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Japanese Chain Produces Burger-less Burger, and People Love It

Japanese Chain Produces Burger-less Burger, and People Love It

Lotteria’s ‘no-shrimp burger’ is not kidding about not having shrimp

Lotteria’s ‘no-shrimp burger’ is not kidding about not having shrimp, but people are digging it.

Japanese burger chain Lotteria is known for its off-the-wall novelty burgers. It is the mastermind behind the ramen burger and the jaw-stretching 5-patty burger, after all. But its newest burger is quite possibly its weirdest creation yet, because it is literally a burger without a burger, and somehow people are loving it.

According to Rocket News 24, Lotteria’s new “No-Shrimp Burger” is a take on the chain’s very popular Shrimp Burger, only this one has… no shrimp. It is literally just a plain hamburger bun with lettuce and tartar sauce on it, and customers can purchase it for 210 yen, or $1.76 each. Surprisingly, plenty of people have been doing just that. The novelty of the “No-Shrimp Burger” has inspired several customers to actually buy the thing, see what it is like, and post a photo to Twitter, of course.

“I ordered a shrimp burger without the shrimp,” one customer wrote alongside a photo of the sandwich. Like many quick-service sandwiches, the “No-Shrimp Burger” does not look quite as appetizing in the real world as it does on the chain’s menu boards, but still customers have been saying the “No-Shrimp Burger” is surprisingly good for a burger that contains no patty of any kind.

The shrimpless burger is a novelty item designed to promote a new shrimp burger Lotteria plans on rolling out in the near future, but in the meantime it sounds like customers are enjoying their shrimp-free burgers as-is.


Japanese cuisine

Japanese cuisine encompasses the regional and traditional foods of Japan, which have developed through centuries of political, economic, and social changes. The traditional cuisine of Japan (Japanese: washoku) is based on rice with miso soup and other dishes there is an emphasis on seasonal ingredients. Side dishes often consist of fish, pickled vegetables, and vegetables cooked in broth. Seafood is common, often grilled, but also served raw as sashimi or in sushi. Seafood and vegetables are also deep-fried in a light batter, as tempura. Apart from rice, a staple includes noodles, such as soba and udon. Japan also has many simmered dishes such as fish products in broth called oden, or beef in sukiyaki and nikujaga.

Historically influenced by Chinese cuisine, Japanese cuisine has also opened up to influence from Western cuisines in the modern era. Dishes inspired by foreign food—in particular Chinese food—like ramen and gyōza, as well as foods like spaghetti, curry, and hamburgers, have been adapted to Japanese tastes and ingredients. Traditionally, the Japanese shunned meat because of Buddhism, but with the modernization of Japan in the 1880s, meat-based dishes such as tonkatsu and yakiniku have become common. Japanese cuisine, particularly sushi and ramen, has become popular throughout the world.

In 2011, Japan overtook France to become the country with the most 3-starred Michelin restaurants as of 2018, the capital Tokyo has maintained the title of the city with the most 3-starred restaurants in the world. [1]


8 best burgers in Tokyo

Burgers are forever. They&rsquoll never go out of style and everyone&rsquos got their favourite, which they will defend with the utmost conviction. There&rsquos a lot to consider when it comes to rating this fiercely loved dish. The patties are important but a good burger is more than just the meat the freshness of the (preferably brioche) buns and the crunch-factor in the fries are crucial, too. And no, it&rsquos not really a burger without fries.

So we&rsquove done the hard work in tracking down the city&rsquos best meat-bun sensations. We&rsquove got fuss-free, juice-seeping classic cheeseburgers for you to sink your teeth into, as well as more innovative creations like delicate fish burgers that would tempt even the purists. Not all burgers are created equal, but these beauties are some of the best you&rsquoll ever have. So get ready to sink your teeth into these meaty marvels.

Note: these restaurants might close early due the current Covid-19 measures imposed by the authorities. In addition, restaurants have been asked to refrain from serving alcohol while the state of emergency is in place.

RECOMMENDED: New restaurants, cafés and bars in Tokyo to try this month

The Good Vibes

Serving burgers packed with smokey, savoury goodness, The Good Vibes delivers everything its name promises and more. Two combined elements make the burgers here worth a special to Shibaura: dry-aged beef patties and house-made pastrami.

Before the Yonezawa husband-and-wife team came to Tokyo to open their own business, they were living in the delicatessen city of New York. When thinking about the kind of food they would serve, it seemed only natural to introduce to Tokyo the deli meat that graced many iconic New York movie scenes like &lsquoWhen Harry Met Sally&rsquo. Made by brining beef ribs in salt over four days and smoking to perfection for six days, the thick slabs of tender meat are as good as any that you&rsquoll find at a Brooklyn deli.

The house signature, The Good Vibes Burgers, is every meat lover&rsquos fantasy with both beef patty and pastrami. However, there are also burger options where you could choose just one or the other.

Munch's Burger Shack

Taller than they are wide, the fat stacks at Munch&rsquos Burger Shack might feel awkward to eat at first, but you&rsquoll find yourself wolfing them down at record speed. A cosy-casual joint with red checkered plates, this cheery burger house is usually packed with loyal patrons trying to get their fix on any given night of the week.

The beef, which is US-imported Angus, isn&rsquot minced but hand-chopped with a top-quality kitchen knife for maximising its juicy flavour. Everything here is made in-house, including the bacon and bean chili, which are among the long list of toppings available to customize your burger as you like it.

Fire House

Opened in 1996, Fire House has been serving up its homestyle fare to satisfied customers in Bunkyo for 25 years. With a homely interior of books and retro posters, the atmosphere is as comforting as the dishes served here, including classic chilli, hotdogs and of course, burgers.

Large, freshly cooked patties come with a range of toppings, including cheese, avocado and even apple. If you're feeling especially hungry, though, try the 'Mad Burger', which comprises three large patties smothered in chilli and cheese, and rounded off with a fried egg.

Burger Police

Newly opened beside the Himonya Police Station in Gakugeidaigaku is Burger Police, a recent venture by popular Italian restaurant Tacubo. The signature Sio Burger is made with top-grade wagyu beef that oozes a buttery, umami factor &ndash it&rsquos perfect as is without any additional sauce.

Rather than offering fizzy soft drinks, Burger Police follows in the footsteps of its sister establishment by serving a selection of natural wines to pair with its gourmet burgers. In addition to the burgers, the restaurant also features a menu of appetisers and side dishes championing fresh, seasonal produce: think provincial minestrone, wild arugula salad and grilled squid with green peas.

Deli Fu Cious

While classic recipes might call for 100 percent beef patties, burgers don&rsquot have to be all about (red) meat. The menu at Deli Fu Cious is made up of ingredients you might normally find at a Toyosu Market restaurant, with items like the konbu fish burger and saikyo-yaki (miso-marinated fish) burger.

As unconventional as the burger joint may be, the method of curing fish in layers of konbu to create a light and flaky texture has proved to be a fail-proof one as the shop has branched out to more locations including Toranomon Hills Yokocho and Shibuya Parco. Aside from the fish burgers, there are also new interpretations of hot dogs, where in lieu of frankfurters, you get anago (conger eel) tempura with a sweet-savoury sauce, or fluffy tamagoyaki with honey mayo.

Henry's Burger

No fancy truffle, foie gras or blue cheese toppings here. This long-standing burger joint in Daikanyama takes the minimal approach with fillings of lettuce, tomato and maybe some cheddar with nothing else to distract you from the patty itself.

It&rsquos a burger that&rsquos perfectly imperfect with slightly uneven ridges and messy drizzle of a sauce reminiscent of Thousand Island dressing, but don&rsquot let its no-frills appearance fool you &mdash the burgers here are far from your standard patties.

Kentaro Nakahara, who went by &lsquoHenry&rsquo during his years living in California, started his business with the vision of combining authentic American burger culture with Japanese beef. A5-grade wagyu is coarsely ground so that the hand-shaped patties can retain a good amount of texture before they are grilled, flipped, drizzled with a signature sauce and sandwiched in a house-made bun.

You can choose between one or up to four patties for your burger, depending on how hungry you are &ndash but be prepared to queue as it&rsquos a popular joint with only four seats for eating-in.

The Great Burger

Tucked away in the backstreets of Harajuku among cutesy cafés and creperies is the enduring California-style joint, The Great Burger. At this long-time establishment of Harajuku, the laid-back, beachy atmosphere is typically what attracts passing shoppers, but it's the burgers that people are willing to stand in line for.

