When you think of American cuisine, what comes to mind? Hamburgers? Fries? Apple pie? Most traditional American foods can be found at fast food restaurants, available conveniently and cheaply no matter where you are in the United States. Now, you can find American fast food chains in just about every country on the planet.
The Beginnings of Fast Food
The first fast food chain to open in the United States was White Castle in 1921, located in the Midwest. They served American cuisine, such as burgers and fries, quickly and at unbeatable prices.
Fast food differentiated itself from traditional sit-down restaurants in a number of ways. With the opening of the first fast food joint came a sort of culinary assembly line to get the customer their food as quickly as possible. There were no made-to-order dishes, no waiting for thirty minutes to eat. Now, your food could be ready even before you ordered it.
Standardization of ingredients and recipes across locations also ensured that customers would receive the same burger whether they were at a White Castle location in Kansas, or Ohio. Such uniformity and productivity allow fast food to be much cheaper than food served in a traditional restaurant.
The convenience and cheap prices that fast food offered caused a boom in popularity among the American people, creating a phenomenon that has grown to become a significant part of American culture.
A modern-day White Castle location
Convenience is Key
Have you ever seen waitresses bringing food to cars on roller skates in old movies? From the 1920s to the 1960s, this was a common way to receive your meal at American fast food joints. This allowed the customer to conveniently remain in their car—you could now order and enjoy your meal in the comfort of your own vehicle. The popular chain Sonic still employs carhops to deliver food to the customer on skates, creating an old-timey feel that evokes nostalgia for many Americans.
Carhops are less common today, and were largely replaced by drive-thrus in the 1960s, making the process even faster for the customer. Most fast food chains in the United States today have a drive-thru option attached to the restaurant, and the lines are often longer there than inside the store. Such innovations made fast food more accessible and appealing to the American people, making eating faster and easier than ever.
From the U.S. to Around the World
Since the 1920s, the original fast food chain White Castle has diminished in popularity, but many have taken its place as well-known American symbols of fast food. There are fast food chains that have locations in all 50 states and across the globe, as well as chains that can only be found in certain regions of the country. McDonald's is by far the most famous and influential fast food restaurant in the country, changing the way Americans approach food.
There are also regional chains such as In-N-Out, a burger chain only found on the West coast; Cook Out, located in the Southeast; and Whataburger, based in Texas. Many Americans make it a point to try these regional joints that they may not be able to find in their home state while traveling. Fast food is not limited to the conventional burgers and fries—there are now fast food chains serving up Mexican, Italian, and Chinese food. No matter what you're craving, there's a fast food restaurant out there with something you'll enjoy.
In the last few decades, fast food has become popular around the world, and different countries put unique regional spins on American dishes that appeal to locals. For example, McDonald's in Egypt offers a McFalafel, and McDonald's in India boast meatless options for their large vegetarian population.
There are even new traditions born from fast food. It's so common for families in Japan to order KFC on Christmas Eve, that you often must preorder to avoid long lines and ensure you receive your chicken on time. Fast food is not only popular in the United States. It is gaining popularity and recognition all over the world.
The firs McDonald's location, which originally opened in 1955 in Illinois.
Santa Claus outside a KFC in Japan, where it is a popular tradition to eat fried chicken on Christmas Eve.
Something for Everyone
For many foreigners, there are stereotypes about Americans and fast food. Some think that Americans exclusively eat fast food, that it is extremely unhealthy, or that it's only for people without the money to eat at restaurants. However, people from all backgrounds are known to enjoy fast food. People from the everyday American worker to the President of the United States enjoy a BigMac every once in a while.
It is true that most fast food is not particularly healthy, but many enjoy it in moderation as a quick and convenient meal on the go. American culture stresses productivity, convenience, and quick satisfaction. Fast food checks all of these boxes. When you're busy at work, don't have time to cook a meal after a long day, or are commuting with no time to sit down and eat, sometimes a cheap burger that will be ready instantly is just what you need.
A McDonald's drive-thru menu
Fast food in the United States is known worldwide for being quick and cheap . You've likely had fast food in your own country, though it's probably quite different from the American equivalent. If you travel to the U.S., try getting a taste of the uniquely American fast food culture.
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