Posts Tagged ‘fast food’

The last of the McDonald’s Jewelry

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

Since we enjoy finishing what we start, here is our report on the third Jewelry Quarter Pounder from McDonald’s, the Ruby Spark…

My favorite number!

My favorite number!

Given our past experiences getting the Gold Ring and the Black Diamond,  I figured I could saunter down to the neighborhood McD’s around 10:30 and pick up this new one-day-only premium burger, no sweat. In reality, it required a lot of sweat, because when I showed up an employee came and said if I was hoping to get the ¥1,000 burger that the line cut off with the guy directly in front of me.

Shock and despair clouded my mind as I raced for the nearest subway station. I could think of any number of McDonald’s locations, but which one would be sure to have the goods? If my local and not-terribly-major location was sold out, could the entire country have run out? In less than 10 minutes?

If I felt a little silly getting off the train after one stop, I felt even sillier sprinting through the station; just imagine what people would think of me if they knew I was rushing in order to buy a McDonald’s hamburger!

The humiliation paid off. I received a number in a rather convoluted line (some people had cups with numbers written on them, others had plastic cards like me; numbers were not necessarily called in order), while anyone who showed up even a few minutes later was out of luck.

Continue reading about the Ruby Spark →

Limited-edition burgers, ep. deux

Wednesday, July 17th, 2013

For the second edition of McDonald’s “Jewelry” burger series, the company released the Black Diamond Quarter Pounder. While last week’s Gold Ring left us somewhat unimpressed, the Golden Arches’ latest was a different story. This time, a beef patty was sandwiched between two brioche buns, grilled onions and mushrooms, Emmental cheese and black truffle sauce. As before, the burger arrived gussied up in an oversize, ribbon-adorned bag. I could already smell that unmistakable truffle aroma. Inside, there were two pamphlets explaining the contents of this deluxe sandwich. The burger itself came in a foil-trimmed box.

The arrival

Uncovering the burger from its elaborate serving arrangement revealed a surprisingly appetizing aesthetic: melty cheese, symmetrical mushrooms and a nearly spherical bun. We’re talking darn close to the advertisements we’ve seen nearly everywhere with Mr. Honda encouraging us to “BITE!” Continue reading about the Black Diamond →

A Tale of Two Limited-Edition Burgers: Lotteria’s Twin and McD’s Gold Ring

Tuesday, July 9th, 2013

Limited-edition fast food campaigns are made to lure in people exactly like me. I just don’t really eat all that much McDonald’s. I’m not the kind of person who would rather starve than eat a flimsy cheeseburger, but I also need to avoid putting my system into salt shock by eating — what I admit — are pretty tasty fries.

The point for me is, when it comes to fast food, pursuing the novelty is the pleasure. Last week there were two very different novelties to pursue: Lotteria’s Twin Burger and the Gold Ring at McDonald’s.

It takes two

“Lotteria’s new Twin Burger is not to be confused with a double burger.” Rocketnews 24’s headline issued what to me was a clear challenge. “Not to be confused”? Why confuse a double burger with a sandwich that aligns a tartar-sauced, deep-fried shrimp patty with a two-tone cheeseburger on a long bun . . .  when you can make it a double burger.

Here is the curious oblong package you are handed at the register when you order the Twin Burger:

The partly unsheathed twin

The sheathed Twin

You could eat it like this and get the same 801 calories, but what fun would that be?

The unsheathed Twin

The unsheathed Twin

And so, armed with a straw, I began the dismantling process:

L2.5

Soon, a new, more formidable burger emerged:

photo-1

Quite frankly, I was intimidated. For starters, it was going to be hard to get it in my mouth without getting tartar sauce and cheddar grease everywhere. And then even once I managed to do that, what would it taste like?

“It has flavors,” I managed, after the first bite.

photo-2

“Actually, it works fine. Surprisingly edible.”

And that’s when it dawned on me I had basically created a fast food surf  ‘n’ turf burger. In a way, it was anti-climatic.

The worst part was the aftertaste, but that has zero to do with whether you eat it horizontally or vertically. Unlike our next contender, the Twin is available through the end of the month (July 31), and for one coin (¥500) at that, so if you feel inspired to try this union of two popular Lotteria burgers, head on over. However, it would be a mistake to take this post as a recommendation.