With its extensive menu, you can have burgers any way you want, whether it's with the ever-popular combo of bacon and jalapeno, or slightly more eccentric toppings like grilled pineapple or baked apple and gorgonzola. To wash it all down, you can order American beverages that are hard to come by in Tokyo, like Cherry Cola and Rootbeer. However, the restaurant also features a selection of craft beers on the tap for those looking to roll straight from lunch into happy hour.

Tsukiji Masa

Venture down the narrow alleyway that houses Tsukiji Masa and you&rsquoll find the best fish burgers in the market. Owner-chef Takahashi took inspiration from the burgers he ate while working in New York and created a distinctive blend of American and Japanese flavours.

The classic cod burger contains a tender piece of fish in a crispy panko crumb coating, laid on a bed of shaved cabbage, and topped with a slice of melted cheese. The shimesaba burger (seared pickled mackerel), inspired by a mackerel futomaki (thick sushi roll), comes with a slice of tamagoyaki omelette, shiso leaf and crunchy cucumber slices.

Make sure to order your burger with fries (¥300) on the side &ndash that way, you can try one of the shop&rsquos special seasonings: salt with bonito flakes, or salt with aonori (powdered seaweed). There&rsquos also an anago (eel) hot dog, plus seasonal specials.

Keen to challenge the idea of burgers as mass-produced greasy junk food, Takahashi sources his fish fresh from the market each day, the bread is custom-made by a baker in Akita who uses natural wild yeast, and the tomato and tartare sauces are both house-made. These are next-level burgers at street-level prices.


Vada Pav among best 'burgers' around the world

The humble hamburger rarely has a place in traditional fine dining, but for many top chefs it’s one of the food world’s greatest guilty pleasures.

It’s a simple dish that’s found everywhere and loved all around the globe. But where can you get the best one and what's the secret to turning a handful of minced beef (or something else) and some bread into a delicacy? We asked the culinary elite — chefs laden with Michelin stars and other accolades — for their favorite burgers when they are having a sneaky time out from gastronomy.

Neil Perry of Rockpool Bar & Grill is the big-name chef behind Burger Project, which works with local suppliers. The patty is hand-made, 100% grass-fed beef. Try the American, with Cape Grim beef, cheese, pickles, onions, mustard, secret sauce & rose mayo or a simple cheeseburger.

Chosen by Scott Collins of MEATliquor, London

This 24-hour, hole-in-the wall joint with a counter and stools is a favorite with chefs who enjoy its unfussy food with high-quality ingredients. The hamburger is a 120-gram beef patty with tomato sauce, pickles & mayo in a milk bun.

Chosen by Ashley Palmer-Watts, formerly of Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, London

Butter is a hybrid sneaker, fried chicken and Champagne bar in Surry Hills. If that sounds an unlikely setup, it is the project of respected chef Julian Cincotta and the team from Thievery restaurant in Sydney. The OG Chicken Sandwich is not to be missed.

Chosen by Josh Niland of Saint Peter, Sydney

This is an outpost of a Sydney chain, with loud music, natural wines and an American vibe. Founders Jake Smyth and Kenny Graham favor local suppliers for their meat and wines, and big flavors. The cheeseburger is a must unless you’d prefer the vegan menu.

Chosen by Andrew McConnell of Cutler & Co., Melbourne

This homage to the classic American burger joint serves great food. The patties are made with Double Gold American beef from Wisconsin, served in a potato milk bun. The double cheeseburger is the signature option.

Chosen by Shane Osborn of Arcane, Hong Kong

Gasoline Grill, Copenhagen

Fresh organic burgers are cooked at this walk-in joint, which is attracting attention far beyond Denmark. Housed in a former gasoline station, it has a short menu like a simple roadside grill. It’s worth going off piste with the vegetarian Green Burger.

Chosen by Jamie Lee of Kødbyens Fiskebar, Copenhagen Clare Smyth of Core by Clare Smyth, London

Badia, Grand Hôtel Thalasso, Saint-Jean-de-Luz

This grand old hotel overlooking the bay of Saint-Jean-de-Luz is an idyllic spot to eat. And Le Burger is particularly good, featuring truffled bread, Charolais ground beef, Basque sheep’s cheese and Espelette pepper ketchup with fries.

Chosen by Shane Osborn of Arcane, Hong Kong

As the name suggests, this Parisian restaurant serves organic burgers and they are full of flavor. One favorite is Le Poivre: a choice of beef or vegetable patty with farmhouse cheddar, tomato, salad, onion jam and pepper sauce. It’s like eating steak au poivre on a bun.

Chosen by Greg Marchand of Frenchie, Paris

CAB Comptoir à Burger, Biarritz

This restaurant is located close to Les Halles, the daily market in Biarritz, from which the chefs source the freshest of produce. The buns are cooked to a special recipe and all the sauces are homemade, says Paris-based chef Hélène Darroze. Try Le Parm, with a Parmesan tuile, Mozzarella and arugula and pesto with sun-dried tomatoes.

Chosen by Hélène Darroze of Hélène Darroze, Paris

Burgers don’t have to be about a chunk of meat. Try the Vada Pav at this popular vegetarian cafe. Fried potato dumplings are served in buttery soft buns and laced with sinus-clearing spicy chutneys and deep fried green chilis. Not for the fainthearted.

Chosen by Ravinder Bhogal of Jikoni, London Prateek Sadhu of Masque, Mumbai

This pub in Sicily serves an excellent sausage burger with black olives, radicchio, stewed onion and Ragusano cheese, says Italian chef Ciccio Sultano, who holds two Michelin stars for his Sicilian haute cuisine. “It’s my go-to order if I am there,” he says.

Chosen by Ciccio Sultano of Duomo, Ragusa

This Japanese chain has been serving burgers adapted to Japanese tastes since 1972. Try the Rice Burger served with grilled beef, sweet soy and BBQ sauce between patties of compacted rice. The Kinpira Burger is a great vegan option.

Chosen by Hisato Hamada of Wagyumafia, Tokyo

The Cutlet Sandwich from Wagyumafia at Nakameguro station is made with thick-sliced pure Kobe beef, breaded and deep fried, sandwiched between two slices of Japanese milk bread with a secret house-made sauce. It harkens back to the original burger at Louis' Lunch in New Haven, yet is distinctly Japanese, says three-Michelin star chef Kyle Connaughton. The prices are something else. The budget (Zabuton) version is 5,000 yen ($45.50) rising to 50,000 yen for the Kobe Champion.

Chosen by Kyle Connaughton of Singlethread, Healdsburg, California

Hamburguesas al Carbón Torreon

The inexpensive charcoal-grilled burgers at this street stand near Pushkin Garden are world class, according to Mexican chef Enrique Olvera, whose Pujol places at 12 in the current ranking of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants.

Chosen by Enrique Olvera of Pujol, Mexico City

El Rey del Taco, Mexico City

Mexican chef Martha Ortiz prefers tacos to burgers. El Rey del Taco covers both bases with the Cheeseburger Taco, which features a grilled patty with Chihuahua cheese served in flour tortillas with mayo, tomato and avocado.

Chosen by Martha Ortiz of Filigrana, Mexico City

New Zealand

New Zealand chef Josh Emett is a big fan: “You will always remember you first Fergburger. First, there’s the long queue, and then the care taken to put them together so they are all picture perfect. I love a bit of avocado and bacon in anything and these burgers never disappoint.”

Chosen by Josh Emett of Rātā, Queenstown

The Hamburguesa Café A comes with coarse ground roast beef, caramelized onions, cheese and a secret sauce. “It is simple and it really is delicious,” says Gastón Acurio, one of the most highly acclaimed chefs in Latin America.

Chosen by Gastón Acurio of Astrid & Gastón, Lima

La Lucha Sanguchería, Lima

This casual Peruvian chain serves a great hamburger with double cheese, according to Virgilio Martinez, whose Central, in Lima, ranks at No. 6 in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. “It has a delicate Peruvian touch of acidity if you add the sauces they suggest — a bit spicy,” he says.

Chosen by Virgilio Martinez of Central, Lima

You don’t immediately think of hamburgers at Maido, which has been crowned Latin America’s best restaurant for three years in a row. But London-based Sanjay Dwivedi remembers being served a steam bun filled with slowly cooked belly pork, aji rocoto mayonnaise and salsa creole. “It was a match made in heaven,” he says.

