Trying different fast food from around the world can be a hugely fun part of international travel. From the authentic dishes served up by street-food vendors to strange food mash-ups premiered by the big fast food chains, like McDonald’s or Pizza Hut, it can be an experience that feels both familiar and yet totally alien.
The ubiquitous Golden Arches have made their way into 122 different countries, which will come as no surprise to frequent travellers. But did you know that the big chains offer customised menu items to appeal to different palates? Whether it be a shrimp and avocado burrito or some very unusual pizza toppings, trying a version of your favourite fast food meal in a foreign country can be a voyage of discovery, regardless of what die-hard culture vultures might say.
Equally fun is exploring regional fast-food chains you may never have even heard of, such as Jollibee in the Philippines or Teremok in Russia.
We’ll admit, foreign fast food isn’t always for the faint-hearted. Some dishes might just cross the line for western palates — in fact, they race across it at a breakneck speed. That said, stepping outside your comfort zone is exactly what travel is all about. Here’s what you can look forward to trying (or not) in 20 countries from around the world.
20 20. Black Buns, Prawn Burritos And Pizza-Sized Burgers - Japan
Japan has always had a knack for taking Western ideas and turning them on their head. The fast food world in Japan is an absolute goldmine of weird and wonderful creations, from the ramen burger at Lotteria to the prawn burritos at Taco Bell.
Burger King has really upped its creative game in the country, releasing a burger the size of a nine-inch pizza, as well the striking Kuro burger, in which the buns and cheese are coloured black with bamboo charcoal.
If you want something more authentically Japanese, the country also has dozens of local fast food chains such as beef bowl titans Yoshinoya and Matsuya.
19 19. Georgie Pies At “Mickey D’s,” New Zealand
New Zealand’s McDonald's menu includes three types of savoury pie. One is the Mince 'N' Cheese, stuffed with ground beef and cheese, and it’s locally known as the Georgie Pie.
Georgie Pie used to be its own super popular New Zealand fast food joint before McDonald's bought them out in the mid-90s. Fans of the meat pie were clamouring for its return for years before McDonald’s relented in 2013 and reintroduced these pies to the menu. Other flavours of pie on the menu include buttered chicken, and plum and custard.
18 18. Taco Bell’s Baby Ruth Chocodilla in Guatemala
If you’re someone who likes strict separation between sweet and savoury, you probably might want to avoid the Taco Bell Chocodilla, if you happened to be in Guatemala. For some, it will be a classic case of dessert where it doesn’t belong. The dish is basically a tortilla with Babe Ruth candy and chocolate sauce inside, but that isn’t that crazy, right?
If you’re craving savoury, hit up the various fried chicken and empanada dishes at Pollo Campero, a chain popular across Central America.
17 17. KFC, But Not As You Know It - China
China is littered with fast, cheap food from street vendors but if you’re after a familiar name, seek out KFC. It was the first US fast food chain to launch in China, opening its first branch there in 1987. It quickly became a symbol of the country's rapidly reforming economy and newfound openness to the world, and it is by far the most popular fast food chain in China. But be warned, it's nothing like the US brand.
Expect shrimp sandwiches, matcha ice cream, soy sauce wings, and congee - a breakfast porridge made with meat and thousand-year-old egg. Don’t knock it until you try it.
16 16. Caviar On A Fast Food Menu? Only In Russia.
In Russia, you can find many familiar fast food chains like McDonald's, Burger King and Subway, but it’s much more interesting to test the local fast food restaurants offering typical local dishes.
Teremok is a popular fast food chain that specialises in cooked-to-order blini with classic local toppings like caviar or smoked salmon. Or if you fancy something a little more filling, visit a Kroshka Kartoshka stand, which offers several types of beer along with potatoes cooked in a variety of ways, often topped with butter, cheese, herbs, meat, mushrooms and more.
15 15. Fermented Pizza Dough And Coconut Shrimp - South Korea
Healthy pizza sounds like an oxymoron, but the Korean chain Pizza Maru has given it a good go. Its green tea wellbeing pizza dough is an apparently nutritious carb that involves dough being fermented for over 48 hours with chlorella, and it contains a variety of natural grains such as flaxseed and barley.
