Fast food geography: Discover Iraq through Fatburger

See that picture above, cropped from an old virtual tour of a perfectly normal mall? It’s in Iraq, and Fatburger is now open for business.

Yes, you can find a Fatburger in Iraq, and we’re using it to teach you a few basic facts you might not know about the country (and its unique region, Kurdistan).

Erbil is Iraq’s fourth largest city

Erbil (also seen as Irbil or Arbil) is the fourth largest city in Iraq, with about 1.5 million people. It’s about five hours from Baghdad.

It’s also home to the Majidi Mall, which houses Western franchises including Fatburger, Pizza Hut, and more.

Erbil is in Iraqi Kurdistan

Wondering why Fatburger and the mall are stable in this notoriously unstable country? It’s because Erbil is in Kurdistan (Kurdish is one of the mall’s official languages).

Kurdistan, though in Iraq, has become¬†a quasi-independent state with strong security forces. That allows businesses like Fatburger to feel more confident developing there than they might in other parts of the country. In some ways, Fatburger’s presence in Northern Iraq is symbolic of the divide in the country.

Northern Iraq is more stable, but it’s still too risky for many companies

Majidi Mall is the upscale place to go, but other malls feature knockoffs that don’t have the same patina of Western legitimacy. That’s partly because companies like McDonald’s and Burger King haven’t taken the plunge, which is why elsewhere in Kurdistan¬†you’ll find imitations like PJ’s Pizza, Costa Rica Coffee, and, most wonderfully of all, Burger Queen.

Western brand names have appeal

Like Arby’s in Qatar, Iraq’s Fatburger sticks to the home office’s menu rather than offering too many personalized options. That seems to be common in early outposts that cater to the wealthy and international visitors.

The take-home point? Yes, you can get poutine in Iraq.

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