Thursday, October 14, 2010
When you think of burgers, names like McDonald's, Burger King and Wendy’s probably spring to mind. These are the American-based companies that have popularized the hamburger and its many varieties around the world. Since the dish’s origins in Germany many years ago, the burger has traveled to every continent and has spawned many variations.
The burger may be something of an American icon, but the dish is also immensely popular in Japan. The dish gained popularity in Japan after World War 2 due to the number of American servicemen stationed throughout the country. By the 1960’s “hamburger-steak”, a beef patty with no bun and often served with demi-glace sauce, had become a regular fixture in restaurants and households throughout Japan. In 1971 Asia’s first McDonald’s store opened in Tokyo’s Ginza district. Japan’s love for McDonald’s quickly developed. Only the United States has more McDonald’s restaurants than Japan. At the time of writing, there are over 3,500 McDonald’s across Japan.
Probably the first true Japanese variant of the burger was the previously mentioned hamburger-steak. However, up and down the country there are all sorts of Japanese burgers. One of the most famous is the Sasebo burger. The city of Sasebo lies on the island of Kyushu. A US naval base was established there in the 1950’s. As a result, the city soon adopted burgers into its local cuisine. The Sasebo burger is famous throughout Japan. The burger typically consists of at least one burger patty, lettuce, tomato, omelet, ground chicken, mayonnaise and a variety of vegetables. There are however numerous variations of the burger throughout Sasebo city.
The burger business is a big business. Each year the major burger vendors; McDonald’s, Burger King, Lotteria and Mos Burger spend huge amounts of time and money developing and promoting new burgers to the Japanese public. The public appear to love it. McDonald’s in particular regularly changes its seasonal menu. Earlier this year McDonalds promoted a series of regionally themed American burgers which were a massive hit. Right now they are releasing a series of new chicken burgers with flavors such as; carbonara, German sausage and cheese fondue.
Clearly, the Japanese have really taken to the burger and have developed it to some remarkable extremes. Some may not be “traditional”, and some may not be the best tasting, but Japan has certainly been creative with this humble dish.