Put a ring on it

On July 6, McDonald’s launched its one-day-only premium Quarter Pounder “Jewelry” series with the Gold Ring: a kaiser roll just barely wrangling two colossal slabs of smoky bacon, Monterey Jack cheese, a quarter pound of beef, and the gold ring itself, a round of pineapple. The slathering of BBQ sauce, featuring over 10 spices, makes this stack a slick mess. That said, it was quite the production number.

McDonald’s president Eiko Harada was quoted, “Other companies might be able to develop the same quality of food, but they can’t offer it at the price, scale or speed that McDonald’s can.”

Regardless of your thoughts on the rest of that statement, when ever-ready intern Eric and I descended on my local McDonald’s on Saturday we laid a flavor foundation picking at our fries for well over 10 minutes before our burgers finally came, so I’m not entirely sure if that was the speed he is referring to. In any case, they did  arrive (two of the 24 the location was prepared to purvey) with a bow and a prompt to examine the included documentation. The illustration on the card below was probably the best part of the whole meal.

The invitation

The invitation

Out of the bags, into the boxes. First slide obi-like wrapper off, then life the box lid up, remove the inner wrap:

The deboxing

The deboxing

The bacon made us shudder in terror. Neither of us were able to eat it all.

photo-9

Thick enough?

I had Eric take the first bite:

Digging in.

“My first impression of the thing was pretty good,” he said. “The smoky bacon, soft Monterrey Jack and tangy BBQ sauce combined well. A few bites in, however, and certain ingredients got overwhelming. Notably, the bacon and pineapple. The former was just way too thick. I had to remove several pieces to get through the sandwich. And the pineapple made the burger tough to eat and was too sweet alongside the already sugary sauce.”

photo-11

Inside the Ring

Allow me to loudly proclaim ditto on the bacon. These shields of pork can only be called such since they come from the same area of the pig’s belly. It’s really too bad, because I think the sandwich could have benefited from the crisp that (what many would argue) “properly” fried bacon would have brought. The sauce was less sweet than feared and even had a bit of kick thanks to those 10+ spices.

As Eric walked away, he said, “I’m a little disappointed in the Golden Arches,” but I felt nothing. The utter lack of necessity, combined with a flavor that ended up still tasting somehow like McDonald’s despite being completely new, bred neither love nor hate.

This food was not only fast but fleeting. July 6 was supposedly the only day the Gold Ring would be available, but Black Diamond day is coming up fast. Adventurous eaters ready for McDonald’s spin on a truffle burger should mark their calendars for this Saturday, July 13.

Watch this space.

BK’s Kuro Burger to ignite new trend?

Thursday, September 27th, 2012

Burger King’s limited edition Kuro Burger

True to its name,  Burger King’s new Kuro Burger has a jet-black bun. The secret ingredient is a dash of bamboo charcoal that BK claims brings out the flame-grilled flavor of the beef. The ketchup is blackened with squid ink. But why? The company says its celebrating its fifth year in Japan with a burger that “defies common sense.” No comment. Aside from the inky ketchup, the burger is the same size and has the same toppings as a regular Whopper, and at ¥450, it costs only ¥30 more. The burgers will be on sale for a limited time starting Friday, Sept. 28.

Could bamboo ash become a trend in cuisine?  Chikutan Hime (Bamboo Charcoal Princess) webstore sells a range of black snacks, including peanuts, senbei rice crackers, and sweet fried karintou. If the hue fits, but you’re not keen on eating burnt wood, then you could get in line in Shibuya for a squid-ink baguette at upmarket French bakery Gontran Cherrier.

Moldy Mos Burger confirms kōji boom

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012

The launch of Mos Burger’s new limited edition Salt Kōji Burger on May 24 officially confirms that salty mold is now the flavor du jour in Japanese kitchens. Kōji, or to give it its long-winded name, Aspergillus oryzae,  is a domesticized fungus that has been used in the production of miso, sake and soy sauce for centuries. Salt kōji, made by mixing salt and kōji with water, then leaving it to ferment, is also a traditional seasoning, but one that had rather fallen out of use until it enjoyed a revival in the latter half of 2011.

Who says mold can’t be cute?

