Drive-thru Nippon: convenience or hazard?

November 30th, 2010 by Sandra Barron

While finger-food friendly places like McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Mister Donuts have all had drive-thru windows across Japan for years, Nikkei Trendy says drive-thrus are evolving. These days, more distinctly Japanese fare is getting the meals-on-wheels treatment . . . though drivers would do well to consider that the hazards of eating them while behind the wheel.

Ringer Hut's new drive-thru, featuring Nagasaki champon

Ringer Hut's new drive-thru, featuring Nagasaki champon

Gindaco is a chain of takoyaki restaurants that has made drive-thrus a big part of its strategy for northern Kanto. Takoyaki is known as a street food, a favorite at festivals and in entertainment districts. Rows of cast-iron shells are filled with dough then usually handed out in paper or styrofoam trays. Right before eating, they’re doused with a brush of brown sauce, a shake of dried nori and maybe a glurt of mayo topped off with a handful of katsuo shavings. The takoyaki balls are usually wolfed down at a standing or seated counter. They’re deceptively steamy under all those toppings, and the first bite often leads to hands clapped over mouths and muffled cries of “atsui!” (hot!).  So they’re not exactly an obvious choice for a drive-thru. At almost the exact same size as a doughnut hole, they may seem perfect for handing over to the driver one at a time — except for all those toppings and their searing temperature. And the window between blistering hot and cool and claggy is narrow.

Ringer Hut expanded on the success of its Kyushu branches and opened its first drive-thru in the Tokyo area at the end of August. The Nagasaki champon they serve is surely one of the least drive-thru friendly foods out there. It’s a big flat plate of crunchy noodles with a slightly gluey sauce filled with vegetables, squid pieces and pink slices of fish cake. Ringer Hut designed a special multi-part disposable serving system for the noodles, two separate lidded plates that nestle neatly into a cardboard carrying case. Ingenious? Possibly. Front-seat friendly? No way.

Matsuya has drive-thru windows for its inexpensive beef and rice dishes. They use a similar compartmentalized container to keep the beef and rice separate until ready to eat, presumably while the car isn’t moving. Even-cheaper beef-bowl chain Yoshinoya is just starting to creep into the drive-thru market.

Tsukemen is even more impossible to eat on the road. The noodles and thick soup stay in their separate bowls, and you dip the noodles into the soup. I’m not alone in thinking that this is not really a road-friendly dish. It was actually a topic of discussion on a Japanese Yahoo! message board. Easy to eat or not, noodle shop Rokurinsha saw the drive-thru as an option.  Rokurinsha added a drive-thru window to a popular shop in Shinagawa to combat long lines of pedestrians that were annoying the neighbors. Instead, now, they’re facing the possibility of long lines of cars.

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One Response

  1. Gindako is my favorite of all takoyakis. However, we’ve yet to get a drive through here. When we do I’ll definitely be stopping by to bring a pack home. Man, I’d love to see someone trying to eat tsukemen on the road or while stopped at a light.

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