8 Foreign Fast-Food Chains You Need to Know
Ever wonder what qualifies as "fast food" in other countries? From salmon-roe pancakes in Russia to rib burgers in South Africa, you might be surprised by the answers. Here are eight chains you shouldn't miss.
Signature Dish: Blini filled with red caviar or salmon roe (240 rubles, or about $8.30)
Founded in 1998, Teremok has spread to 111 restaurants and 80 street kiosks in Moscow and St. Petersburg. While soups, porridges, and salads all appear on the menu, it's really all about the blinis. These thin, triangular-shaped, wheat pancakes are wrapped around various fillings (sweet or savory) and are baked to order at the counter in front of your eyes. In the U.S., we're not used to thinking of this tasty dish as a fast-food item, but in Russia it's available all day and evening. Down it with some kvass, a low-alcohol drink made from rye flour with malt, or else some Hmel'noy Med (a half litre of honey beer).
SAUDI ARABIA: Albaik
Signature Dish: The four-piece chicken meal (mild or spicy) with garlic sauce, French fries, and bread (12 riyal, or about $3.25)
Albaik was founded in 1974 in the Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah and quickly became one of the most beloved fast-food chains in the Middle East. (You might have spotted the business-class travelers on Emirates and Qatar Airways toting containers of Albaik along with their duty-free shopping.) Its claim to fame is its breaded chicken, which is pressure fried to keep the meat juicy. The enterprise has 46 permanent locations, which might sound like small potatoes, but when you consider how sparsely populated the Kingdom is, that's a huge accomplishment. The chain is so popular that the company operates a pop-up restaurant once a year in Mina (Makkah), which caters to hundreds of thousands of prayerful Muslims a day while they attend Hajj, a five-day religious pilgrimage that usually takes place in the fall. One passing observation: Only men are allowed to work behind the counters, in deference to local custom.
SINGAPORE : Toast Box
Signature Dish: "Crispy grilled" kaya (coconut jam) toast with slices of butter, a soft-boiled egg, and a mug of kopi (coffee) (Singapore $2.50, or about $2 U.S.)
Founded in Singapore in 2005, breakfast-and-lunch purveyor Toast Box now has more than 30 locations in the city-state and 12 elsewhere in South Asia and the Pacific, including Hong Kong, Malaysia, and the Philippines. But the dish it specializes in has been served locally by roadside kopitams (or coffee stands) since the 1920s. Toast Box brandishes one major weapon in the toast-and-spread war against longstanding roadside rivals: It has its employees dress in blue-and-white striped caps and aprons—a direct appeal to Singaporeans' delight in snappy uniforms. Yet Toast Box wisely retains the familiar touches of a traditional kopitam, such as Formica tabletops and natural wood decor.
SOUTH AFRICA: Steers
Signature Dish: Rib burger and chips (32.95 rand, or about $4.50)
When McDonald's came to South Africa in 1995, locals laughed at its Big Mac; those three ounces of meat looked pretty puny next to the offering from local chain Steers: the Big Steer burger, which packs seven ounces of beef. In red-blooded, meat-loving South Africa, offering burgers of that magnitude is a sure way to gain fans. Steers has since maintained dominance as the national brand of choice, with 483 locations in South Africa today. Reminiscent of the Denny's chain in the U.S., Steers provides quick service and comfort food in a sit-down setting, though its restaurants also have to-go and drive-through menus. Burgers are the main item on offer, but pork riblets are a close second, served on a bun, as a rack, or as cut pieces.
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