Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Not Quite Like Home

I happened to wander out a bit west of our house — not my usual haunts — and along the way lost track of time. I found myself in need of lunch at 1:45, the problem being that most restaurants stop taking lunch orders at 1:30. But I spotted a Bob’s Big Boy, and thought, “well, I might was well check it out for Sam’s benefit.” I figured it would be nice for him to get a hamburger and fries sort of thing, but thought it’d be best if I made sure the hamburgers weren’t completely appalling.

Now here at this website, you can see the menu for Big Boy in the western part of Japan; the east part (which includes Tokyo) isn’t especially different. If you scroll down and click on a page of the menu, you can see it nice and big.

Notice something? Like, something missing?

That’s right: no hamburgers. This is Big Boy, which on its American page describes its “signature” sandwich like this:
The Original Double-Decker Hamburger
Five ounces of delicious 100% pure ground beef in two patties with American cheese, lettuce and our famous Big Boy special sauce on a sesame seed bun.
Served with French fries and cole slaw.
This sandwich, the Big Boy Sandwich, even gets discussion in a Wikipedia article about the chain. And in a Calvin Trillin article collected in his Tummy Trilogy, we learn that there are even people who claim that this burger is the best in America — though you have to go to the Burbank location, and get extra onions.

Japanese Big Boy has no hamburgers at all.

Well, let me be accurate. They have hanbagu but not hanbaga. Hanbagu is a bun-less hamburger, ground extremely fine, served with sauce. Hanbaga is a hamburger, i.e. ground beef on a bun. Japanese Big Boy also has various other kinds of meat: sliced steak (like London Broil, sort of), steak (but not very good), and a range of different sauces.

There’s also a salad bar, which was not really more or less dubious than what I’m familiar with in America, albeit the choice of dressings was different (sesame miso?).

Soup selection was corn, vegetable, or French onion. All the Japanese I saw of course got the corn soup, which they love; the onion was terrible — thin-flavored, having no noticeable beef stock in it. You’d think a place that serves that much beef ought to be able to use the scraps to make a respectable beef stock, but apparently not.

Oh — and no fries. You get about five baked potato wedges with your hanbagu, and a single broccoli floret to make it a complete meal. Choice of rice or rolls.

But I cannot get over this: Big Boy doesn’t serve burgers? What’s up with that? It’s not exactly difficult.

If you cook hanbagu, you can cook hanbaga. If you serve rolls, you can put a burger on one. If you have a salad bar, you can put on lettuce, tomato, and onion. Ketchup is very popular. Cheese hanbagu are on the menu, so a cheeseburger is also possible. And no self-respecting Japanese family restaurant doesn’t have buckets of mayo, from which to make Bob’s Special Sauce (which is basically Russian dressing), as well as cole slaw from the ever-popular range of cabbages. Fried things — shrimp, for example — are on the menu, making fries easy. So you should be able to knock out the Big Boy Combination, and any of the other classic Big Boy hamburger sandwiches, without breaking a sweat or changing your cooking line.

For the convenience of anybody who works for Big Boy Japan, here are two pictures to compare. This is a hanbagu:

This is a hamburger:

Got it? Thank you.

While I’m at it, let me point out that they don’t serve any sandwiches: it’s not just hamburgers.

Now I’m not a huge Big Boy fan or anything, but I figured it was a reliable place to get a burger. I hereby protest: this is wrong.

(Of course, what it tells you is that apparently Japanese people do not on the whole like hamburgers, which I suppose explains the success of Mos Burger.)

Chocolate Weirdness
On the way home, Sam spotted another little boy who was eating a chocolate bar. He of course demanded (actually he asked politely, but with a kid his age a polite request is backed by the threat of a tantrum) a chocolate bar of his own. At Family Mart (one of many huge chains of convenience stores) he picked out this:

A Crunky Bar. Sort of like Nestle Crunch, but the crunchies are a bit salty, which is not bad.

I find the name peculiar. It looks like a mis-transcription of an L as an R, but that would make a Clunky bar, which is presumably not the idea. My wife, who says this is a relatively old product, thinks it’s a combination of “chunky” and “crunchy.” I suppose that makes sense: if you did it the other way around, you’d have a Chunchy bar, which is even less appetizing than Crunky.

But I’m sorry, “Crunky” does not work for me as the name of a food. Is that just me?

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Maryellen said...

Lol. Somehow this post even more than the others reads like you talking. Made me laugh.

Peko-P said...

"This is a hamburger.
Got it? Thank you."

Love this one!

Ah yes, the Mos Burger phenomenon. Rice burgers, kimpira gobo burgers, tako yaki burgers!?! What will they think of next?

OMG! Have I been eating Crunkies all these years thinking that they were Crunchies? I certainly hope not!