This isn’t about street food or local delicacies. This is all about the food we love to hate but many of us secretly love – actual fast food: McDonald’s, Burger King (or Hungry Jacks for the Australians), KFC etc. Sometimes when we’re travelling, especially for a long time, we just want that comforting feeling of a meal we know too well, a Big Mac with fries and a coke, or a Zinger burger with a side of potato and gravy. We usually feel guilty when we’ve done it too, and often ashamed to tell people as you’ll be scared that they respond contemptuously, “you went all the way to (insert exotic location here) and you went to Burger King?”
The fact is, a large proportion, I would even argue a majority, love to get their hands on the fast food chains that we know the world around. A small proportion even go seeking them out to see what regional variations exist, for example the McArabia in the Middle East or Maharajah Mac in India. Personal favourites are the McTerriyaki Pork in Japan or the McKroket in the Netherlands.
Unfortunately (or fortunately) the golden arches have only made it to Kazakhstan so far, where the first store was opened in 2016 in the then named Astana (now Nur-Sultan). With over 36,000 restaurants worldwide, it took a while for McDonald’s to enter the Central Asian market. When they did, there were rumours flying around that they would sell a McHorse, as a tribute to the national dishes of Kazakhstan which involve horsemeat. Alas the McHorse never came into existence, however McDonald’s in Kazakhstan does sell is burger called the Qazan, as well as the chicken equivalent called the Chicken Qazan. The Qazan (or Kazan) kebab is a traditional style of kebab, and the burger is meant to replicate the taste while being presented on a turmeric flavoured bun instead of the normal burger buns used.
A little-known fact about KFC is that it is actually in more countries than McDonald’s. KFC operates in roughly 150 countries and territories worldwide. In Central Asia you’ll find 66 stores in Kazakhstan, which first opened in 2008, 3 stores in Kyrgyzstan, 5 stores in Uzbekistan and 1 store in Tajikistan. The Uzbekistan and Tajikistan KFCs opened in 2018 and 2021 respectively.
For a brief period of time, KFC in Kazakhstan sold a fried chicken burger which had slices of Kazy, a type of horse meat sausage, on it, but unfortunately they now only stick with the more traditional KFC fare.
Burger King is currently only in Kazakhstan, where it has been operating since 2012 and now has 49 restaurants across the country.
Burger King has announced however, that it is planning on opening its first store in Tashkent, Uzbekistan late in 2022, making it the second country in Central Asia to be able to enjoy the Whopper.
Wendy’s is apparently the world’s third largest hamburger chain which seemed quite odd as it wasn’t really a brand I was familiar with until they expanded to Central Asia. Apparently immensely popular in the USA, it never really appeared in TV and Movies or became a cultural icon in the same way that McDonald’s, Burger King or KFC ever did.
Despite this, Wendy’s sells their much moister and uniquely shaped burgers in both Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. In a strange turn of events, Wendy’s actually opened their first restaurant in Uzbekistan, before expanding to Kazakhstan.
Pizza Hut holds a special place in the hearts of all those who remember the fall of the Soviet Union and thus the independence of the former Soviet Republics, which include the 5 Central Asian ‘Stans. The last leader of the Soviet Union, Mikheil Gorbachev famously allowed the disintegration of the USSR just so he could appear in an advert for Pizza Hut (the historical accuracy of this statement might not be entirely correct).
Pizza Hut is owned by the same company as KFC, so you’ll often find them together. You’ll find Pizza Huts in Kazakhstan only at the moment.
Nathan’s Famous Hotdogs
This is an odd one and no one has been able to explain why they chose Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan to open a restaurant. One of the more obscure American fast food chains, Nathan’s Famous Hotdogs are well known for their sponsorship of the much more famous hot dog eating championship which happens every year in the USA on the 4 th of July.
Nathan’s don’t just do Hotdogs, but also burgers and loaded fries, and are now also located in Kazakhstan.
Another unusual entry on the list, Hardee’s operates stores in Kazakhstan and is considered a more upmarket fast food restaurant complete with an element of table service and refillable drinks.
There are currently no plans to open any international chains in Turkmenistan and seems quite unlikely for the foreseeable future, so if you want to eat your favourite indulgent snack in Ashgabat, you’ll need to bring it yourself like we did!
If you want to try out some of these delicacies, join us in Central Asia !