Fast food may conjure up those ubiquitous Golden Arches, but the concept has come a long way from frozen burgers and soggy fries.The best fast-food chains around the world are getting serious about quality, offering up bowls of slow-simmered pork ramen, freshly baked baguette sandwiches, and sustainably caught fish for the masses.
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For travellers looking to eat like the locals, fast-food chains represent a convenient, often inexpensive taste of how everyday residents in far-flung cities like to eat. Some menus are more traditional than others: Teremok in Russia serves cooked-to-order blini with classic Russian toppings like caviar or smoked salmon; while Goli Vada Pav No. 1 in India adds modern twists like cheddar cheese to vada pav, the fried potato patty sandwich that’s an Indian street food staple.
Many chains have long-standing histories in their home country: “We’ve been around since 1951, so it’s like we’re a part of the fabric of the province,” says Josée Vaillancourt of the Canadian rotisserie chicken chain St. Hubert. “If people want to live the Quebec way, they have to try our chicken.” German seafood chain Nordsee began as a commercial fishing enterprise way back in 1896 and now sells a rotating selection of sustainable seafood. Head of Communications Michael Scheibe says a visit to the chain allows travellers to share both history and “the German love for seasonal products.”
Keep in mind that etiquette may be different than what you’re used to at American homegrown fast-food chains. At Nordsee, for example, it’s common for strangers to ask to share a table, while Saudi Arabian fried chicken chain Al Baik provides separate seating areas for women with families and single men. Some of the chains are less “fast food” and more “date-night” in atmosphere; sit-down Italian franchise Rossopomodoro, for example, features wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas and local wines.
Granted, fast-food chains aren’t exactly hidden gems. A steak at Brazilian chain Giraffas will probably not replicate the experience of an authentic churrascaria; a bowl of ramen at Ippudo may not match the thrill of discovering an underground noodle shop in Tokyo. But they have their own quirky appeal and dish out a quick fix of local culture and cuisine. So forget Mickey D’s and seek out the following fast-food chains instead.
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Fast food gets a Filipino twist at this quick-serve chain, which is so beloved that its mascots star in their own children's television show. There are more than 700 locations across the country, serving everything from fried chicken and hamburgers to local favourites like palabok, rice noodles with meat sauce, shrimp, and hard-boiled egg.
What to Order: Spicy Chickenjoy, fried chicken coated with chilli powder.jollibee.com.ph
Chicken, basted in one of four consecutively spicier piri-piri chilli sauces and flame-grilled to order, is the star at this casual sit-down Portuguese-Mozambique chain. Cheeky advertisements and a welcoming, woodsy aesthetic have propelled Nando's into 30 countries worldwide.
What to Order: 1/2 grilled chicken with hot piri-piri sauce and French fries.nandos.co.za
It's all about ramen at this stylish chain, which features an open kitchen and bar and table-style seating. Most bowls start with the chain's signature slow-simmered pork bone broth and thin, chewy noodles. Toppings range from the traditional (roasted pork) to the more inventive (a Spanish-inspired bouillon cube).
What to Order: Akamaru Ramen with miso paste and roasted garlic oil. ippudo.com
With both quick-serve and slightly more upscale sit-down operations, family-friendly St. Hubert is known for its rotisserie chicken doused with a tangy brown sauce--so habit-forming that it's sold by the jar in Canadian grocery stores.
What to Order: Quarter chicken leg with bun, coleslaw, and French fries. st-hubert.com
As the name implies, chocolate is the focus at this bohemian-chic dessert chain, and the menu has a Spanish accent. Freshly fried churros and spice-laced hot chocolates are on offer alongside organic, fair-trade coffee and milkshakes.
What to Order: Churros with an individual pot of melted couverture chocolate.sanchurro.com
The combinations are nearly endless at this Caribbean sandwich spot. Most sandwiches start with a base of mayo, margarine, cabbage, and tomato, then get piled high with juicy fillings and griddled on both sides.
What to Order: The Midnight sandwich: roasted pork, Virginia ham, pickles, mayo, and margarine on sweet, eggy bread. elmesonsandwiches.com
Yes, there will be a line at this well-known dim sum destination, whose dumplings are so popular the chain has spread across 10 countries. But you'll be glad you waited, and once you're inside, you can take your time in the comfortable, if crowded, dining room.
What to Order: Xiao long bao, steamed soup-filled pork dumplings with a thin, delicate skin. dintaifung.com.tw
The Brazilian steakhouse concept goes casual at this meat-centric chain that turns out both burgers and grilled steaks with that national staple, a side of rice and beans.
What to Order: Flame-grilled picanha (top sirloin), a juicy and tender cut that's one of Brazil's most beloved steaks.giraffas.com
Chefette whips up inexpensive Bajan favourites like roti wraps and fried chicken in a casual fast-food setting. An extra perk: some of the 14 locations on this Caribbean island feature outdoor play areas for kids.
What to Order: Chicken and potato curry roti roll. chefette.com
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