According to Yomiuri Online, the craze for salt kōji started off when Komego, a miso store in Fukui Prefecture, started selling it for use as a simple seasoning back in January 2011. Word spread with restaurants around the area using the ingredient, causing it to eventually catch on with the mass media.

It was traditionally used as a seasoning for vegetable and fish dishes, but now cooks are enthusiastically using the ingredient more creatively with meat as well as in soups and sauces. Marinating meat or fish in salt kōji converts the starches and proteins into sugars and amino acids increasing the umami, or savory flavors, of the meat. Though salt kōji can be bought, it’s quite simple to make at home, and plenty of cooking websites have featured instructions (see video) on how to whip up a homemade batch.

Fukui Prefecture, which has been a driving force behind the boom, has now introduced a kōji mascot to highlight the benefits of this versatile ingredient. Kōji-kun is drawn in the image of a grain of rice with some weird stuff growing out of its head, to illustrate the fact that kōji starts out life growing on grains of rice. Kōji is also depicted in cute cartoon form in the manga and subsequent anime of “Moyasimon: Tales of Agriculture” a story about an agricultural student who can see and communicate with bacteria.

If you’d like to try out this taste sensation for yourself at Mos Burger, then you’ll have to hurry as there will only be 1 million Salt Kōji Burgers available. Rather than being used as a marinade for the meat, the salt kōji is mixed into a special mayo sauce for a salad topping of crispy nagaimo and edamame.

How do you say ‘super-size’ in Japanese?

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

Western fast food chains are opening, re-opening and getting fancy in Japan. With over-the-top takes on familiar menu items, the country might want to start counting those imported calories. Sink your teeth into these Japanese twists on American fast food, and tell us if you still think food in Japan is healthy.

It's basically just a coffee, right?

It’s always more fun to start with dessert. The newest taste sensation to threaten the once-slim Japanese waistline is Starbucks’ chocolate cookie crumble frappuccino with white chocolate pudding, launched last week. The name is a mouthful, and so is the confection. The cup is half-filled with pudding, topped up with chocolate milkshake, layered thick with whipped cream and then drizzled with chocolate sauce and dusted with chocolate cookie crumbles. Despite the pudding base, it’s served with a straw — the faster to suck down the 700 calories in a grande, or 550 in a more modest tall.

But that’s nothing compared to Burger King’s “Bacon Bomb Burger.”  During a special campaign, you can add 15 slices of bacon to your sandwich for ¥100. They list the basic Whopper at 660 calories. Fifteen slices of bacon, at 40 calories a slice, doubles that. The Double Whopper with cheese is 985 calories before the bacon bombing even begins. The low price seems as much like a dare as a PR stunt, and people have been taking them up on it and posting the results online — see the video below if you’ve ever wondered what a thousand slices of bacon on a burger looks like. But don’t watch if you’re hungry — or if you’ve just eaten.

Speaking of double, the KFC Double Down made a big push in Japan, too, as the “Chicken Filet Double.”  The original has become renowned even in the United States for its heart-stopping excess: two slabs of fried chicken sandwiching cheese, bacon and sauce. Not to be outdone, Japan created a campaign around modifying this monster. The basic sandwich is almost 600 calories. And KFC in Japan will see America’s buttery biscuits and raise them a layer of melted chocolate on top.

Now, you may be reading this while chomping on a stuffed-crust Pizza Hut pie somewhere in another time zone, smug in the satisfaction that Japan will never out-pizza the U.S. Yawn. Pizza Hut in Japan has had the sausage crust since at least 2006 and the pizza chains have been innovating ever since. At Japan’s Pizza Huts, you can get a ring of crispy sausage baked in around the edge of most pies. The “melty camembert”  comes with bacon, camembert sauce and evenly spaced wedges of camembert cheese. It’s about 300 calories a slice.  But while the toppings are big, the slices are small. Guaranteed you’re not going to stop at one.

Dominos’ Giga Meat pizza sounds like the ultimate in home-delivered indulgence. And four kinds of meat is only the beginning. Dominos’ Japan pizzas can be ordered with the “Triple Camembert Millefeuille” crust. It has two layers of camembert cheese spread between three layers of crust under whatever else is on your pizza. If that happens to be potatoes and mayo, the highest calorie option, a 1/12th slice tops 400 calories.

