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Cultural Food Turned Into Fast Food: How to Support Local Ethnic Restaurants

By: Subha Ali

Fast food is my go-to when I am in a rush or doing errands; this applies to most people. The endless possibilities for fast food in America make getting fast food even better. Throughout the United States, fast food chains are on every corner, and when you’re not in the mood for a burger from Mcdonald's, there is always Chipotle, Taco Bell, Panda Express, Qdoba, Del Taco, and Taco Time.

Taco Bell; is a Mexican fast food chain in America / A local authentic Mexican food restaurant, Images captured by Subha Ali, 2022

If you ask someone who has home-cooked ethical food whether these fast food chains provide an accurate representation of what the food is actually like, they will always say no. I’m an immigrant from Pakistan, and I’ve heard a vast number of people talking about the Pakistani food they have eaten and how they ordered and experienced “butter chicken”. From my perspective, I’ve never even heard of butter chicken. However, it comes to my knowledge that it is not an authentic dish served in any city in Pakistan or India.

A Chinese foreign student at the University of Washington stated, “I decided to go to Panda Express, which was on campus, for some Chinese food. When I went to order, I noticed orange chicken on the menu; I’ve never heard of orange chicken before!” That is when I realized the food had been adjusted for accommodating the American aesthetic.

- Image Captured By Subha Ali, 2022

The same goes for Chipotle, Taco Bell, Qdoba, Del Taco, and Taco Time. The food is adjusted for Americans and is not comparable to the actual ethnicity of the food. Yet I constantly notice a line at all these places, and people seem to really enjoy the food. Could it be because it is cheaper or is it because they don’t have anything to compare it to? This is a question to ask when they've never experienced the traditional taste of ethnic food.

White Americans founded all these fast food chains except for Panda Express. Two Chinese immigrants founded Panda Express, and they then adjusted their menu at Panda Express to fit an American fast food standard. The rest of the chains founded by Americans created fast food based on what they know as a business owner.

It is understandable to go for fast food because it is cheaper, and there is one chain or another on every corner in America in this day and time. However, America is full of immigrants, and many of these immigrants start businesses such as restaurants where they serve their cultural and ethnic food.

Since these businesses are small local businesses, believe it or not, most of them are affordable. Still, it is slightly pricier than fast food since it is a restaurant; supporting these restaurants is giving back to your community and getting a taste of authentic ethnic foods.

- Image of Naan -n- Curry Captured By Subha Ali, 2022

Most cities in America have these local restaurants in plain sight. That being said, the best way to find them is through Google research. Instead of searching “food near me” or “fast food near me”, be a little more specific and actually choose the type of food you want during your search.

For example, if you are choosing to go for Mexican cuisine, decide on Mexican food and then search “Mexican food near me” in your online search engine. This will filter not only your fast food of choice but also local restaurants within the vicinity of your area.

After your search is filtered, you will then notice that Google also has dollar signs to indicate how expensive the restaurant really is. Typically, many people would also leave reviews so you can determine whether the food choice is a good fit for you at that time. I usually do not know the type of food I may be in the mood for. So, I will perform a quick filter search for “food near me” or “restaurants near me”.

The Umi Cafe - Image Captured By Subha Ali, 2022

For individuals of a particular ethnic background, these restaurant owners have true intentions to share the culture of their food with as many people as possible, especially if they are in a location where the culture of their food isn't fully expressed. To iterate a little further, a local small restaurant owner in my area moved here ten years ago and decided to open a restaurant with her family; since the opening of the location, it has been run by her family ever since. When it comes to price ranges for this location, the prices are actually really affordable.

When I had a moment in time to speak with her, she stated her reasons why she wanted to open a restaurant in the area. “There was no good Thai food that I would eat in Thailand. The food there is so good I wanted to share it with the people here. I am very grateful for everyone who supports my business, and I am happy to share my food with Americans and people from Thailand who miss their home food.” This statement alone is the primary definition of the intentions of ethnic restaurant owners and their reasons for expanding the culture of their food. And this is solely based on an area that classifies them as newcomers.


Discovering local restaurants and fast food that still has an ethnic touch has become quite an experience for me. Tasting authentic ethnic food has not only persuaded me to stop purchasing fast food because it is not comparable to how good the actual food is, but it has also allowed me to appreciate local business owners that are of a particular ethnic background that want to share the history of their food with the American people.


Founding of Panda Express, exhibits,

Our History,

Taco Bell History,

"Chipotle Founder Steve Ells Returns to Sole CEO Role; Outlines Plans for Company’s Future"

QSR Media, "Ranking The Top 50 Fast-Food Chains in America"

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