Some of the toppings, however, let the healthy side down a little. Take the Korean surf ’n’ turf, for example, which includes Korean-style beef and coconut shrimp nestled on top of greens, zesty ranch sauce, sour cream, and mozzarella.
14 14. Baby Camel Burgers In Saudi Arabia
From mani and kabsa to shawarmas, Saudi Arabia is in no short supply of delicious and fast street food. Yughmish, leavened bread filled with juicy meats, is a great quick snack if you’re on the go. If you fancy a restaurant, try Al Baik, a major local fast food chain that primarily sells broasted chicken and shrimp with a variety of sauces.
Camel meat is prized in the Middle East and it apparently tastes like a cross between beef and lamb. You won’t find a baby camel burger on offer in your average fast food joint, however. This is fancy fast food for a special occasion.
13 13. Super-Charged Hot Dogs With Potato Sprinkles, Argentina
The pancho is Argentina’s take on the hotdog. It’s not much more than a frankfurter in a bun, but you can sprinkle it with very thinly cut fried potatoes, called lluvia de papa (potato rain), to give it a little more texture. Add more toppings to your hotdog and it becomes a “super pancho.” There are several yummy sauces, the most popular being a mixture of mayonnaise, mustard and ketchup.
Similar to the pancho is the Choripán, affectionately called the “Chori,” which is the street food of choice for many Argentinians. Again, it involves a sausage, cooked on a grill and served between two pieces of crusty bread (there's a theme emerging) and seasoned with chimichurri sauce.
12 12. Sweet Buns And Cheesy Nuggets - Czech Republic
Buchty, sweet yeast dough buns, are full of energy, delicious and entirely a claim of the Czech. They eat them for breakfast, as a sweet snack during the day, and it’s the kind of thing you’d find, freshly baked, on a granny’s kitchen table. They’re sold in bakeries and coffee shops throughout the country, are usually filled with plum jam or farmers cheese, and go incredibly well with coffee.
If this all sounds a bit wholesome, head to Burger King and enjoy the regional chilli cheese nuggets.
11 11. Burgers With Beetroot And Crunchy Pizza, Australia
Australians have a special fondness for beetroot on burgers, which is why McDonald’s down under created the McOz - a beef patty, lettuce tomato, onion, two sauces and a big slice of beetroot. At least it’s a healthy addition to a fast-food staple, unlike this next item - Doritos Crunchy Crust Pizza.
This Pizza Hut creation features a mozzarella-stuffed crust covered with Doritos tortilla chips and cheddar cheese. It’s the stuff of dreams for late-night munchers, and quite possibly humanity's peak achievement.
10 10. Noodles On-The-Go, Malaysia
When it comes to fast food, Mee goreng mamak is the complete package. Yellow noodles, beef or chicken, shrimp, soy sauce, veggies and eggs. Plus a bit of chili tossed in for good measure.
Be it breakfast, lunch, tea, dinner, supper, or some insane hour of the night or early a.m., you will not be hard pressed to find a 24-hour Mamak restaurant ready to serve a freshly cooked plate of this fast food for the soul. Round your meal off with the popular Malay snack of goreng pisang, deep-fried banana fritters. Yum.
9 9. Samosa And Spicy Paneer - India
Indian streets are famous for their cheap and tasty food items, many of which are vegetarian. Samosas, for example, are the ideal grab-and-go, and Vada Pao, which is sold in Mumbai, is pretty much the Indian version of a burger. It consists of fried potato dumplings called vada served in a bun, with condiments such as red or green chutneys and fried green chillies.
Even the big food chains do a good vegetarian spread in India, like the BigSpicy Paneer Wrap at McDonald’s, which is paneer in a fiery, crunchy batter dressed with fresh veggies and seasonings, along with a creamy sauce.
8 8. Oreos Mashed Up With The World’s Smelliest Fruit - Thailand
Durian is the unwieldy yellow fruit that is so odorous it is banned from Thailand's railway system and from many hotels. It has a stench that just won’t shift. So it’s not the obvious fruit to pair with ice-cream and Oreos, but that hasn’t stopped Dairy Queen in Thailand. But if the Durian Oreo Blizzard still has too much of a pong about it, maybe try the Green Tea Oreo Blizzard instead.