Chosen by Sanjay Dwivedi of Coya, London

Saudi Arabia

An Italian chef admits his expectations were low when he was taken to this burger chain in Riyadh. But he was won over by a small cheeseburger that was so good, he immediately ordered another and then went back the next day. “It was so juicy,” he says.

Chosen by Francesco Mazzei of Radici, London

This inexpensive burger bar near the castle in central Ljubljana is a hit with both tourists and young Slovenians. Ana Roš, a winner of the World’s Best Female Chef accolade, likes to go there with her kids. All the meat is aged and cut in-house.

Chosen by Ana Roš of Hiša Franko, Kobarid, Slovenia

South Africa

Buns Out Burgers, Johannesburg

This new joint in suburban Linden is the first of actor and TV celebrity Maps Maponyanes. It has attracted a lot of media attention. There are about a dozen burgers, including vegetarian and vegan options. Quirky names include, Is It Brie You’re Looking For?

Chosen by Lorna Maseko, TV chef

A Fuego Negro, San Sebastián

The Basque city is known for the “pintxos” (small bites) served at informal bars, and chef Elena Arzak goes for the burger pintxos served at A Fuego Negro, where she is a regular. “It is original and unexpected,” she says.

Chosen by Elena Arzak of Arzak, San Sebastián

Hamburgueseria Cuchus, Bizkaia

London-based Nieves Barragan fondly recalls the food at this family restaurant in Bizkaia. “It was an elderly lady selling the best burgers - I think she’s handed over to her son now. The burger is like a steak bocadillo . It’s so light, you could eat two.”

Chosen by Nieves Barragan of Sabor, London

This bar serves a wide range of burgers, including tuna and vegan options. But London-based José Pizarro recommends the Americana, with aged beef, ketchup, lettuce, cheddar and tomato. “It’s nice and simple but really delicious,” he says.

Chosen by José Pizarro of Pizarro, London

United Kingdom

Restaurateur Scott Collins is a hero among burger fans for his MEATliquor restaurants. But his pick is an unusual one: A native lobster slider with yuzu aioli and pickled shallot. “Expensive, small, perfectly formed and eats as good as it reads,” he says.

Chosen by Scott Collins of MEATliquor, London

“I am not a massive burger fan,” two-Michelin-star chef Clare Smyth admits, but she makes an exception for an American import, Eggslut, on Portobello Road. “They have a great menu, with the cheeseburger being a bit of a favorite,” she says.

Chosen by Clare Smyth of Core by Clare Smyth, London

Shake Shack CEO Randy Garutti is one of the most admired men in the burger business. So where does he go other than the Shack? “I love hitting the bar at Hawksmoor for their burger,” he says. “So many good ones to choose from.”

Chosen by Randy Garutti of Shake Shack, New York José Pizarro of Pizarro, London

“I love going to Honest Burger, Brixton Market, with my twins at least once a month,” Sanjay Dwivedi says. “I love the simplicity of the restaurant and their consistency. It is innovative and their burger of the month is my preferred choice.”

Chosen by Sanjay Dwivedi of Coya, London

“MEATliquor burgers are best,” says London-based Spanish chef Nieves Barragan. They use quality ingredients and the burgers just taste incredible. The Green Chilli Burger is my usual order, or the Dead Hippie if I want something classic.”

Chosen by Nieves Barragan of Sabor, London

This home-grown British chain was born in 2012 and now numbers three-Michelin-star French veteran chef Pierre Koffmann among its fans. “I go there with the kids and it is always good,” he says. He loves the Ari Gold Cheeseburger on brioche.

Chosen by Pierre Koffmann, formerly of Koffmann’s London

The London outlet of this U.S. steak restaurant chain has a fan in one of the rising stars of London gastronomy, Ollie Dabbous. “Definitely the Butcher Burger,” he says. “This is done just about as well as it can be: The brioche buns are even baked in-house.”

Chosen by Ollie Dabbous of Hide, London

This is one of the most fashionable restaurants in London and has been since the day it opened in 2003. Italian chef Francesco Mazzei keeps going back for the Wolseley Hamburger. “It’s the most perfect burger,” he says. “It makes you happy.”

Chosen by Francesco Mazzei of Radici, London

United States

This diner, with outlets in New York and Chicago, is famous for its cheeseburger. Peruvian chef Gastón Acurio, who orders the double, says: “It’s got layers of good cheese, with a delicious thick piece of bacon and an egg. It’s succulent and elegant at the same time.”

Chosen by Gastón Acurio of Astrid & Gastón, Lima

This cash-only speakeasy-style joint hidden beside the lobby in the Parker Meridien is legendary. It’s dark and moody with great music and for many chefs it is among the coolest in New York. Jamie Lee from Copenhagen says you can’t go wrong with the cheeseburger.

Chosen by Jason Atherton of Pollen Street Social, London Jamie Lee of Kødbyens Fiskebar, Copenhagen

DB Bistro Moderne, New York

French-born Daniel Boulud is famed for his luxury DB Burger, filled with braised short ribs, foie gras and black truffle. “DB in NY is excellent and a bite that you will always remember,” says Spanish chef Elena Arzak. French chef Pierre Koffmann is another fan.

Chosen by Elena Arzak of Arzak, San Sebastián Pierre Koffmann, London

This American chain is expanding internationally and has caught the attention of some of London’s finest chefs. Claude Bosi, who holds two Michelin stars, says: “I like the choice of toppings and the meat has good flavor. But the chips are the best.”

Chosen by Claude Bosi of Claude Bosi, London Ashley Palmer-Watts, formerly of Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, London

Chefs love this regional chain founded in California. Claude Bosi praises the great meat patty, light bread and brilliant shakes. “A trip to In-and-Out burger is always a must,” says New Zealand chef Josh Emett, who goes for the Double Double, made with two cheese-topped patties. It’s the same for Randy Garutti: “If I’m in L.A., I’ll snag a Double Double.”

Chosen by Claude Bosi of Claude Bosi, London Josh Emett of Rātā, Queenstown, New Zealand Josh Niland of Saint Peter, Sydney Martha Ortiz of Filigrana, Mexico City Randy Garutti of Shake Shack, New York

Joe Junior, New York

Japanese chef Hisato Hamada likes to visit Joe Junior when he is in New York. “I order the beef without cheese,” he says. “For me, the beauty of this burger is in its simplicity. I like that it is unchanged and has a classic soul. It is my definition of America.”

Chosen by Hisato Hamada of Wagyumafia, Tokyo

The Dirty Burg is the best burger in the States, Kyle Connaughton reckons. “It's an incredible blend of chuck, short rib and back on the patty with a soft, absorbent bun loaded with sesame seeds, grilled onions, cheese, house-made pickles, and onion mayo,” he says. “For me, it's the burger all others are measured by.”

Chosen by Kyle Connaughton of Singlethread, Healdsburg, California

Randy Garutti of Shake Shack says: “When I’m not eating a ShackBurger, I love the burger at Minetta Tavern.” Australian-based chef Andrew McConnell orders the Black Label Burger. Mumbai-based Prateek Sadhu loves the meat and the buns.

Chosen by Randy Garutti of Shake Shack Andrew McConnell of Cutler & Co., Melbourne Prateek Sadhu of Masque, Mumbai

Chef Daniel Boulud enjoys the A-5 Wagyu Burger on the brunch menu at Grant Achatz’s Roister in Chicago. “It’s a delicious combination of fatty beef, aged cheddar and smoked bacon,” he says.

Chosen by Daniel Boulud of Daniel, New York

It’s a rare chef who is not a fan of Shake Shack, where restaurateur Danny Meyer raised the bar for burgers. “It’s my favorite,” says French chef Greg Marchand. “I always go for the SmokeShack ( double stack of course) and I also love their cheesy crinkly fries. “I love Shake Shack!” says Thailand’s Thitis Tassanakajohn. “It’s so addictive,” says Jason Atherton.

Chosen by Jason Atherton of Pollen Street Social, London Ravinder Bhogal of Jikoni, London Daniel Boulud of Daniel Hélène Darroze of Hélène Darroze, Paris Greg Marchand of Frenchie, Paris Thitid Tassanakajohn of Le Du, Bangkok

Superiority Burger, New York

Here's one for the vegetarians, with many vegan options. The Superiority Burger features Muenster cheese, iceberg lettuce, tomato, dill and pickle. Superiority is the creation of chef and musician Brooks Headley, former pastry chef at Del Posto.


