Burgers Over Baghdad: Iraq Welcomes Newfound Fast Food Craze

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Associated Press

A customer stands outside the Burger Friends restaurant in Baghdad, Iraq.

Hold the lamb kebab, please. In the latest wave of trends to hit the Iraq capital of Baghdad, it’s (thankfully) anything but violence. Instead, imagine succulent burgers, pizzas, spicy chicken wings and maybe even a Philly cheesesteak or two. American-style restaurants are setting up shop in the country, bringing an influx of entrepreneurs and investors to the very streets recently occupied by soldiers and strife. And it’s all in an effort to put the war-torn image in the past.

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“We’re fed up with traditional food,” government employee Osama al-Ani told the Associated Press as he munched on a pizza. “We want to try something different.” Iraqi citizens seem to be embracing what’s ordinary, even mundane, to many Westerners. But for them, it’s a novelty, and a sign that Iraq is valuing economic progess — and somewhat adventurous eating, too.

Among some of the newest additions include Chili House, which serves hot wings and Caesar salads, located in an upscale neighborhood of the city. Oh, and don’t forget the fried chicken nearby at Lee’s Famous Recipe Chicken. Sure, these restaurants aren’t run by the major American chains. But they’re close enough.

Azal ah-Hada, who manages a company that brings restaurants to the country, explained the appeal. “People tell us: ‘We feel like we’re out of Baghdad. And that makes us feel satisfied.’”

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Erica Ho is a contributor at TIME and the editor of Map Happy. Find her on Twitter at @ericamho and Google+. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.