Thailand’s street food staple, krapao gai grab (basil fried chicken) also gets the big-brand treatment, featuring on the country's McDonald's menu and served with rice.
7 7. Spam Sliders For Breakfast - Philippines.
Jollibee is more popular than McDonald's in the Philippines and, frankly, it makes its rival fast food menus look boring by comparison. It boasts an eclectic menu of burgers, spaghetti, steak, fried chicken, and, er, spam sliders for breakfast.
If you’re cutting down on carbs, why not head to KFC, where you’ll find the very meaty Double Down Dog, a hot dog covered in cheese and fitted into a bun-size piece of fried chicken. Who needs a soggy bun, anyway?
6 6. The Best Fries In The World Are…Allegedly…in Croatia!
Quite simply, the best fries in the world - this is the claim made by Croatian fast food chain Surf ’N’ Fries, which serves its fries in cute little open top surf vans. It’s the country’s most successful fast food chain, and it also serves up typical US dishes like wings, nuggets and burgers.
For western fast food with a twist, try the McDonald’s breakfast wrap made with pork, mushrooms, hash browns, grated cheese, and horseradish sauce. Or skip the western influence altogether and grab a burek, a traditional pie stuffed with various fillings such as cheese, meat and potato.
5 5. Classic Fish And Chips - UK
Ask someone to name a typical British food and they will likely suggest fish and chips. Despite the threat from pizza and burgers, fish and chips remain the nation’s favourite takeaway dish and you’ll find a ‘chippy’ (chip shop) in towns and cities up and down the UK.
Traditionally, they’re sprinkled with salt and vinegar, perhaps a dollop of ketchup, and maybe a side of mushy peas. Curry sauce has also gained popularity as an additional condiment. Purists declare this dish is best enjoyed swaddled in paper, eaten in the outdoors.
4 4. Cheesy Eggs And Banana - Honduras
Looking for a hearty breakfast when travelling in Honduras? Wendy's offers the Wencatracho, a breakfast platter that includes fried banana, rice, beans, and cheesy eggs with butter.
If you fancy something a little more authentic, grab a bite-to-eat that is served up fresh from street vendors. Offered to go, and wrapped in aluminium foil, are pastelitos (fried Honduran empanadas), which are filled with ground meat and vegetables and usually topped with cheese and salad. Or try a baleada, a flour tortilla covered in traditional Honduran refried red beans and cheese.
3 3. Wasabi Cheese and Seaweed Cheese Donuts — Singapore
Think you know Dunkin’ Donuts? Well the franchise in Singapore has a few surprises in store, like its wasabi cheese and seaweed flavoured donuts.
Or, if you’re really ravenous, head to Pizza Hut, where you’ll find the Double Decker Pizza. The bottom layer consists of a hand-tossed, stuffed-crust pizza, on top of which is a smaller tortilla-based pizza. The top layer is sprinkled with turkey, Edam cheese, tomatoes, courgette and tangy mango mayo, while the bottom pizza has chicken, pepperoni, and red and green bell peppers.
2 2. Even The Nuggets Are Classy In Italy
Italy boasts a proud culinary culture, but the country is not above enjoying its share of fast food, especially when it comes with a uniquely Italian twist. Take the spinach and parmesan nuggets in McDonald’s, for example. Or for those with a sweet tooth, try the Nutella burgers.
McDonald’s Italy is now serving Sweety con Nutella, which is basically your favourite hazelnut spread in between two pieces of bread. While it might not look incredibly appetising, the combination of chocolate and carbs has never sounded better.
1 1. Poutine - the Canadian Classic
Poutine is a French-Canadian classic that is served across Canada. In fact, it is arguably Canada’s national food – even McDonald’s serves it. Poutine is a hearty dish of fries, fresh cheese curds, and brown gravy. It's famous for its "day after" curative powers, and party-goers can be found digging into piping hot bowls of the stuff late at night in cities and towns throughout the country.
Once you’ve navigated the classic, explore the variations: many restaurants in Nova Scotia serve lobster poutine, and there are plenty of places in Québec that have entire poutine menus, where the toppings include everything from roast chicken, peas and stuffing to smoked beef brisket.