With national attention to a rising rate of obesity and metabolic syndrome, or “metabo” as it’s known here, perhaps it’s no wonder that the death at the Heart Attack Grill in Las Vegas got a lot of buzz in Japan. Could it be that the story feels like a glimpse into a fat, frightening  future?

Ekitame — coming to a station near you soon?

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

 

Will shops like Glicoya Kitchen in First Avenue, in Tokyo Station, become destinations in their own right?

Running for the train? Not so fast. According to a trend report released by @Press, Japanese people are spending more time browsing in train stations instead of bolting through them. PR flacks are calling this shopping experience “ekitame,”  combining the words eki (station) and entame (entertainment), to refer to the station shopping mall as an entertaining destination in its own right. Focusing on the continuing success of Tokyo Station’s First Avenue mall, the report hints that this shopping complex may be the shape of things to come.

Instead of just being a convenient place for commuters to kill time,  this station mall exploits the fact that tourists from all around the country pass through Tokyo Station. Two areas of First Avenue are particularly adept at attracting tourists: One is Tokyo Ramen Street,  which has eight outlets operated by famous Tokyo ramen shops; and the other is Tokyo Character Street, which houses over 20 big-name character goods stores.

Over the years, speciality food theme parks have proved popular in other shopping malls in Japan, such as Gyoza Stadium, Ice Cream City and Dessert Republic in Sunshine City Ikebukuro. Therefore, it’s unsurprising that  Ramen Street has proved a hit since it opened in April last year. It is attractive to  Tokyo day-trippers who might not have the time to trek out to these famous ramen stalls, and long queues regularly form outside the shops. But it’s Tokyo Character Street that’s proved the biggest hit. Since it opened in 2008, around 5 million visitors have checked out the array of character stores, which include Hello Kitty Land and the NHK Character Shop, and this March three more stores opened here.

Looking to raise its profile as a tourist destination, First Avenue will launch a new area called  Tokyo Okashi (Snack) Land on April 14. Comprised of  three “antenna shops” (outlets used by companies to gauge public reaction to trial products) from major Japanese food brands Calbee, Glico and Morinaga, the area will entice visitors with limited edition souvenir sweets and the chance to see confectionery being made in the store.

We think the idea of ekitame might just catch on at other major transport hubs where tourists passing through have the spare time to enjoy browsing in specialty stores. And adding the station to the sightseeing itinerary is certainly an attractive option to the footsore tourist.

Burger franchises take a second go at success

Friday, October 21st, 2011

After an extended absence, Wendy's is scheduled to return to Japan in December.

It’s official, the square burger is back on the menu in Japan. Wendy’s Burgers, which withdrew from the Japanese market at the end of 2009, is now back, just two years later. Scheduled to open in December, the exact location of the first new store has not yet been announced, but Shibuya Keizai Shimbun has revealed that it will be somewhere in the fashionable Omotesando area.

The swanky location is probably a sign of things to come. When Wendy’s announced that they were planning to reopen earlier in the year, it was reported in the Independent newspaper that they “promised to add new products like premium sandwiches and hamburgers with gourmet toppings served in a ‘contemporary atmosphere.’ ”

Though Wendy’s control the external image of stores, the internal image is up to whoever is running the franchise in a particular country. From 1980 to 2009 that company was Zensho, but it appears that this company wasn’t forward-thinking enough to compete in the ever-evolving world of fast food in Japan. This time franchise will be managed by Higa Industries, the company who operate the hugely successful Domino’s Pizza chain in Japan.

Burger King, which also withdrew from the Japanese market (back in 2001), only to relaunch in 2007, seems now to have a firm grip on things and are staying up to speed with the changing market by luring customers with limited-edition burgers and promotional campaigns. In November, for instance, the company will be offering a 30-minute tabehodai (eat all you can) on Whoppers. From Nov. 1-15, if you order a L set whopper, it’s possible to get as many second helpings as you can eat within the allotted time by simply presenting your receipt and empty wrapper at the counter.

To relaunch Wendy’s, the company is now running a campaign to recruit a fresh face to represent the brand. Budding young stars can apply via Oricon Style. Applications will be accepted up until Oct 24. The winner will be named “Wendy-chan” and will travel the country for two months promoting the upgraded version of the fast-food chain.

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