Wow this topic could easily be an endless debate everywhere, with many disagreeing!
As I’ve lived three quarters of my life in England and a quarter in the States, most of this article will be about those two with brief mentions of other countries visited.
So…fish and chips! You see it on menus in America quite a lot, and it can be very good. But it’s not like Britain. Firstly, your fish should be one, ideally large battered piece. The chips should be just that, chunky and not french fries in this instance (though french fries can be amazing; see Press 195 for starters). Picture this: it’s cold, slightly drizzly and you’re outside on the streets of, say, Yorkshire, The Black Country in the Midlands, Newcastle or Cornwall and you wonder to yourself as you’re humming Smiths’ songs and devouring a delightful portion wrapped in traditional newspaper, ‘what could be better?’. Loads of salt and vinegar too, by the way. You also get mysterious items in British chip shops like pickled eggs (never tried one) or saveloys, or canned roe cut into hockey puck sizes, battered and fried. I’m fond of those, personally.
Fast food in the U.S can be amazing. A favourite of many since the, I think 1920s or 1930s, is White Castle. Little dapper burgers in buns with small onion covered burgers, you can buy them in whole cardboard briefcases (crave cases). We’re particularly fond of these soft burgers after a dentist visit, or just simply when it feels like the right time. Also known as “belly bombers” though, so expect a slightly sore stomach the next morning! On the West Coast I know many swear by In-and-Out Burger which I’m sure is great too. The favourite ever, full-size fast foody burger of my wife and I is Smash Burger though. Something about the complexities of its taste and juiciness surpass Five Guys, for example, though that’s great too. Of course a Whopper and Big Mac are champion.
Best local, to us, non- fast food burger can be found at Gyro World in Bayside, Astoria or Flushing in Queens, New York. Oh, then there’s 57s too.
If you like your food in a delicious, crusty fried or baked doughy parcel, three from different cultures are your empanada, samosa or pastie. I’d find it hard to pick between empanadas and samosas but feel hungry just typing this. I’d say a samosa edges the empanada out, slightly, but only because I was brought up on Indian food culture (being a Brit), whilst over here Americans focus more on Mexican and Latin American food in general with it being closer geographically and culturally. We always thought of the pastie as being only a British thing, but it’s also popular in parts of Midwest USA. It can contain meat and veg or just either, and the pastry is crimped at the top so that coal miners could eat it by holding the top edge without getting sooty fingers all over it. Pasties can also be made in a flatter shape. Try Greggs – everywhere in the UK – for stellar pasties (if smaller and more snacky) or any number of food cart ones.
Of course you have your kebabs – or schwarma – everywhere too! Perfect for late night fill-ups, perhaps especially if slightly “two sheets to the wind”. Two of the best we’ve ever had have been in Florence (!) and Berlin. Or Wafa’s, currently in Williamsburg, Brooklyn though we’re hoping they move back to a larger space in Forest Hills.
Pizza and sandwiches? Don’t get us started! We enjoy either crispy crust or the opposite classic Pizza Hut or Chicago style. We don’t mind if the bottom crust is slightly burnt (Patsy’s is great). We don’t so much go for the New York pizza style anymore; it’s just too much food. But we can see why most love it.
The cold cut Italian-American sandwich is always a treat. Some of the best here are served at Tony’s Deli in Whitestone, Queens NY, or at Sergimmo’s and Varsi.
I’m also a fan of very British sandwiches too, of course. Two hot served classics are the bacon “sarnie”: simply a nice quality bread with fried bacon inbetween two slices. Great with butter too, but equally delicious with nothing at all except the bread and bacon. But you can dip the bread into the frying pan bacon fat! And the “chip butty”: very hot and fresh, British thick cut chips between slices of buttered bread. Nothing else added (except some salt and maybe vinegar)!
And in pubs you can often get a cheese and onion roll, or “cob”. Thick wedges of a very sharp cheddar and big chunks of raw onion in the buttered roll. Washed down with a pint of Old Sweaty Fox or a lager. Fantastic!
Tacos. Don’t get me wrong, I like tacos very much. We especially recommend those at Avo Taco. It’s not up there in the top three or anything though, A fine fast-food Tex Mex is Moe’s over here. And Main Street casual Mexican restaurant and bar in Saugerties, Upstate New York is amazing.
KFC? Love it. It’s still the best coating to me, but you don’t want to have it very often. For my sins I’d often end up having KFC when in Valencia, Spain instead of tapas.
That covers a lot of genres. Also try the $1.50 duck and hoisin sauce buns at You Garden Xiao Long Bao in Bayside, Queens if you’re close.
Another in Europe is the Dutch pancakes, with some choice ones in Amsterdam.
And, for now, also a nod to the local Israeli cafe down the road in Whitestone, Queens: Nana’s Good Eats. Lovely people, very fresh and incredible flavours.
I must have forgotten a lot, but so as to keep this short and not bore any readers, that’s it for now! But, wait! This article needs some sort of conclusion. Our overall winner. And it should be proper fast food; not food cooked slowly and served quickly but both done quickly. As we live in the U.S, I’d stick our flag firmly in the burger which is White Castle! Especially if you eat it in the car when you’ve just picked it up at the drive-through!