The 10 Japanese Fast-Food Joints That Should Be Exported Immedately

Fast food. Any dedicated nerd’s lifeblood. We’re all familiar with every fast food chain in God’s Green Fast Food Nation. But the Japanese have cornered their own market when it comes to fast food. Really, how sustainable would sushi and seared toro for lunch everyday be? Japan has its ashamed and tucked-away population of undernourished fat kids that it needs to feed. And it’s a growing contingent.

You might not have realized that Japanese fast food chains have secretly been invading American shores for the past several years. Yoshinoya beef bowls pervade the west, Beard Papa pastries now dot both coasts, and Pepper Lunch quickie steaks have peppered a couple areas in California. But there’s still a wealth of cheaply made and very satisfying “junk food” that could be imported here pronto.



10) Katsuya


Kicking off the junktravaganza is a greasy hunk of fried pork. Most of us have had some tonkatsu in our lives, whether it hails from a Japanese diner or a Hawaiian buffet, but Katsuya’s katsu comes in all sorts of shapes and varieties: cheese-filled katsu, bite-sized filet of katsu, katsu curry, katsu topped with grated radish. The soup is filled with some kind of pork extract. The rice is also likely made from pork. The customers here are all single males and their entire bodies are covered in acne. Possibly the best katsu of them all, though, is the Katsu-don, a bowl of katsu over a bed of rice with an egg cracked over the sizzling meat right after it emerges from its hot bath of lard. Katsuya might be ranked higher, but the fact that you can’t order a beer here – an absolute necessity when consuming large quantities of fried animal – limits it to the lowest rung on this list.

9) Pizza-La

Japanese pizza companies like to associate themselves with their American brethren in only the most superficial ways – their names. There’s a Chicago Pizza Company which doesn’t serve a hearty deep dish, Pizza Hut and Domino’s can’t be bothered to serve up a regular pepperoni pie, and then there’s Pizza-La, which might be construed as Pizza L.A. This is possibly intentional, as there’s no such thing as a Los Angeles pizza, so Japanese people can fuck with the recipes as much as possible. On the pizza above, there is sausage and mushrooms. There is also squid, shrimp, corn, penne pasta and alfredo sauce, heirloom tomatoes, asparagus, clams, and garlic mashed potatoes.

If you can think of it, chances are you can order it on a pizza. Eggplant? Definitely. Chicken nuggets? Fucking yes. Natto? Fuck no! That shit’s nasty. The conclusion? Japanese pizza is brilliant and Japanese people are disgustingly indulgent, putting to bed the myth that Americans are the only nation that puts everything but the kitchen sink on their plates.

8) Sukiya

There can never be too many beef bowl establishments, and Sukiya has a special place in fast food heaven for not just serving up original beef bowl combinations -beef bowl (shredded beef and caramelized onions) sprinkled with herb gouda, beef bowl with fresh tomato salsa, beef bowl with grated mountain yam – but also for going above and beyond the hacked-off loins of a steer. You can order a unagi bowl here, a bed of rice topped with barbequed eel. The texture of barbequed eel, for the uninitiated, is something like eating a very fatty, tender piece of fish (or a snake, but snake sounds unappetizing). The BBQ gives it a smoky flavor, and the special sauce sluiced over the butterflied eel is faintly sweet. Ordering a half-beef, half-eel bowl will result in an assortment of flavors so complex, your face will slowly fall off, Poltergeist-style, if you are not Japanese. Just stick to one and you’ll be okay. [Ed. Note: If Sukiya is good enough for Kinnikuman, it’s good enough for you.]

7) Coco Ichiban Curry


Japanese curry is thicker than Indian and Thai curry, and doesn’t come in coconut or other such varieties. This is ornery curry, full of spices and colored an old-fashioned but business-like turd brown. Like Pizza-La, this curry joint is notable less for its outstanding quality of curry broth, and more for the fact that obscene materials can be thrown into the soup. But all in good fun! The above here example is a conservative curry – just fried quail eggs, pickles, mozzarella cheese, and a half-boiled egg for richer, denser flavor. You can put on toppings like onion rings, calamari, fried oysers, and natto, which is a type of vomit. Coco also offers different levels of curry size and spice – the above is about 300 grams of curry at a spice level of 2. There are 10 spice levels, and a 2 would be the spice equivalent of five packets of Del Scorcho sauce squeezed onto one very mediocre taco. If you eat a 1500-gram bowl of this stuff at level 10, supposedly the bowl is free, but if you fail, supposedly you will spontaneously combust. If you succeed, you’ll spontaneously combust as well, but it will be several years later. There’s apparently a Coco Ichiban in Hawaii, so if you’ve been there, let us know in the comments how it stacks up.

6) Beard Papa Mille-Feuille

Beard Papa’s cream puffs are one of the most successful Japanese food exports since the drinkable yogurt. Flaky on the outside, chewy on the inside, and filled with rich vanilla bean, chocolate, or sweet green tea creams, they’ve fostered a loyal following. But in Japan, they’ve moved on. Papa has created so many versions of that original cream puff, the Japanese have grown disenchanted. And thus was born Papa’s brand new effeminate gourmet daughter. Hailing from some part of Europe, a mille-feuille is a much flakier version of the cream puff, lightly glazed on the outside, sprinkled with powdered sugar, and filled with either a pastry cream or a warm apple jam. And it’s served on the street! This is what Japanese must eat after a long night of drinking, singing, feeling up women on the train, etc., because there are no Mexicans, and hence no carne asada, in Japan.

5) First Kitchen

First Kitchen doesn’t want to be associated with fast food since it calls itself a “city convenience restaurant.” Sure, you still pay at a counter, the same suicidal teenager takes your order, and all your food is served in wrappers. But First Kitchen does have a ton of variety for a fast food joint – your usual run of burgers, chicken and fish sandwiches, yes, but also bowls of noodles, pastas, soups, salads, mini-pizzas, ice cream floats, multi-flavored French fries, and even cakes and hot chocolate. It’s actually one of the few fast food places you’ll see single gals, since they serve shit you eat with a spoon. First Kitchen is also notorious for touting their heavy usage of mayonnaise, to the point where it’s dripping off the food like a Carl’s burger (which, come to think of it, probably looks pretty terrible to everyone but Americans). There’s even a “flavor sauce bar” for your fries, and it’s entirely made up of different tastes of mayo. The above burger doesn’t actually have mayo but tartar sauce, which is so much less disgusting.

4) Mister Donuts


Donut dining? Believe it! If you’ve been groomed on Krispy Kreme balls of congealed sugar, Mister Donuts might be lacking in the sweetness department, and the donuts themselves aren’t quite as chewy either. But not only are there seasonal varieties of Mister Donuts, with frostings and fillings such as green tea, chestnut, pumpkin, and sweet potato, but there are even donut hot dogs, donut croquettes, spicy chicken donuts, and donuts filled with ham and cheese. Some Mister Donuts now serve Chinese food, which makes no sense at all, unless dumplings are considered in China to be some kind of donut. Best of all, you can get Donut Points and earn free donuts or donut-related merchandise, like a set of donut-adorned plates or donut wear, like a donut blanket. Donut! Donut!

3) Mos Burger

Nothing fancy here. Just good, fresh, well-made burgers. Mos Burger has thrived on no gimmicks – like the Japanese In N’Out, their burgers are made to order, use fresh produce, and the higher salaries of their employees make them seem more professional (and less suicidal). Their sides and premium burgers can easily set you back a ten spot, but you can pick from desserts, soups, and Mos Rice burgers, which are like beefs bowls in a burger shape. Each Mos eatery uses the best meat and vegetables from local farms in the area, and they’ll advertise where each ingredient is from right when you walk in. They’re still pretty secretive about the chili sauce on the Mos Burger, but some things are better left in the dark.

2) Tenya

Can you really go that wrong with tempura? Tenya’s tempura is pretty damn good for being prepared in less than five minutes. Depending on what’s fresh in season, they’ll have specials of fried crab, scallops, oysters, or even octopus. You can order a platter like the one above, or you can grab the incredibly cheap Ten-don which, at about five bucks, includes tempura shrimp, fish, squid, pumpkin, and green beans over a bowl of rice, covered with the house special sauce, and served with a cup of miso soup. Perhaps Tenya is ranked higher because it serves not only beer, but graciously-poured vials of Japanese sake. If you stop in on your way home from work, you might start crying once you realize you’re drinking alone in a fast food establishment. This, and big gulps of Dewars “for the road,” is why American fast food doesn’t serve alcohol.

