It's easy to think of "fast food" as a narrow category of restaurants. This is true not only within the United States, where it's to be expected, but abroad, where American fast food chains are the most popular options, by a large margin in many cases.
Did you know, for example, that Carl's Jr. operates in China, and Popeye's Louisiana Kitchen exists in the United Arab Emirates? On the other hand, many popular home-grown fast food chains exist around the world—here are some notable ones you should try on your next trip abroad.
Middle Eastern cuisine is probably not the first thing you think of when you imagine popular fast food restaurants in Brazil, but Habib's is nothing if not popular: It operates nearly 500 stores in the South American country.
Created by a Brazilian with no personal connection to the Middle East, the restaurant's popularity speaks to the appeal of Middle Eastern cuisine like sfiha (flatbread topped with ground meat) and kibbeh (croquettes filled with meat), in spite of how few Middle Eastern immigrants live in Brazil. Interestingly, Habib's also claims to have the fastest fast-food service in Brazil.
It might be surprising to learn that the largest fast food chain in the Philippines is not American, given the close historical relationship between the two countries. Yet Jollibee operates more than 2,000 stores around the Philippine archipelago, as opposed to around 500 for McDonald's. Popular Jollibee dishes include the Ultimate Burger Steak, Peach-Mango Pie and, of course, Jolly Spaghetti.
Jolibee has also expanded to several foreign countries, most notably the United States, Canada and Saudi Arabia, although it's unclear whether this is due simply to the Filipino diaspora or (deservedly) due to the awesomeness of Jollibee's food.
Mister Donut, Japan
It's easy to think of Mr. Donut as a Japanese company, particularly because it's officially headquartered there. This is also because even Mr. Donut stores elsewhere in Asia retain a style of branding and décor that is distinctively Japanese—think a woman wearing a donut skirt, or holding a clear umbrella to shield herself from donut rain.
In fact, Mr. Donut was founded in the United States in 1956, but left the country and headed for Japan, where it competes fiercely with Dunkin' Donuts—the menus of the two are very similar. Like Dunkin' Donuts, Mr. Donut also serves up delicious, award-winning coffee, so make sure and order one not only for comparison but to dunk your non-Dunkin donuts into!
Nando's, South Africa
Although Nando's serves up chicken that's done in a Portuguese style more culturally befitting of Mozambique, it's actually become a fixture in neighboring South Africa. To make matters slightly more confusing, Nando's is legally headquartered in London, but don't be confused—"Nando's" means South Africa, at least inside South Africa.
As far as the chicken itself is concerned, it's peri-peri style, while means that it's flame-grilled, juicy and delicious. Many other restaurants around the world serve Peri-Peri chicken that would be indiscernable if it fell onto your plate, but to South Africans, only Nando's matters.
Tim Hortons, Canada
Given the ubiquity of many American brands in Canada, it's difficult to imagine that any homegrown Canadian fast-food chain could have traction within the country, let alone outside of it. Yet Tim Hortons, which specializes in donuts and coffee but also serves a number of other tasty fast food items, has become so popular in its native Canada that it's actually begun expanding south of the border as well!
And it's not just in border states: Tim Hortons now operates stores in locations as distant as exotic as Florida and Hawaii, allowing you to get a taste of the Great White North in places where snow never falls.
Anthony Bourdain has famously declared Japan the world's best culinary travel destination, so why not include another Japanese fast food chain on this list? Ipuddo is more traditionally Japanese than Mister Donut anyway, servicing up dozens of varieties of delicious ramen, from classic chashu pork served in creamy pork bone broth, to innovative varieties such as tofu ramen with vegetable broth. Ipuddo operates in many countries, including the United States, but there's nothing quite like a good bowl of Ipuddo ramen in Tokyo or Osaka.
Din Tai Fung, Taiwan
Many travelers associate Din Tai Fung with Hong Kong, where the dim-sum outlet operates dozens of restaurants, but it's actually native to Taiwan, another place that's sort-of part of China, sort-of not. One interesting thing about Din Tai Fung, the delicious snack-sized steamed food you enjoy hear notwithstanding, is that while eating here is a decidedly fast experience, the restaurants actually offer sit-down service, which gives Din Tai Fung a bit classier of a feel than many other items on this list.
Americans tend to think of Europeans as being pretty healthy, but in addition to the fact that U.S. fast food chains are just as ubiquitous on the other side of the pond as they are in this one, it's important to recognize local fast food chains there as well.
One example is Nordsee, which is based in Germany but sells is fast (sea)food all over Europe and beyond, with more than 300 locations in operation in total. Popular menu items include fish and chips and baguettes served with smoked fish inside.
Hungry Jack's, Australia
Have you been to the Land Down Under? If so, you've almost certainly passed a Hungry Jack's outlet, and if you pay more than a bit of attention to detail you've probably noticed its logo looks very familiar. This is not a coincidence: Hungry Jack's is actually the same company as American fast food giant Burger King, who couldn't use that name when it expanded into Australia decades ago due to an existing local copyright holder.
Although there are some variations in the menu at Hungry Jack's as compared to Burger King, both culinary and linguistic ones, you can still enjoy a Whopper here, making this a safe bet for comfort food abroad, even though you're technically eating someplace local.
Goli Vada Pav, India
India is the world's second-largest country by population, so it makes sense that it would be home to at least some homegrown fast food operations. To be sure, while Mumbai-born Goli Vada Pav is still small compared to many foreign fast food outlets in India, which just 300 stores, it has nonetheless popularized Mumbai-style fast food throughout India, namely its namesake Vadapav, which is a spiced, fried potato patty served on a bun. Much of India is vegetarian, which is part of why the appeal of Goli Vada Pav has been so widespread