Burger King recently opened its first store in Mongolia, located at Chinggis Square in Ulannbaatar, the nation’s capital. The company is the first American hamburger chain to open in Mongolia, but is the third purveyor of American fast food to enter that market in just the last few years, after KFC and Pizza Hut.
Some historians claim that the hamburger originated from the Mongol Empire in the 13th century, when the cavalry placed slices of meat under their saddles during rides to be pounded and softened, forming an early version of the meat patties of a modern hamburger. Americans were the first to serve them with buns and popularize them through fast food chains around the globe.
Since KFC opened its first store in South Korea in 1984, the entry of American fast food chains has been seen as an indicator of an Asian country’s economic take-off. The first KFC restaurant opened in Beijing in 1987, nine years after China adopted the “reform and opening up” policy. Vietnam recently got its first McDonald’s restaurant, while Wendy’s also opened in India this year. In the past five years, Mongolia has been one of the fastest growing economies in the world. The economy grew more than 10% annually from 2010 to 2013, and though it slowed to 7.8% in 2014, that remains one of the fastest growth rates globally.
The entry of American fast food chains in Mongolia may also bring benefits to other US businesses. Chicken, KFC’s signature ingredient, is not a major part of the Mongolian diet, which traditionally consists of red meats. Most of the chicken served by the restaurant is imported from abroad, with the US being one of the major sources. In 2013, poultry was among the top five export categories from the US to Mongolia. The US Department of Commerce has also identified meat processing technologies as one of four major market opportunities in Mongolia for US businesses.
American fast food stores in Asia have achieved great success over the years. China, for instance, now surpasses the US as the country with most KFC stores, the number of which reached a stunning 4,828 in 2014. Some chains have also done well by localizing their menus to adapt to the unique tastes in each country, while also retaining classic elements of the American menu items that define the brand.
Zhonghe Zhu is a recent graduate of the Elliott School of International Affairs at the George Washington University and a research intern at the East-West Center in Washington.