1) Ichiran Ramen

Ramen isn’t especially fast food, per se. You can’t take it to go unless you want to eat your noodles with a knife and fork. But Ichiran Ramen is constructed entirely for single people in a hurry, and isn’t that the essence of fast food? Once you step inside the red-tinged interior, you aren’t greeted by a hostess, but a machine in which you deposit your money and get a meal ticket. A wall of blinking lights designates when a customer has left his seat. Each seat is partitioned off not only from the people around you, but from the cook in front of you – there’s a curtain where you place your ticket, and then your food will be slid in front of you (the waitress will still bow to you through the curtain). It’s like a confessional booth, but instead of being absolved for your sins, you indulge in a gluttonous bowl of noodles.

Eating at Ichiran is a completely isolated, lonely, and somewhat depressing experience. Thankfully, the ramen is fucking good, or you’d commit seppuku right then and there. Full of thin, Hakata-style noodles, a rich and flavorful tonkotsu pork broth, slices of chashu, and a dab of Ichiran’s special red sauce, Ichiran’s ramen is one of the best ramen chains in Japan for its taste, speed, and presentation. There have been rumblings that an Ichiran branch is opening in Brooklyn but for “members only.” Ramen is not a meal for wispy elitists. It’s a food for the masses that should be available to all. They need to get on that.


Are Beyond Burgers healthy?

&ldquoIf you&rsquore a vegetarian who occasionally wants to grill out with a juicy burger, these are great,&rdquo says Dawn Jackson Blatner, RDN, author of The Superfood Swap. &ldquoBut there are a lot of people who regularly eat meat who then go into a fast-food restaurant and think, &lsquoI want to eat something healthier for myself!&rsquo so they try the plant-based burger, but it&rsquos actually not any healthier for you.&rdquo

Blatner points out that when it comes to calories and saturated fat, the Beyond Burger is about equal to a grass-fed beef burger (Beyond's saturated fat comes from coconut oil and cocoa butter), and it has far more sodium than its animal-based counterpart. Both burgers have a good amount of protein, and the Beyond has an added boost of 2 g of fiber (though Blatner points out that you can make up for that simply by topping your hamburger with lettuce and tomato). The Beyond Burger, however has no cholesterol, compared with beef's 70 mg. "But saturated fat is more damaging in terms of heart disease than dietary cholesterol is," points out Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, creator of BetterThanDieting.com and author of Read It Before You Eat It.

Blatner created a side-by-side comparison of the Beyond Burger vs. a grass-fed beef burger. Here&rsquos how they stack up:


History of Yoshoku

Meiji Era 明治時代 (1868-1912)

To begin talking about the origins of Yoshoku, let’s go back to the Meiji era.

The arrival of Commodore Matthew Perry at Kurihama in 1853 triggered the rapid modernization of Japan from an isolated feudal society. As portrayed in the historical fiction movie The Last Samurai , this era marked a dramatic turning point in Japanese history where, to avoid the fate of many colonized Asian countries by western powers, Japan opened its borders and aggressively integrated Western elements. This change not only affected its sociopolitical structure, economy, military, and foreign relations, but also its food culture and customs, namely the practice of eating four-legged animals.

Prohibition of Meat Consumption

You may have noticed that the traditional Japanese diet is mostly fish and seafood based. This is because the “open” consumption of meat is relatively new.

Several factors, such as the introduction of Buddhism from China, the rise of Shintoism and its teachings on the impurity of slaughtering, and Emperor Tenmu’s decree of banning the killing and eating of meat during certain times of the year (675 AD) created an ambiguous and undefined social taboo against the practice. However, the consumption of wild game remained prevalent throughout the centuries, as an open secret for those seeking for its nutritional and caloric benefits but not spoken of.

A sketch published in 1874 depicting men indulging in Gyunabe 牛鍋, what will later be called Sukiyaki (Source )

This taboo was lifted with the announcement of the Meiji emperor incorporating beef and mutton into his daily diet in 1872, encouraging its people to do the same. Beef and pork quickly popularized, and various food establishments flourished across the country, devising creative and delicious ways to fulfill the hungry customers’ indulgence.


30 Must-Try Japanese Foods

Over the past few decades, Japan has made significant contributions to the culture of the UK and other Western countries.

As well as revolutionising our cars, computers, and cartoon characters Japan has also broadened our culinary knowledge with the introduction of its delicious and highly unique cuisine. We at Japan Centre live and breathe Japanese cuisine, so we compiled a list of our top 30 recommendations for Japanese foods that everybody needs to try.

1. Sushi

Sushi is one of the first foods that spring to mind when we think about Japanese cuisine. This delicacy was one of the first Japanese dishes to be exported to the US after the Meiji Restoration in 1868, and since then its popularity has steadily increased year after year. The word ‘sushi’ refers to any dish made with Japanese rice that has been seasoned with rice vinegar. Common varieties of sushi include makizushi (sushi rice and fillings rolled up in nori seaweed), nigiri sushi (shaped, bite-size mounds of sushi rice with single slices of raw fish or similar draped over the top) and inarizushi (sushi rice stuffed inside pockets of inari a type of seasoned, fried tofu).

2. Udon

One of the three main noodle varieties eaten in Japan udon noodles are thick, chewy, and traditionally made from wheat flour and brine water. Udon can be served in a number of different ways (mixed into stir fries, added to hot pots, served cold with a tsuyu or tentsuyu soup base on the side for dipping), but are most commonly used in noodle soups, where they are served in a savoury soup broth with different garnishes. Some of the most common udon noodle soup dishes include kitsune udon (‘fox udon’, topped with aburaage fried tofu), tempura udon (topped with tempura battered seafood and vegetables), and chikara udon (‘power udon’, topped with grilled mochi rice cakes).

3. Tofu

Although tofu is mainly thought of in Western countries as a health food or vegetarian alternative, in Southeast Asian countries like Japan, tofu (particularly silken tofu) is enjoyed by everybody and is a common part of the traditional diet. To answer the question 'what is tofu?', it is soy milk that has been coagulated, with the resulting curds being pressed into blocks. These blocks come in differing levels of firmness, and can be eaten uncooked (perhaps with a couple of savoury garnishes), boiled in hot pots, or fried into tasty pieces of aburaage and used as a garnish.

4. Tempura

If you enjoy crispy fried foods, then you will love tempura. Tempura are pieces or slices of meat, fish, and/or vegetables that have been covered in a special tempura batter and deep fried until they become crunchy and pale gold in colour. Unlike in the UK, where battered foods tend to be made from meats and fish, tempura tends to be made from either small shellfish like prawns, or vegetables like green beans, pumpkin, daikon mooli radish, and sweet potato. Tempura can be eaten by itself (perhaps with a little grated daikon and a small dish of tsuyu for dipping), or served on top of rice bowls or noodle soups.

5. Yakitori

While we in the UK might pick up a serving of chips or a hot dog during a sports match, the Japanese will pick up some yakitori. With a name literally meaning ‘barbecued chicken’, yakitori are small skewers of bite-size chicken pieces seasoned with salt or brushed with a sauce, or tare , of mirin rice wine, soy sauce, sake alcohol, and sugar. There are many different types of yakitori, but the most common varieties are momo (chicken thigh), negima (chicken and spring onion), and tsukune (chicken meatballs).

6. Sashimi

Possibly one of the most controversial dishes in all of Japanese cuisine, sashimi is raw fish or meat that has been expertly cut into thin slices and typically comes served with daikon radish, pickled ginger, wasabi and soy sauce. Sashimi differs from sushi in that all sushi is made with vinegared rice and does not always contain raw fish, while sashimi is almost exclusively raw fish and is never served with rice. The fish used to make sashimi must be as fresh as possible, both in order to minimise the risk of contamination, and because fresher fish makes for tastier sashimi.

7. Ramen

Ramen is a noodle soup dish consisting of wheat noodles (also known as 'ramen noodles'), a savoury broth (soy sauce, salt, miso, and tonkotsu pork bone are the four main ramen broth bases) and toppings of meat, protein, and/or vegetables such as sliced pork, nori seaweed, spring onions, bamboo shoots, and others. Ramen is one of present-day Japan’s absolute favourite delicacies, costing very little and being widely available in restaurants and ramen bars (which are on almost every street corner). Indeed, Japanese ramen is so popular that there is a ramen-themed museum/amusement park in Tokyo.

