One of America's most influential — and sometimes controversial — exports is fast food. From the earliest chains like White Castle, to healthy, newfangled fast casual concepts like The Little Beet, there’s a seemingly infinite number of options for a quick, inexpensive meal from a chain restaurant. But once you look outside U.S. borders, you’ll soon realize there’s a whole world of fast food out there.
Just like how the U.S. is saturated with major fast-food chains (as well as some smaller regional ones that we wish were nationwide), many countries are home to fast-food eateries that have become household names in their native land but are unknown stateside. While some, like the U.K.’s Pret a Manger, 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 fast-food chains haven’t made their way over yet but are worth seeking out the next time you leave the country.
Dublin-based Abrakebabra has 31 locations in Ireland and one in Northern Ireland. As the name implies , 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, but additional offerings include burgers, baguette sandwiches, more than 10 varieties of loaded fries and sides including wings and onion rings.
Family-owned Chefette is Barbados’ largest fast-food chain, with 15 locations on the island. The chain is famous for its roti, made with curried vegetables and meat and wrapped in a 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.
Diane D./ Yelp
Ashton Leblond opened Chez Ashton, a snack van selling burgers, hot dogs and fries, in Quebec in 1969 at just 21 years old. Three years later, to differentiate his snack bar from competitors, he added poutine to the menu. Though the 24 restaurants also 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 (you can also add ground meat, sausage or chicken and peas) — is the star of the menu.
In business since 1976 and with more than 50 locations in Australia today (primarily in and around Perth), Chicken Treat rose to popularity thanks to its … chicken, which is available fried or rotisserie-roasted. The fried chicken gets a special Southern (Australia, that is) seasoning before hitting the fryer, and the juicy chicken gets a special herb rub as well. Order it Hawaiian-style and it’ll be served with a pineapple fritter and tempura-battered banana. Be sure to also get some garlic bread on the side.
Vada pav is a beloved Indian street food made by mashing a potato along with seasonings including garlic, turmeric, mustard seed and green chile before coating it in a chickpea-based flour, deep-frying it and tucking it into a bun. Founded in 2004 in the Mumbai suburbs and today with more than 350 locations in 90 Indian cities, Goli is a go-to for this classic snack. Along with the vada pav (available topped with a variety of sauces), the menu also includes specialties like the fried paneer (fresh cheese) sandwich, a fried cheese and corn fritter and a thick vegetable curry called pav bhaji.
Bridget W./ Yelp
Going strong in the U.K. and Ireland since it was founded in 1928 as a wooden hut next to a tram stop, Harry Ramsden’s now has 34 locations and is 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 fried to a light, golden crisp and served alongside perfectly fried British chips, mushy peas and all the standard fixin’s.
If you’re from Canada, you know Harvey’s. This burger chain, which has been in business since 1959, cooks its 100% Canadian beef burgers (the chicken, potatoes and bacon are also 100% Canadian) on a 600-degree grill and serves them with your choice of all the classic toppings. Other offerings include chicken sandwiches and salads, onion rings, deep fried pickles, donuts and, of course, poutine in four varieties.
With locations in Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, Indonesia, China, Korea and Australia, 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 (served on a rice bun) and Hokkaido pumpkin croquette.
Though most Americans think of burgers when they think of fast food, 123-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 also choose your fish from a “buffet” and select how you like it cooked, and many locations also offer sushi. Nordsee sources its product through sustainable fisheries, and 82% of its catch is wild. With more than 400 locations, it is the largest quick-service seafood chain on the continent.
Beloved since 1956, Old Chang Kee is a ubiquitous presence in Singapore, where it serves a wide variety of Singaporean fast-food staples like gyoza, curry puffs, hand pies, fish balls, fried chicken wings, cheesy chicken sausage and desserts. The breakfast menu features a variety of more than 20 different traditional breakfast offerings.
This family-run restaurant was first opened on Frederick Street in Port of Spain in 1968, and today there are 37 Royal Castle locations, nearly all in Trinidad and Tobago. The chicken, spices, sauces, marinades and salads 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, and salads.
An entire fast-food chain based around the baked potato? London-based Spudulike, which was founded in 1974, actually closed all 37 of its locations earlier this year but was reborn under new ownership shortly thereafter, and today has eight locations throughout England and Scotland. Just as before, they’re topping “jacket potatoes” with everything from beans and cheese to coronation chicken, chicken tikka, prawn cocktail and chili con carne. It’s all very British.
Founded by schoolteacher Pat McDonagh in Galway in 1978, Supermac’s has more than 100 locations in Ireland and Northern Ireland, making it Ireland’s largest homegrown fast-food chain. Supermac’s menu includes burgers, fries, chicken sandwiches and cod and chips, as well as the very-Irish curry cheese fries, full Irish breakfast, and a bucket filled with 100 cocktail sausages.
Hainanese chicken rice is one of the most beloved Southeast Asian dishes, and it’s begun to make headway in the U.S. as well via restaurants like Portland’s Nong’s Khao Man Gai. But America’s got nothing on The Chicken Rice Shop, which has more than 100 locations in Malaysia and surrounding areas. Along with the classic chicken rice, which is steamed and served alongside rice and cucumber, the chain also offers traditional specialties including Penang-style fried chicken rolls, crispy whole prawn wontons, soy sauce chicken, Hainanese curry chicken, homestyle chicken tofu and curry laksa.
Missy W./ Yelp
Yup, it’s a cafe chain with a menu centered around toast. At Toast Box, which has been in business since 2005 and today has more than 70 locations in Singapore, you can get thick-sliced toast topped with everything from kaya (coconut jam flavored with pandan leaves and honey) and peanut butter to ham, egg and cheese. Its coffee is also renowned, and other traditional offerings include curry chicken with rice, laksa and mee siam (noodles, prawns and egg in a spicy gravy).
Waiter Friedrich Jahn founded Wienerwald, a roast chicken-focused restaurant that served only chicken noodle soup when it first opened in Munich in 1955. Wienerwald soon made roast chicken — once reserved for special celebrations — an inexpensive option for Germans. Today, the options have expanded to grilled, barbecue, red pepper, garlic, and herb chicken, all spit-roasted and crispy-skinned. For those who can’t decide, try the Chicken Box Special, which includes the classic roast chicken, garlic chicken, barbecue and red pepper varieties. Other offerings include Viennese-style fried chicken, a chicken burger, turkey schnitzel and Styrian-style fried chicken salad. Save room for the Viennese apple strudel and Viennese Kaiserschmarrn (a thick pancake fried in butter and topped with raisins).
Americans 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 England, the 21-year-old West Cornwall Pasty Co. could be a great way to bring this traditional Cornish hand pie across the pond. Pasties offered 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, an iconic street food that every world traveler should try.
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