This story of the introduction and evolution of the KFC “Zinger” in Pakistan is surprisingly gripping.
Here’s what happened when KFC first opened in Pakistan in 1997:
People jammed into the glass-fronted restaurant for days on end. At one point, KFC had to call in the Karachi police for help managing the door. Far from being the run-of-the-mill fast food restaurant that KFC was in America, in Karachi, KFC became a symbol of wealth, of the ability to spend a hundred rupees on a burger at a time when a two-bedroom flat in an upscale neighborhood rented for five thousand rupees. People bragged about getting into KFC every night. Being seen at KFC wasn’t just about eating out. It was about gaining a bit of foreignness, being on the right side of the glass windows, and eating the same fried chicken served in Dubai and America.
The food that emerged as KFC’s crown jewel in Pakistan is one that, as author Saba Imtiaz points out, is just now being tested in the US. It’s intriguing enough to make me want to return to my local KFC joint, even though I haven’t been in years. Is this the chicken sandwich (or burger, as they call it in Pakistan) to finally rival Chick-fil-A’s?
I remember the first time my family took a trip abroad, we emerged out of the Chunnel in Brussels, Belgium and were greeted by a KFC/Pizza Hut combination restaurant. It was jarring to see such a symbol of Americanism glowing brightly in a foreign place. We didn’t go inside to see how the menus differed from their American counterparts (when we travelled we tried to avoid most things familiar), but now I wish we had. Were they serving food as revolutionary to Belgium as the “Zinger” was for Pakistan?