The Golden Arches are a familiar sight in the U.S. and in the majority of countries around the world. But where can you go when you want to get away from American fast food and experience the true local flavors of a new and exciting place? Here’s a look at 10 countries that have said “no” to McDonald’s and have unique culinary identities just waiting to be explored!
Known for its iconic pink-sand beaches, Bermuda has gone to great lengths to maintain its unique island charm. In 1995, Bermuda’s government passed the Prohibited Restaurants Act 1977, preventing the likes of McDonald’s, Burger King and other fast food chains from opening on the island. (The only restaurant chain to escape this rule was KFC, which had opened a branch before the legislation passed.) While in Bermuda, be sure to sample regional specialties like codfish and potatoes or fish chowder, along with locally grown fruits like grapefruit, papaya and cassava.
While Macedonia was once home to seven McDonald’s restaurants, the restaurant chain left in 2013. That means you’ll have far more opportunity to sample tavče gravče — the national dish of Macedonia made from beans, onions and peppers— or šopska salad, a cold salad popular in the Balkans. Complete your meal with a glass of rakija, a favorite kind of fruit brandy.
Residents of Reykjavik — Iceland’s capital city — were able to order a Big Mac while one McDonald’s restaurant was open in the city from 1993-2009. However, the American hamburger never really sizzled in Iceland, and the chain removed its presence nearly a decade ago. Instead, you can visit local restaurants to enjoy traditional Icelandic fare such as skyr(yogurt), hangikjöt (smoked lamb) or hákarl (shark).
The concept of “fast food” didn’t sit well with Bolivians, who felt it was more important for their food to be nutritional and prepared in a healthier way. Because of this, McDonald’s left in 2002 — and Bolivians don’t seem to miss it. Instead, they can be found enjoying a lengthy almuerzo (lunch) of several courses, including soup, a main meal of meat and rice, followed by dessert and coffee. Of course, it’s followed up with afternoon té, complete with biscuits or traditional humitas.
Quarter-pounders and Bic Macs haven’t made their way into Iran — yet — but they may be on their way. Now is the time to explore an Iran free of fast-food influences, and instead appreciate its delicious local flavors. Juje (chicken) kebab is one of the most popular dishes in Iran, along with fesenjan (pomegranate walnut stew). Be sure to sample tahdig, a crunchy fried rice often enhanced with saffron, tomato and potato.
Africa has the fewest number of McDonald’s restaurants of all of the continents — with that in mind, it should be no surprise that the remote island of Madagascar remains free from this fast-food chain. Instead, residents often enjoy eating at bustling marketplaces that offer street food, such as Malagasy bread and rich, local coffee. Rice is a staple of the Malagasy diet, and most dishes will incorporate this ingredient in some way.
Mongolia has made great strides toward embracing “modern” culture in recent years, but a McDonald’s still cannot be found in its capital city of Ulaanbaatar. That means there are plenty of opportunities to experience Mongolian cuisine, known for its heavy use of meat, dairy products and animal fats (to help locals withstand hard work during extremely cold winters.) Sample buuz (steamed dumplings filled with meat), khorkhog (barbecued lamb) or boortsog (a fried dough-like dessert.)
Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness is not reflected in fast-food chains or quick cuisine. Because of that, this Himalayan country may be one of the most beautiful countries in the world that does not have a McDonald’s in sight. Try the Bhutanese national dish — ema datshi — a spicy concoction made from a mix of beans, white rice and chili peppers. You may also enjoy sampling khabzey (deep-fried fritters), momo (Bhutanese dumplings) or jasha maru (a dish including chicken, tomatoes and other ingredients).
McDonald’s may be coming soon to Nepal, but as of now, its capital city of Kathmandu is Big Mac-free. Traditional Nepalese foods are influenced heavily by Thai, Tibetan, Chinese and Indian cuisine, so if these are among your favorites, you’re in luck. Sample Nepalese chow mein, thukpa noodle soup or sekuwa — a traditionally roasted meat. Then, wash it all down with a cup of hot butter tea.