8. Donburi

This rice bowl dish is almost as popular as ramen in Japan and a common lunchtime choice among busy Japanese workers. Donburi is made by preparing (normally by simmering or frying) various meat, fish and vegetables and serving over steamed rice in large bowls (also called 'donburi'). While donburi can be made using just about any assortment of ingredients, the most common types include oyakodon (simmered chicken, egg, and green onion), gyudon (sliced beef and onion simmered in a soy sauce soup base), tendon (fried tempura pieces drizzled in tsuyu), and katsudon (breaded and deep-fried pork cutlets, or tonkatsu , simmered in tsuyu with onion and egg).

9. Natto

In the same way that Marmite divides the British nation, so too does natto divide the Japanese. This traditional Japanese food is made by fermenting soy beans in a special type of bacteria that is naturally produced in the human gastrointestinal tract. Natto has a strong smell similar to mouldy cheese, as well as a sticky/slimy texture that many find off-putting. However, many other people love these fermented soy beans for their full-bodied salty and savoury (or umami ) flavour and their ample nutritional value. Is natto delicious or disgusting? It is up to you to decide.

10. Oden

No cold Japanese winter would be complete without oden. This winter hot pot dish, or nabemono , is made by taking an assortment of vegetables and proteins (including processed fish cakes, mochi rice cakes, boiled eggs, daikon radish, konjac yam and tofu), and stewing them in a light broth seasoned with soy sauce and dashi (a soup stock made from infusions of bonito fish flakes, kombu kelp seaweed, and/or other savoury ingredients) in a large hot pot at the centre of a table. Diners can then scoop out their favourite pieces and enjoy with karashi mustard and other condiments. As well as being a hearty main meal, the simmering hot pot also serves as a communal heater on cold evenings.

11. Tamagoyaki

A versatile delicacy that can be enjoyed for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, tamagoyaki (which literally means ‘cooked egg’) is a Japanese omelette made by sequentially cooking and rolling up several layers of beaten egg (sometimes seasoned with soy sauce and/or sugar). A freshly cooked tamagoyaki looks like a rolled up crêpe, which can then be sliced up and eaten by itself (often this is how it is eaten at breakfast) or used a topping or filling in sushi. A tamagoyaki-topped nigiri sushi is often eaten in sushi bars as the final course, as the tamagoyaki has a slight sweetness that makes it almost dessert-like.

12. Soba

Otherwise known as ‘buckwheat noodles’ (‘soba’ is the Japanese word for ‘buckwheat’), soba are one of the three main varieties of noodle most frequently eaten in Japan. Unlike udon and ramen soba noodles are made partially, if not entirely, from buckwheat flour. This gives them a distinctly earthy and slightly nutty flavour that works well with stronger flavours like garlic and sesame. Soba can be served hot in soups with toppings of spring onions, agetama tempura flakes, kamaboko fish cakes and/or grilled mochi), or cold with a side of tsuyu and garnishes of green onions, shredded nori seaweed, and wasabi.

13. Tonkatsu

Tonkatsu pork cutlets are one of the many yoshoku , or ‘western-style’ foods, that were originally introduced to Japan by Europeans. Like most other yoshoku foods, the Japanese took the original tonkatsu and made it their own. Today, tonkatsu is made by coating pork chops in crisp panko breadcrumbs and deep-frying them until they are golden brown in colour. They are normally served drizzled in fruit-and-vegetable based tonkatsu sauce with shredded cabbage and other crisp salad greens on the side. Tonkatsu are also often enjoyed as part of a bento boxed lunch, in a Japanese curry (known as 'katsu curry'), or as a sandwich filling.

14. Kashipan

The Japanese love a good bread roll as much as the next person, and bakeries line Japan's city streets with almost as much regularity as ramen bars. The word ‘kashipan’ means ‘sweet bread’, and it refers to a range of single-serve bread buns that were originally invented in Japan. Among the most popular of these are melon pan (a bread bun with a cookie dough top), an pan (a bread bun filled with an or anko a sweet red bean paste), and karee pan or kare pan (a bread bun filled with curry sauce, covered in panko breadcrumbs, and deep-fried). Kashipan are a must-try for bread lovers in particular.

15. Sukiyaki

Like oden, sukiyaki is a Japanese nabemono hot pot dish most commonly enjoyed during the winter. Sukiyaki hot pots are prepared by searing beef slices in the hot pot, then adding sukiyaki broth (normally made from soy sauce, sake, mirin rice wine and sugar) and different vegetables, noodles, and proteins. The name ‘sukiyaki’ means ‘cook what you like’, and the joy of sukiyaki comes from being able to prepare the dish with your fellow diners, at the table, using whatever ingredients you desire.

16. Miso Soup

Few Japanese dishes are consumed more often or more consistently than miso soup. Made from a combination of miso paste (a traditional Japanese food made from fermented soy beans) and dashi broth, miso soup is served as a side dish with traditional Japanese-style breakfasts, lunches and dinners. The complex savoury flavours of the soup help to enhance the umami of the main dishes with which it is served. To give the miso soup a little more body, several complementary toppings are normally added to it, such as green onion, wakame seaweed, and firm tofu.

17. Okonomiyaki

Okonomiyaki is made by mixing together batter, sliced cabbage, and other savoury ingredients spooning the mixture onto a hot plate and then pan-frying as you would a pancake. Okonomiyaki originated in Osaka and Hiroshima (where a different, ‘layered’ style of okonomiyaki exists) and its popularity spread to the rest of Japan, where specialised okonomiyaki restaurants are easy to come by. In some of these restaurants you are expected to prepare the okonomiyaki yourself, which makes for a delightfully fun cooking experience.

18. Mentaiko

Lovers of salty seafood will reach the peak of their desires with mentaiko. This salty delicacy is made by marinating the roe (fish eggs) of pollock and cod in any of a number of salty, savoury, and spicy seasonings. The most basic mentaiko is marinated in a simple salt solution, while mentaiko marinated in spicy chilli pepper (known as 'karashi mentaiko') is becoming increasingly popular. Mentaiko is traditionally eaten as a side dish with steamed rice, as a topping on ramen, or as a filling in onigiri rice balls. In recent decades mentaiko has also been mixed with butter or cream to make a simple savoury or spicy mentaiko pasta sauce.

19. Nikujaga

A flavoursome savoury dish of meat, potatoes and assorted vegetables simmered in soy sauce, sake, mirin and sugar, Nikujaga meat and potato stew is one of a collection of Japanese dishes called 'nimono' (meaning ‘simmered things’). Although nikujaga is available in plenty of Japanese restaurants, it is also considered a homely dish that differs in flavour from household to household. For an authentic Japanese nikujaga experience, therefore, the best thing to do is get invited to a Japanese friend’s house and put in a request with the family chef.

20. Curry Rice

Known in Japanese as kare or kare raisu , Japanese curry is a yoshoku dish that was originally introduced to the Japanese by the British during the Meiji era (1868-1912).Japanese curry differs from the Indian varieties with which the UK is more familiar, in that it is generally sweeter in flavour, thicker in texture, and prepared more like a stew (with meat and vegetables being cooked by boiling in water together). Japanese curry is often prepared in Japanese homes with the help of curry roux blocks of solidified Japanese curry paste that melt into the ‘stew’ and thicken up to become a flavoursome curry sauce.

21. Unagi no Kabayaki

‘Unagi’ is the Japanese word for ‘freshwater eel’, and unagi no kabayaki is one popular unagi dish that dates back to the Edo period (1603-1868), when Japanese people customarily ate kabayaki unagi during the summer in order to gain stamina. Unagi no kabayaki is made by brushing prepared eel fillets with a sweetened soy sauce-based kabayaki sauce and broiling them on a grill. The name ‘kabayaki’ refers to this method of cooking, and it can also be done with some other types of fish, including catfish. However, if you are in Japan during the summer, use the opportunity to try the genuine article.

22. Shabu Shabu

Shabushabu is a nabemono hot pot dish similar to sukiyaki, made by boiling vegetables, tofu and other ingredients in a mellow broth seasoned with kombu kelp, and then dipping very thin slices of meat into the broth and swishing the meat around until it cooks (normally around 10-20 seconds). This meat is then dipped in a ponzu citrus seasoned soy sauce or sesame sauce before being eaten with some of the other boiled ingredients. The name ‘shabu shabu’ is an onomatopoeia word for the noise the meat slices make as they are swished around.

