first food service company to open in all of Japan’s 47 prefectures. Unlike other chains, MOS burger employees don’t prepare the burgers, fries, and other offerings until after an order is placed, making the wait time at MOS Burger a bit longer than other fast-food chains. Worth the extra wait are the teriyaki burger, teriyaki chicken burger, MOS rice burger, and Hokkaido pumpkin croquette.
Though most Americans think of burgers when they think of fast food, 121-year-old Nordsee goes in a different direction with a menu full of fish. From pollock to salmon to codfish to plaice, they have it all. You can choose how you like your fish done, either baked, grilled, steamed, or fried (some are also offered raw or smoked). Nordsee attempts to use fish from well-managed waters for healthy, sustainable food. With more than 400 locations across Europe, it is the largest seafood chain on the continent.
This Peruvian chain from renowned chef Gastón Acurio specializes in sanguches (sandwiches). With restaurants only in Peru, Pasquale’s sandwich selection includes chicharrón (pork cracklings), lechón (suckling pig), turkey, grilled chicken, and sausage. Pair your meal with natural fruit juices like pineapple and papaya. Perfecto.
The family-run restaurant was first opened on Frederick Street in Port of Spain in 1968 and was Trinidad and Tobago’s first fast-food restaurant. Today there are 27 Royal Castle restaurants and nine franchised restaurants, nearly all in Trinidad and Tobago, along with five in Guyana. The chicken and its secret spices are locally sourced, and the recipe is a closely guarded secret. The menu includes fried chicken, rotisserie chicken, a flying fish sandwich, a veggie burger with pineapple slice, and salads.
An entire fast food chain based around the baked potato? A brilliant idea, if you ask us. London-based Spudulike, which was founded in 1974, today has locations throughout England and Scotland, and they’re topping potatoes with everything from egg salad to chicken tikka, prawn cocktail, and grated cheese and Branston Pickle. You can also get your potato crushed and topped with things like Greek salad, chicken Caesar salad, and prosciutto and parmesan.
Founded by schoolteacher Pat McDonagh in Galway in 1978, Supermac’s has more than 100 locations in Ireland and Northern Ireland. The company claims to have pioneered curry chips and the snack box craze in Ireland. Supermac’s menu has burgers, chicken sandwiches, cod and chips, and eight different varieties of french fries, including coleslaw, taco, curry, and cheese fries.
A café chain with a menu centered around toast? Sign us up. At Toast Box, which has been in business since 2005 and today has more than 70 locations in Singapore, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia and Taiwan, you can get thick-sliced toast topped with everything from kaya (coconut jam) and peanut butter to ham and egg, milk, and garlic. Its coffee is also renowned, and other traditional offerings include curry chicken with rice, laksa, and mee siam.
Waiter Friedrich Jahn founded Wienerwald, a roast chicken restaurant that, when it first opened in Munich in 1955, only served chicken noodle soup. Wienerwald soon made roast chicken — once reserved for special celebrations only — an inexpensive option for Germans who eagerly stopped by the restaurant for the homemade spit-roast chicken. Today, the options have expanded to grilled, barbecue, red pepper, garlic, and herb chicken. For those who can’t decide, try the Chicken Box Special, which includes the classic roast chicken, garlic chicken, barbecue, and red pepper varieties. Sides include french fries, potato salad, and coleslaw. Save room for the Viennese apple strudel and Viennese Kaiserschmarrn (a thick pancake fried in fresh butter, complemented with sweet raisins, and dusted with icing sugar).
Americans sadly don’t have much experience with the traditional English pasty, turnovers filled with a wide variety of meats, vegetables, and sauces. But with locations all over the United Kingdom, the West Cornwall Pasty Co. would be a great way to bring this traditional Cornish handpie across the pond. Pasties on offer here include cheese and onion, steak and Stilton, chicken and chorizo, panang chicken Thai curry, cheese and bacon, and plenty of vegetarian and even gluten-free options. Other offerings include breakfast sandwiches, a huge variety of teas and coffees, baked goods, and that other handheld British snack, sausage rolls. Pasties are just one of many traditional British foods worth traveling to the U.K. for.
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