Fast Food International: Jollibee
Editor's note: In "Fast Food International," Krista Garcia will take us around New York to the many international fast food chains that have landed in the five boroughs. She blogs at goodiesfirst.com.
Country of Origin: The Philippines
Locations Worldwide: Around 1,800 in Brunei, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, the United States, and Vietnam
NYC Locations: One in Woodside, Queens
The most popular fast food chain in the Philippines, Jollibee first came to New York on Valentine's Day in 2009, when the first East Coast location opened in Woodside, Queens. A line wrapped around the block all day, proving the dedication of its fans. (I gave up and went to Sripraphai down the street).
Kind of a cross between a McDonald's and a KFC, Jollibee satisfies two junk food needs at once. And burgers and fried chicken are just a fraction of what's available—breakfast sandwiches with Spam, crispy bangus (milkfish) over rice, and chicken tender snack wraps are also advertised in colorful backlit signs above the counter. If you're not familiar with the menu and every iteration of combo meal, it can be overwhelming.
The classic Chickenjoy is as good as any quick-service fried chicken, crackly on the outside, moist and not greasy. One drumstick wasn't enough. Unless you're accustomed to the thick, salty gravy, it might seem superfluous, especially without mashed potatoes or a biscuit. The starches of choice at Jollibee, though, are spaghetti and white rice.
Sure, Filipino-style spaghetti is a little school cafeteria-ish, but the noodles topped with sweet tomato sauce, chopped ham, frankfurters, and melted American cheese has a fun nostalgic appeal whether you grew up with Jollibee or Chef Boyardee.
Years ago I read about the Amazing Aloha and became so smitten with the idea of a pineapple ring-topped cheeseburger that I made one myself. Now that I've encountered one in the flesh? Well, the beef is a little mushy and Salisbury steak-like in texture—this is no Pat LaFrieda blend—though the salty-sweet combination of bacon, pineapple and pickle-studded mayonnaise-based sauce is as delectable as it is messy.
Cardboard-sleeved fried mango peach pies are a frequently ordered dessert, but the halo halo provides an experience you'd never have at the Golden Arches. Green and red nata de coco cubes, numerous beans (kidney, red and mung) and coconut strips sit at the bottom of the soupy, bone-chilling concoction, crushed ice drenched in condensed milk makes up the next layer, and a scoop each of ube (purple yam) and jackfruit ice cream are plopped on top. Halo means mix in Tagalog, so you can nibble through the strata top to bottom if you'd like, but you're supposed to stir the hodgepodge treat into a delicious sludge.