23. Onigiri

Like the sandwich could be considered the original portable food of British cuisine, the onigiri rice ball is the original portable food of Japan. Also known as ‘omusubi’, ‘nigirimeshi’, or just ‘rice balls’, onigiri are portions of Japanese rice, normally with a filling in the centre, that have been moulded into triangular or cylindrical shapes before being wrapped in nori seaweed. Onigiri have been enjoyed in Japan for hundreds of years, and most Japanese convenience stores nowadays sell a great range of onigiri for 100-150 yen (£0.75-£1.12) a piece. Popular onigiri fillings include umeboshi pickled plums, seasoned seaweed, tuna mayonnaise, and teriyaki chicken.

24. Gyoza

Gyoza are savoury moon-shaped dumplings, made from a minced mixture of savoury fillings (pork mince, cabbage, green onion and mushroom is a common combination, but other fillings can be used as well) which are wrapped up in a circular gyoza wrapper and crimped or pleated around the edges to make an iconic half-moon shape. Gyoza dumplings are normally cooked by frying on one side (a process that gives the gyoza a crisp, savoury bottom), and then steaming for 2-3 minutes so that the rest of the rest of the wrapper is smooth and silky, and the filling inside is moist and juicy.

25. Takoyaki

As far as Japanese street vendor foods are concerned, few are more notorious than takoyaki. Also known as 'octopus balls' or 'octopus dumplings', this delicacy is cooked using a special hot plate with rows of half-spherical moulds. Each of the moulds is filled with a savoury batter mixture before a bite-size piece of tako octopus meat is inserted into the middle. The takoyaki are turned with a pick or skewer every minute or so to ensure an evenly-cooked outside and a perfect ball-shaped dumpling in the end. Takoyaki are typically served in lots of six, eight or ten, brushed with a sweet/savoury takoyaki sauce and topped with mayonnaise, aonori seaweed and katsuobushi bonito fish flakes.

26. Kaiseki Ryori

If you are hoping to experience the Japanese equivalent of haute cuisine, then you need to try kaiseki ryori. Also known simply as ‘kaiseki’, kaiseki ryori are traditional, multi-course Japanese dinners. A full kaiseki can involve a dozen or more different dishes made with fresh, seasonal, and/or local produce, each prepared in very small servings and in such a way as to enhance the produce’s natural flavour. The courses in kaiseki all demonstrate a different cooking technique, and the complete experience is seen in Japan as an artform as much as a sit-down dinner. Kaiseki can normally be enjoyed in specialised restaurants or at ryokan (Japanese-style inns).

27. Edamame

While frequent pub-goers in the UK like to snack on peanuts and pork scratchings with their lagers, the regulars in Japan’s izakaya pubs enjoy freshly prepared edamame. These bright green, immature soy beans, harvested before the beans have hardened, are normally served in the pod after being blanched and lightly salted. As well as boasting a naturally delicious and mellow umami flavour that works beautifully with light salt seasonings, edamame beans also carry a number of health benefits (being naturally high in protein, iron, and calcium). Edamame are often served in pubs and restaurants as a complimentary appetiser.

28. Yakisoba

It is virtually impossible to attend a summer festival in Japan and not come across a yakisoba stand. Yakisoba is a fried noodle dish made by barbecuing or stir-frying a combination of noodles, sliced cabbage, pork, carrot and other vegetables, and a barbecue style yakisoba sauce. During the summer festivals large piles of these ingredients are thrown onto an outdoor hotplate and barbecued, but yakisoba can also easily be made at home using a large frying pan or wok. ‘Yakisoba’ means ‘cooked soba’, but unlike other soba noodles, the noodles used in yakisoba do not contain any buckwheat.

29. Chawanmushi

As far as mellow, comforting, and uniquely Japanese dishes are concerned, chawanmushi is one of the best. This steamed, savoury egg custard is made by pouring seasoned, beaten eggs into individual cups already filled with different meats and vegetables (including chicken, mushrooms, gingko nuts, kamaboko fish cakes, and carrots), and then steaming the cups in a pot or steamer until they have solidified and become similar to pudding in texture. Chawanmushi gets its name by combining the words ‘chawan’ (meaning ‘teacup’)and ‘mushi’ (meaning ‘steamed’), so chawanmushi is, literally, ‘steamed in a cup’.

30. Wagashi

The most authentic way to finish off a Japanese meal or matcha tea ceremony is with wagashi. Wagashi are traditional Japanese sweets, invented during the Edo period and influenced by prevalent Japanese ingredients and flavours. Most wagashi are made using only a handful of select ingredients, including mochi rice cakes, anko paste, kanten (agar a vegetarian thickener similar to gelatine), chestnuts, and sugar. The most popular wagashi include dango (sweet mochi balls on skewered sticks, often served with sugar syrup), daifuku (mochi rice stuffed with anko), dorayaki (anko sandwiched between two thick pancakes), and yokan (blocks of anko hardened with kanten and sugar).


Changing Food Culture in Japan

Japanese cuisine… what images do those words bring up?

Typically when I speak to people about traditional Japanese food, sushi is the first thing they bring up, then teriyaki and, occasionally, instant ramen.

People also seem to have a sense that the Japanese naturally have better eating habits and are healthier than we are here in the West. Throughout the majority of my studies in Japan and East Asia I carried these same notions too. It wasn’t until my first visit to Japan in 2003 that my eyes were opened to the truth.

What is the truth? In a nutshell?

Yes, sushi is a traditional Japanese dish, but it has been altered almost beyond recognition here in the U.S. since the dish first became widely popular the 1980s. Teriyaki is a Japanese dish but it was not traditionally made with chicken or beef, but with fish. It is through Westernization that there is now a teriyaki beef burger on McDonald’s menus in Japan. Ramen is actually from China however instant ramen was first invented in the late 1950s (in Kobe Japan) by Momofuku Ando, a Taiwanese/Japanese businessman.

In other words, as I scratched the surface of what I thought was a simple straightforward food culture, I ended up with a series of complex questions:

What is real Japanese cuisine?
Is it really healthy?
Is there something to learn from this style of cooking?
Where do Japanese food traditions come from?
Who and what have shaped Japanese food traditions over the years? Why?

In order to answer these questions I had to start by putting aside my preconceived ideas of Japanese cuisine and start from the beginning.

Open up almost any history book – and many cookbooks, for that matter – and the first reference to Japan will always be some variation of this:

“Japan is an island nation with limited natural resources…”

Such a simple sentence defines an immense impact on Japan’s history as a people and a nation. Lacking natural resources and with limited land, Japan has always had to rely on trade with other nations in order to exist.

Despite this need for trade, Japan has always remained fiercely independent and never colonized. Through trade Japan has selected the best from around the world and made those things uniquely Japanese. It is this adaptive nature of Japan that I admire deeply.

Much of what we know as Japanese cuisine and culture today can easily be traced to China. Rice barley wheat buckwheat noodle making soybeans and soy products such as tofu, soy sauce, and miso paste and tea are considered staples of Japanese cuisine and all originated directly from China.

In addition to basic food and food products, China also introduced Buddhism, which discouraged the eating of meat, and Confucianism, which greatly influenced how the government ruled the people.

Katsu dinner following the traditional ichi-ju san-sai of a bowl of soup (miso), a bowl of rice, and two sides – steamed vegetables and the katsu.

China was not the only outside influence to Japanese cuisine. Portuguese traders and Jesuit priests introduced bread to Japan, as well as tempura and the deep-fried, breaded meat cutlets that the Japanese now call katsu.

In a reaction to the ever-increasing influence of the Jesuits in Japanese political affairs, Japan closed its doors to the outside world in the 1600s. The country refused to open its borders or trade with outsiders for 200 years.

No Japanese person could leave the country and return for any reason or he or she would be put to death, and any foreigner who had the misfortune to be stranded on Japan would be instantly killed. Japan only allowed a handful of Dutch and Chinese traders to enter the country for trade at Dejima Island, in the far south and far away from the seat of power, Edo (Tokyo).

Traders were not allowed to leave the small island fortification under any circumstance and were certainly not allowed to mingle with the local Japanese. It was during this time that Japanese cuisine really came into its own, developing naturally – and in isolation – for two centuries.

