Some travellers say eating fast food overseas as unacceptable.
The idea of forgoing local cuisine for something that’s available back home might be unappealing – profane, even – but there are plenty of arguments in favour of eating fast food overseas (and not just because Hungry Jack’s is called Burger King everywhere except in Australia).
#1 Fast Food Has Immense Global Influence
It’s important to acknowledge the global influence of fast food. Fast food restaurants are relatable for almost everyone and as such they are impossible to ignore, wherever you go. The Golden Arches, for example, is one of the most recognisable logos in the world – known by anyone, anywhere.
The Big Mac Index is a globally accepted measure of economies, showing whether a currency was under- or over-valued depending on how much a Big Mac costs in that nation. The very fact that this index exists not only underlines the vast availability of McDonald’s around the world, but also its importance in establishing comparable economic data.
Despite having their roots in the Western world, most fast food places have different menus in different countries. This is to cater to national dietary needs (for example, McDonald’s is halal in many nations throughout the Middle East and Asia).
However, it also demonstrates how creative fast food can be when it lands in other nations: in India, for example, because of the high number of vegetarian people, some McDonald’s stores have entirely vegetarian menus, KFC offers a variety of desserts including egg tarts in Singapore and patbingsu, a shaved ice dessert, in Korea. Being able to experience something that is at once so familiar, yet so diverse, is a cultural experience in itself.
In Japan, 7-Elevens have even reimagined the convenience store, arguably improving on the American version. Konbini (which translates to “convenience store” but does not do them justice) are everywhere in Japan, each offering an endless bounty of food, drinks, snacks and miscellaneous items. Needless to say, they go way beyond overpriced, stale sandwiches and occasionally free Slurpees Australians.
Fast food associations differ between nations. For some, in Australia, fast food might be “unhealthy” or “uncultured”, but it can be very significant overseas. In Japan, KFC is eaten on Christmas as a treat for the family. Customers order their Christmas packages months in advance to avoid waiting in line for hours.
#2 It’s Not A One-Way Street
Traditionally, the biggest fast food chains have come from the US, but that’s certainly not all that’s available in the fast food department. Plenty of chains from all over the world have made it big internationally. Ajisen Ramen and Mos Burger, both from Japan, as well as Pappa Rich from Malaysia, have all set up shop in Australia.
Also, let’s not forget that Nando’s originated in South Africa, while Singapore’s Toast Box is huge in South East Asia and Sweden’s original burger joint Max is more successful than McDonald’s and Burger King in Scandinavia. UK-born Pret A Manger is on every other street in London, and has popped up in the US as well as countries in the Middle East and Asia.
It’s worth it to sample some of these in their lands of origin so you can compare them to the Australian version.
#3 It’s Cheap As Chips
Let’s face it: in most places, fast food is cheap. If your travel money card is running a little low, these places will fill you enough so you can keep exploring. You can also duck in for a quick meal if you’re on the go – it’s called “fast” food for a reason.
Plus, they’re everywhere, so there’s little chance of you being stranded without them, and it’s a good way to get rid of extra coins at the end of your trip.
#4 There’s No Food Like Comfort Food
There’s something comforting about going to places like McDonald’s or KFC overseas – they’re just plain familiar. Most fast food places probably offer bathrooms that you’re used to and a reasonable degree of quality control if you have an upset stomach.
They also have free Wi-Fi, meaning you can catch up on the goings-on back home while you nosh on a sweet, comforting burger.
Most importantly, fast food restaurants are reliable. Obviously, one main reason we travel is the opportunity to sample local cuisine of a new metropolis, but constantly eating foods you’re unfamiliar with can take a toll on your tastebuds, especially when you’re travelling for long periods of time. Generally, you can treat fast food abroad as you do at home: it’s unreasonable (and unhealthy) to eat it all of the time, but there’s no shame in breathing a sigh of relief if you see the Golden Arches or the Colonel’s smiling face.
(Lead image: Jezael Melgoza)