Tuesday, July 10, 2007
Japanese Fast Food
Most of the U.S. fast food chains have branches in Japan but the Japanese also have their own home-grown fast food burger franchises. One of the best known ones is MOS burger but there is also First Kitchen and some other smaller regional franchises like Dom Dom. "First Kitchen", incidentally, is a name resulting from a common mispronunciation/misunderstanding of the difference between "fast" and "first" among Japanese people.
The main difference between home-grown burger shops and foreign chains is that the core menus tend to carry more items based on Japanese eating habits such as burgers served on a few compressed discs of rice. Some burgers also are served with kinpira (root vegetables and other items cooked in a Japanese style).
A few months ago, Mos Burger made a bid to compete with western fast food chains such as McDonald's (who they have been losing ground to) by crafting a "Nippon burger" which includes a mixture of both beef and pork in the burger. Supposedly, this type of burger suits Japanese tastes better than pure beef burgers. If you go by what is available at supermarkets, this assertion is correct. In many markets, only beef/pork mixtures of minced meat are available.
When we first moved in, there was a Mos Burger about a 3 minute walk from our apartment. We probably got food there once a month or so because we try to avoid expensive, nutritiously suspect food. The trusty Mos Burger was close at hand and convenient if we were tired or I had a taste for a chili dog with jalapenos on it. Unfortunately, about two years ago, the place shut down so I guess we weren't the only ones who ate there infrequently.
One thing about the Mos Burger experience which may or may not have contributed to the local branch's demise was the fact that the food was served fresh. You didn't have the sort of pre-cooking and storing in slots that you see at McDonald's. This meant that the "fast" food wasn't so fast but it was often better prepared and didn't have that dried out under a heat lamp texture. The food was also much smaller and slightly more expensive than Mickey D's so perhaps the weak Japanese economy has been a part of its decline.
The thing is that true Japanese "fast food" has nothing to do with burgers, fries, hot dogs, or any of that ilk that you get wrapped in paper or served in cardboard sleeves. Real Japanese fast food is the stuff you get at little food stands like takoyaki (octopus balls) or ramen. Places like Yoshinoya (a chain of restaurants selling bowls of rice with various things served on top of it, mainly beef) and kaiten zushi (conveyer belt sushi) are the real Japanese fast food places. The other types are mainly just knock-offs of western places attempting to compete in a market already dominated by franchises that originated in other countries.