Anyone who thinks America is the only place where fast food has a deep hold on the populace needs to reconsider. The Saudis love their fast food, whether it is the local equivalent of the burger (shwarma), roasted or fried chicken, or McDonald’s.
I remember the first morning I was in KSA, riding to work with a guy from Hong Kong who was providing me with my initial transportation to the company office. We got onto a freeway and began racing south. We hadn’t gone more than a couple of miles when I spied a set of Golden Arches conspicuously nestled beside a freeway exit ramp. Eight thousand miles from home – how surprisingly American, I thought, and I started laughing. The guy from Hong Kong looked at me suspiciously, and he didn’t quite get what I found so humorous.
McDonald’s, Burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken all boast stores scattered throughout the city. I am told there is a Popeye’s Fried Chicken in Jeddah. Additonally, Subway has 13 stores throughout the Kingdom, and I’ve seen at least two Quizno’s here. Dunkin’ Donuts is a favorite hangout. And, while they are not as ubiquitous as in the USA, Starbucks, which offers prepared sandwiches, maintains a noted presence.
Pizza enjoys a large presence in Saudi Arabia. Pizza Hut, Pizza Inn, Little Caesar’s, and Papa John’s all have stores in the Kingdom – and they deliver. Of course, ALL of the fast food places will deliver here. The big issue with the pizza, though, is that nothing is made of pork; so, the sausage and the pepperoni, while certainly edible, tastes slightly off. Vegetable pizza is popular, as well.
Not all of the fast food is of American origin. As indicated, there are any number of shwarma places. Shwarma is a pita-wrapped sandwich not unlike a gyro, and it is the “hamburger” of Saudi Arabia, though its dominance is seriously challenged by actual hamburgers. Kudus is a prominent sandwich shop, serving warm beef or chicken sandwiches prepared while you wait. Kudus was one of my favorite eating places before I stopped eating meat. Very good food. The Saudis also have various other hamburger places like Herfy and Zaat. There is even a place that serves only ostrich, though their name escapes me for the moment.
There are food courts in every mall, and they serve a mix of traditional Arabian/Mediterranean fare, Asian, burgers, and chicken. Indian/Pakistani is very popular, and a Sbaro’s has opened in the mall closest to my compound, bringing Italian to the desert.
While regular restaurants do very well here, it’s obvious that fast food has made a significant inroad into this once isolated desert kingdom. Another indication that, despite the best intentions of certain groups of people, it’s near impossible to hide from the modern world.