Fast-Food Nations

Six regional chains that are learning to compete with U.S. fast-food giants.

The global fast-food industry is still largely dominated by U.S. chains like McDonald's and KFC, with only a handful of non-American brands -- such as South Africa's Nando's and Japan's Yoshinoya -- enjoying success outside their home countries. But while Western markets have seen modest gains in fast food during the tough economic times, developing markets like the BRICS countries are booming with double-digit growth. And that's not all that is bursting at the seams. According to Bloomberg's Waistline Index, the average weight of men in Mexico, for example, has gone up more than 15 pounds since the first U.S. fast-food joint opened there in 1985. But Big Macs are not entirely to blame. Regional fast-food chains are learning to compete with the U.S. giants and even expanding across borders themselves. Here are six regional heavyweights that may soon be delighting the palates and expanding the waistlines of customers around the world.

JOLLIBEE | Philippines

This Filipino favorite boasts more than 750 locations across the country. But with waves of emigrants leaving the island archipelago, the growing chain is also giving the Filipino diaspora a taste of home with outlets in places including the United States, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Brunei.

The global fast-food industry is still largely dominated by U.S. chains like McDonald’s and KFC, with only a handful of non-American brands — such as South Africa’s Nando’s and Japan’s Yoshinoya — enjoying success outside their home countries. But while Western markets have seen modest gains in fast food during the tough economic times, developing markets like the BRICS countries are booming with double-digit growth. And that’s not all that is bursting at the seams. According to Bloomberg’s Waistline Index, the average weight of men in Mexico, for example, has gone up more than 15 pounds since the first U.S. fast-food joint opened there in 1985. But Big Macs are not entirely to blame. Regional fast-food chains are learning to compete with the U.S. giants and even expanding across borders themselves. Here are six regional heavyweights that may soon be delighting the palates and expanding the waistlines of customers around the world.

JOLLIBEE | Philippines

This Filipino favorite boasts more than 750 locations across the country. But with waves of emigrants leaving the island archipelago, the growing chain is also giving the Filipino diaspora a taste of home with outlets in places including the United States, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Brunei.

Local favorite: the “Crispy Bangus,” known as milkfish in English, served with rice.

MO’MEN | Egypt

Founded as a single sandwich shop in Heliopolis by three brothers in 1988, Mo’men is now a multimillion-dollar corporation with some 40 branches in Egypt and locations in Bahrain, Libya, Malaysia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and the United Arab Emirates. Now the brothers plan more branches and expansion of their other restaurants, including Planet Africa.

Local favorite: the “Alex Liver,” a sub with spicy liver, green peppers, and a sesame paste salad.

TANTALIZERS | Nigeria

What started in 1997 as a single hamburger restaurant in Lagos is now Nigeria’s leading fast-food chain, with more than 50 locations across Nigeria and a listing on the country’s stock exchange. You can’t yet pop into a Tantalizers outside Nigeria, but the brand has been getting global attention, having received a $7 million loan from the World Bank’s International Finance Corp. in 2010.

Local favorite: moin-moin, a traditional savory bean pudding.

NIRULA’S | India

This venerable chain is actually older than India itself, having first served New Delhi in 1934. Today, the self-described “desilicious” (“desi,” derived from the Sanskrit word for “country,” is a term for South Asians) franchise has more than 85 outlets throughout India. In addition to its core brand, Nirula’s also operates a number of hotels, ice cream parlors, family-style sit-down restaurants and — why not? — a cheese plant.

Local favorite: the “Teekha Paneer Tikka” footlong.

ES TELER 77 | Indonesia

Murniati Widjaja began her empire serving es teler — a popular jackfruit, avocado, and coconut cocktail of sorts — from a tiny stall outside a Jakarta shopping center in 1981. Six years later, it launched as Indonesia’s first franchised fast-food chain and has since spun off a fine dining business. Today, it operates some 180 locations throughout Indonesia and branches in Malaysia, Singapore, and Australia.

Local favorite: ayam penyet, a local version of fried chicken.

AL TAZAJ | Saudi Arabia

With more than 100 branches, Al Tazaj claims to be the leading locally based fast-food chain in the Middle East. Poultry farmer Abdulrahman Fakieh started the first Al Tazaj restaurant in Mecca in 1989, serving a traditional Arabian roast chicken dish based on one of his wife’s recipes. Today, the chain operates throughout the kingdom and the Persian Gulf countries, as well as Jordan and Kuwait.

Local favorite: the barbecue chicken combo meal, though the kabsa and mandi (both versions of rice pilaf) are popular too.

Ermelo Villareal Jr.; Momen.co.; Tantalizersnig.com; Jacob Abrams via Flickr; Greedy Gourmets via Flickr; Al Tazaj via YouTube.

Joshua E. Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy.

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