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FOOD > Burger boom as fast food has fans in Iraq

BAGHDAD - The Associated Press

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Burger Friends restaurant one of the American-style restaurants in Baghdad. AP photo

Burger Friends restaurant one of the American-style restaurants in Baghdad. AP photo

Baghdad’s embattled residents can finally get their milkshakes, chili-cheese dogs and buckets of crispy fried chicken. Original recipe or extra spicy, of course.

 A wave of new American-style restaurants is spreading across the Iraqi capital, enticing customers hungry for alternatives to traditional offerings like lamb kebabs and fire-roasted carp.

 The fad is a sign that Iraqis, saddled with violence for years and still experiencing almost daily bombings and shootings, are prepared to move on and embrace ordinary pleasures like stuffing their faces with pizza.

 Iraqi entrepreneurs and investors from nearby countries, not big multinational chains, are driving the food craze. They see Iraq as an untapped market of increasingly adventurous eaters where competition is low and the potential returns are high.

 “We’re fed up with traditional food,” said government employee Osama al-Ani as he munched on pizza at one of the packed new restaurants last week.

No plans to return

Baghdad’s Green Zone and nearby U.S. military bases once sported outposts of big American chains, including Pizza Hut, Burger King and Subway, but they shut down as American troops left last year. Because they were hidden behind checkpoint-controlled fortifications, most ordinary Iraqis never had a chance to get close to them, anyway.

 Yum Brands Inc., owner of the Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and KFC chains, has no plans to return to Iraq for now, spokesman Christopher Fuller said.

 These days, roads are packed with cars. The traditional Arabic restaurants long popular here now find themselves competing against foreign-sounding rivals such as Florida Fried Chicken, Mr. Potato, Pizza Boat and Burger Friends.

August/28/2012

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