Cheap, convenient and tasty, fast food holds a special place in all of our hearts with many deeming it their ultimate guilty pleasure. There are many times when we’d have lazy days and can’t work up the energy to dine in at a restaurant so we’d either crave a fast takeaway meal to enjoy in front of the TV or a quick pick-up from a drive thru. When it comes to picking out the spots to hit up, there are many tried and true International classics but today, we want to change the narrative and take a look at some Arab born fast-food spots and how they became popular across the region.
It all started back in 1974 in the seaside city of Jeddah when a man by the name of Shakour AbuGhazalah wanted to bring the “broast” chicken concept in the entire Kingdom. Simply put, broast is a simple tried and true way to cook up fried chicken that involves using a pressure fryer technique. Putting all his savings into this passion, AbuGhazalah renovated an old warehouse he was renting and turned it into the first pressure fried chicken restaurant in the Kingdom, dubbing it “Albaik”. Business was very slow at first, with not more than 100 customers per day but within a year, lines and lines began to form outside his restaurant and there was no looking back since then.
Today, the infamous fast food chain has become so well known and loved, it not only expanded outside of Saudi Arabia, opening up branches in cities like Bahrain and Dubai, beyond that many travelers who visit the Kingdom would usually stack up on packed boxes of its broasted chicken or jumbo shrimp meals to take back to their families and loved ones back home. Other fan favorites on their menu include their chicken fillet sandwich packed with their unique garlic sauce and pickles as well as their chicken fillet nuggets.
Opening its doors way back in 1979, Barbar started off as a small humble bakery in front of Beirut’s Piccadilly Theatre, serving every locals favorite snack, the infamous manouche. It then shot to stardom when it started to become the hangout spot for some of the biggest celebrities during the 70s and 80s. During the forty years that followed, Barbar grew from being a tiny bakery to a Lebanese fast food staple with a huge menu to boot of over 700 items. Imagine all the classics from manouche, shawarma, falafel and mezza to a wide assortment of sandwiches including chicken tawouk and kabab kheshkhash.
Founded by the Al Ghaziri family, it continues to stand tall as the biggest fast food chain in all of Lebanon. It has become so popular that it has now expanded to multiple cities across the region including Saudi Arabia and now Cairo. Egypt’s branch offers a more condensed menu of 160 items and has been creating quite the buzz all across social media platforms. Along with Barbar, several other Lebanese restaurants have made a landing in Egypt including Babel and Zaatar W Zeit.
All the way back in 1989, the world was introduced to Tazaj, the Kingdom’s delectable and delicious BBQ grilled chicken fast food joint. It began with Sheikh Abdulrahman Fakih, owner of the largest poultry farms in the Kingdom who decided to open up the first Tazaj restaurant in the 80s in the holy city of Mecca. Its tried and tested chicken marinade of garlic, tomato, ginger and spices has stood the test of time in its simplicity and high flavor profile. It was so well-loved that it became a franchise and grew to cover the Arab region with more than 100 restaurants open and one even all the way in Chicago.
Boasting an expansive menu, this special franchise is not just known for its charcoal grilled juicy chicken but also simple classics like tandoori spiced chicken & chicken broast as well as their more creative and out-of-the-box options like their corn dog sandwiches and their breadless crispy cheese-filled burger. When it comes to its customers, the classic grilled chicken is the ultimate all-star dish as its simple yet delicious.
When it comes to the beating heart of Egyptian cuisine, simplicity remains unbeaten as every morning, families would gather together and enjoy common staples of fresh cheese, bread, foul mudammes and falafel. That homegrown spirit is also an intrinsic part of Moustafa Elrefaey, the co-founder and executive chef of Zööba, who after spending years in the US, where he honed his craft for the food and beverage industry, returned to Egypt with one mission of tapping into the simple identity of Egyptian cuisine. That was how Zööba, Egypt’s infamous street food chain was born, opening up its first branch in Zamalek back in 2012.
Its CEO and co-founder Christopher Khalifa set out with a mission for Zööba of one day opening a branch in every major city in the world. Today, it not only has seven branches across Cairo, it found a home within the region in Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain and beyond that, it even crossed the Atlantic Ocean and landed in the US at the quaint neighborhood of NYC’s Nolita district. Its appeal and growth is unquestionable with everyone hitting it up for its extensive menu of everything from foul, falafel and eggs to koshary, hawawshi and sandwiches. Nothing beats their pickled lemon foul or their eggplant falafel sandwich, packed with flavor and a real punch.
Starting way back in the 70s, Syria introduced one of its first locally owned fried chicken joints known as Zain Chicken. Bringing his vision to life, Mohammad Al Saied with 15 years of experience in the chicken industry under his belt created Zain Chicken back in 1976. The joint was simple, specializing in all things chicken from broasted chicken to saucy wings and large fried chicken sandwiches. It stands tall to this day, serving everyone across Syria these fast food classic items.
With multiple franchises open across Syria, we are all eager to see it make a landing across the region, opening up shop in cities like Cairo or Dubai.
Just as there is the classic Lebanese shawarma stacked with deeply marinated chicken, pungent garlic and sour pickles, Egypt has its very own rendition of the widely adored pita wrap. Served in a kaiser roll, the Egyptian shawarma is mainly made with marinated beef, fresh mints, onions and tahini. Churning this special roll fast food style is Egypt’s Caizo, that arrived to the country back in 2021, and was the brainchild of Mohamed Toony, a young entrepreneur with a passion for delicious street food. Its the youngest franchise on this list yet has proven to be quite the fast food spot.
It started off as a container restaurant concept at the Platz in New Cairo, an open green spaced complex with various restaurants and cafes and today, it expanded into a speedy drive thru. Simple in concept and execution, the dining spot is known to serve only two items, the Egyptian shawarma and hawawshi. Hitting up this spot will promise a delectable dose of herbs, spices and textures served in street food style.
So far, these types of Arab fast food chains have been proving to be quite successful, amassing a huge following with people either making sure to dine at one of their stores across the region or bring back a few takeaway boxes of their favorite meals back home to their families and friends. We cannot wait to see more Arab-owned fast food chains popping up both regionally and globally.