With the arrival of Commodore Perry of the United States in 1853, isolation ended and once again outsiders, especially French, Italians, and Germans, influenced Japan’s cuisine.

Demand increased for meat, coffee, chocolate, and especially wheat-based products such as bread and Italian style pasta. In addition the Japanese, influenced by Western food trends developed their own novel dishes like okanomiyaki – meaning “as you like it.” It is a grilled wheat and cabbage-based patty with a variety of toppings like meat, vegetables, rice cake, and more.

Finally at the end of World War II the Americans arrived, imposing a new constitution and fueling a demand for U.S.-grown wheat. As a result the Japanese began to shift away from their traditional diet of rice to more calorie-dense bleached wheat breads. In addition the Japanese diet has been influenced by cheap, fast, and high-calorie food from McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC, and other Western fast food chains.

It must be understood that once Japan reopened after isolation and again after World War II, eating Western food became very fashionable, if not always cheap. To be able to understand, prepare, and eat Western foods was considered a symbol of wealth and sophistication. Two fine examples of these shifts of attitude can be seen in the book “I am a Cat” by Soseki Natsume and in the classic 1985 movie Tampopo.

In the last 150 years Japan has seen the largest change to its diet and its people. Once the nation’s standard meal – referred to as ichi-ju san-sai – was one soup and three side dishes that generally consisted of a small bowl of rice and two dishes of vegetables, or a single dish of protein and a single dish of vegetables.

That has been transformed into an imbalanced meal laden with processed foods, highly saturated fats, empty calories, and few fresh vegetables. As a result Japan’s obesity levels, cholesterol levels, and incidence of diabetes have all increased.

The traditional way of eating is being forgotten and what were once everyday foods are now rare and hard to find. Information about these dishes – how they are made and consumed – is limited in Japanese references and almost non-existent in English ones.

Yet it is here where I begin my journey, to explore, to rediscover, and to recreate the traditional foods of Japan before they are forgotten.


I'm Todd Wilbur, Chronic Food Hacker

For 30 years I've been deconstructing America's most iconic brand-name foods to make the best original clone recipes for you to use at home. Welcome to my lab.

Menu Description: "This unique thinner crust has a ring of cheese baked into the edge so you get cheese in the very last bite of every slice."

Brothers Dan and Frank Carney have their dear old mom to thank for helping them to become founders of the world's largest pizza chain. It was in 1958 that a family friend approached the two brothers with the idea of opening a pizza parlor, and it was the brothers' mom who lent them the $600 it took to purchase some second-hand equipment and to rent a small building. There, in the Carneys' hometown of Wichita, Kansas, the first Pizza Hut opened its doors. By 1966, there were 145 Pizza Hut restaurants doing a booming business around the country with the help of the promotional musical jingle. "Putt-Putt to Pizza Hut." Today the chain is made up of more than 10,000 restaurants, delivery-carry out units, and kiosks in all 50 states and 82 foreign countries.

Introduced in 1995, the Stuffed Crust Pizza, which includes sticks of mozzarella string cheese loaded into the dough before baking, increased business at Pizza Hut by 37 percent. Because the outer crust is filled with cheese, the chain designed a special dough formula that does not rise as high as the original. It's best to prepare the dough of this Pizza Hut stuffed pizza crust copycat recipe a day before you plan to cook your pizza so that the dough can rest to develop crust with a chewy bite just like the original.

You might also want to try my clone recipe for Pizza Hut Pan Pizza.

Includes eight (8) 79¢ recipes of your choice each month!

They're the world's most famous French fries, responsible for one-third of all U.S. French fry sales, and many say they're the best. These fried spud strips are so popular that Burger King even changed its own recipe to better compete with the secret formula from Mickey D's. One-quarter of all meals served today in American restaurants come with fries a fact that thrills restaurateurs since fries are the most profitable menu item in the food industry. Proper preparation steps were developed by McDonald's to minimize in-store preparation time, while producing a fry that is soft on the inside and crispy on the outside. This clone requires a two-step frying process to replicate the same qualities: the fries are par-fried, frozen, then fried once more to crispy just before serving. Be sure to use a slicer to cut the fries for a consistent thickness (1/4-inch is perfect) and for a cooking result that will make them just like the real thing. As for the rumor that you must soak the fries in sugar water to help them turn golden brown, I also found that not to be necessary. If the potatoes have properly developed they contain enough sugar on their own to make a good clone with great color.

Now, how about a Big Mac or Quarter Pounder to go with those fries? Click here for a list of all my McDonald's copycat recipes.

This top secret clone of the cheesy appetizer from this 107-unit Mexican food chain is perfect to whip out for your festive fiestas. This recipe will make enough of the spicy cheese concoction for plenty of party time double-dipping. The Anaheim chili has a mild spiciness, so we'll toss a jalapeno in there for extra kick. If you can't find an Anaheim pepper, use any mild green chilies that are available, as long as you get about 1/2 cup of diced pepper in the mix.

Find more famous dip recipes here.

The talented chefs at Benihana cook food on hibachi grills with flair and charisma, treating the preparation like a tiny stage show. They juggle salt and pepper shakers, trim food with lightning speed, and flip the shrimp and mushrooms perfectly onto serving plates or into their tall chef's hat.

One of the side dishes that everyone seems to love is the fried rice. At Benihana this dish is prepared by chefs with precooked rice on open hibachi grills, and is ordered a la cart to complement any Benihana entree, including Hibachi Steak and Chicken. I like when the rice is thrown onto the hot hibachi grill and seems to come alive as it sizzles and dances around like a bunch of little jumping beans. Okay, so I'm easily amused.

This Benihana Japanese fried rice recipe will go well with just about any Japanese entree and can be partially prepared ahead of time and kept in the refrigerator until the rest of the meal is close to done.

Menu Description: "A delicious combination of ham and turkey, plus Swiss and American cheeses on wheat bread. Lightly battered and fried until golden. Dusted with powdered sugar and served with red raspberry preserves for dipping."

It sounds crazy, but it tastes great: a triple-decker ham, turkey, and cheese sandwich is dipped in a tempura-style batter fried to a golden brown then served with a dusting of powdered sugar and a side of raspberry preserves. For over ten years tons of cloning requests for this one have stacked up at TSR Central, so it was time for a road trip. There are no Bennigan's in Las Vegas, and since the Bennigan's chain made this sandwich famous, I headed out to the nearest Bennigan's in San Diego. Back home, with an ice chest full of original Monte Cristo sandwiches well-preserved and ready to work with, I was able to come up with this simple clone for a delicious sandwich that is crispy on the outside, and hot, but not greasy, on the inside (the batter prevents the shortening from penetrating). This recipe makes one sandwich, which may be enough for two. If you want to make more, you'll most likely have to make more batter so that any additional sandwiches get a real good dunking. Recently, Bennigan's restaurants across the country have been closing, but with this secret formula you can still experience the taste of the chain's signature sandwich.

Exclusive signed copy. America's best copycat recipes! Save money and amaze your friends with all-new culinary carbon copies from the Clone Recipe King!

For more than 30 years, Todd Wilbur has been obsessed with reverse-engineering famous foods. Using every day ingredients to replicate signature restaurant dishes at home, Todd shares his delectable discoveries with readers everywhere.

Now, his super-sleuthing taste buds are back to work in the third installment of his mega-bestselling Top Secret Restaurant Recipes series, with 150 sensational new recipes that unlock the delicious formulas for re-creating your favorite dishes from America's most popular restaurant chains. Todd's top secret blueprints and simple step-by-step instructions guarantee great success for even novice cooks. And when preparing these amazing taste-alike dishes at home, you'll be paying up to 75 percent less than eating out!

Find out how to make your own home versions of: Pizza Hut Pan Pizza, T.G.I. Friday's Crispy Green Bean Fries, Buca di Beppo Chicken Limone, Serendipity 3 Frrrozen Hot Chocolate, P.F. Chang's Kung Pao Chicken, Max & Erma's Tortilla Soup, Cracker Barrel Double Chocolate Fudge Coca-Cola Cake, Olive Garden Breadsticks, Cheesecake Factory Fresh Banana Cream Cheesecake, Carrabba's Chicken Bryan, Famous Dave's Corn Muffins, Outback Steakhouse Chocolate Thunder from Down Under, T.G.I. Friday's Jack Daniel's Glazed Ribs, and much, much more.

Simple. Foolproof. Easy to Prepare. And so delicious you'll swear it's the real thing!