The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article about McDonald’s Japan’s new line of “Big America” burgers, the main point being that while the American version of the chain attempts to be more healthy, its Japanese counterpart is seeing huge success by going immensely unhealthy. The first installment, the Texas2 Burger, boasted a calorie count of 645. The to-be-released Miami Burger clocks in at about 100 calories less…despite featuring tortilla chips and taco-seasoned beef placed on top of a regular beef patty. Yet it’s the current specialty item available that truly sums up this year-removing trend – the Idaho Burger, featuring a hash brown resting on top of a patty amongst all sorts of less terrifying additions, weighs in at 716 calories.

Besides being an unhealthy monolith, the Idaho Burger manages to do what no other item in the series could do – be a near parody of what people think America is like. The main idea behind the Big America series from the original Texas Burger (ahhhh those were the days) has been “what extravagant foodstuff can we put on a somewhat bigger bacon cheeseburger?” The first four were definitely more intimidating than anything else on the McDonald’s Japan menu…only the Double Quarter Pounder out-disgusts these things, and I wouldn’t wish even my most hated rival to have to eat one – yet also not as bizarre as they could be. Just a little bigger. Yet the four new high-calorie contenders up the game significantly – these slabs of junk food seem completely ridiculous, meat stacked on meat stacked on melted cheese. The most ludicrous of all – the Idaho Burger.

The first thing you notice when you pop open the yellow-and-silver cardboard box encasing the Idaho Burger is the overhang. Originally, the most ballyhooed aspect of the Big America line was the bigger patty, yet none of the previous entries seemed that big to me, an admittedly stereotypical American. The Idaho Burger bun, though, doesn’t come close to covering the beef – the brown-ish circle sticks out awkwardly. It’s actually pretty big, and so unexpected you momentarily forget that you can also see a breakfast hash brown poking out as well.

The Idaho Burger also pulls off another coup – it’s the best Big America burger yet, slightly tastier than the original Texas Burger. Such a distinction comes with one big caveat: it’s also a thoroughly disgusting affair, eating this creation. McDonald’s ultimate strength is their research-laboratory-like ability to create these horribly addictive treats by selecting the perfect elements to pair together to create something both somewhat revolting yet delicious – see the Big Mac. The Idaho Burger shouldn’t be good, right? Yet everything comes together just right, the crunchiness of the hash brown being the obvious highlight but also the way the two sauces (barbecue and some sort of mustard concoction) mix just right. The only non-entity, as it always seems to be, is the bacon, tasteless and lost in the shuffle.

Size does end up hurting the Idaho Burger a bit. The way the meat just juts out from the bun means that, at some point, the eater must face the unpleasant experience of just nibbling on an unadorned McDonald’s beef patty. The chain’s strength lies in the combination of condiments to create a slurry of deliciousness, yet the actual patty is less of a food item and more of a blank canvas waiting to be smudged with a palette of “secret” sauces. More simply put – the patty itself tastes like absolutely nothing. Though not fast-food torture, it’s also no fun.

Of course, the real downside to the Idaho Burger…and, for all purposes, every item on the McDonald’s menu save, I don’t know, a single McNugget…comes after the meal when one starts feeling like walking death. I came into the McDonald’s restaurant expecting to fill my afternoon running errands, maybe cleaning my apartment. I ended up laying down on my couch for four hours listening to CDs because nothing sounded more ridiculous to my hash-browned brain than “going outside” or “walking.” At the time the Idaho Burger tasted divine. A couple hours later, it felt more like I had become Atlas, chiseled physique replaced by flabby skin and BBQ-sauce for blood. Thank goodness this thing adheres to another trend favored by the Japanese…you can only get it for a limited time.

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Kobe Beefin’

January 20, 2011

This originally happened last year but…well, here it is!

Life in Japan for me has switched from a bizarre daydream…I’m actually here this is weird better go eat some sushi now…into a countdown. I have less than a year left here barring some amazing job discovery so now it feels like I need to cram all the trips and events I failed to get around to the first go through into a quickly dwindling timeframe. After a slight Autumn funk caused by…I don’t even know anymore…I finally feel the need to not spend all my free time hunched over my home heating unit. This weekend I joined two friends on a semi-impromptu trip to Kobe to do something I’d always wanted to do here…feel like a total rich person and eat Kobe beef.

Kobe

Kobe

Kobe

Kobe

Kobe

Kobe

Kobe beef carries quite the reputation, at least according to The Cheesecake Factory menu I recall reading in Towson, Maryland. All sorts of urban myths have attached themselves to this animal, such as they are fed beer and given extravagant massages, neither of which are actually true. Kobe beef looks incredibly appetizing even without any grilling, like steak in a Tom And Jerry cartoon that looks better raw than cooked. The city of Kobe isn’t terribly far from where I live…like, three hours at most…so eating Kobe beef in its namesake city has been one of the more decadent dreams I’ve had since coming to Japan. I finally decided to cross that one off last weekend.

We chose to eat the world famous beef for lunch, off the hunch it would be slightly me affordable as a midday meal. The area surrounding Kobe’s Sanmiya Station hides a bevy of dining options within its surprisingly open downtown area…compared to the narrow walks of Osaka and the complete crush of Tokyo, Kobe felt like a national park…a fair amount of which feature photos of Kobe beef seemingly sculpted out of an artist’s clay. We reached our destination, a restaurant found on the third floor of a seemingly narrow building that was clearly far too swanky for our likes (“they take your coat AND HANG IT FOR YOU what is this Ducktails?”), especially given my outfit of a semi-ironic Mickey Mouse t-shirt.

We sat down at a table featuring a grill in the middle, not unlike Bennihanas in America but a far cry from a gimmick. The waitress poured us glasses of water…FROM A GLASS BOTTLE…and we were given the menu. We had originally been set on the lunch special that, for about $45, gave you a “very similar to Kobe beef” meal plus a slew of sides. Yet after a few moments of internal debate, capped off by an overly-dramatic-given-the-situation group realization that this would be our one chance to eat authentic Kobe beef in Kobe (somewhere, a child in India pokes at a ratty shoe hoping a mouse comes out of it so they may have dinner for the night). We took the plunge…we ordered the expensive lunch set, which you can see pictured below. I swear most nights my dinner consists of a piece of white bread with a Kraft single carefully melted over it.

DX

DX

Committed, we placed our order and our friendly chef for the day took up his post right in front of us. As we pecked away at our salad, soup and rolls (two big pieces of bread, is this what the Four Seasons is like?) he fried up several vegetables for us as an appetizer. Surprise of the trip – beets taste pretty good! Then out came the beef.

Maybe we just fell victim to the “we paid a lot of money for this meal of course it’s delicious” mental pitfall, but it really did taste amazing. I’m not a food critic so I won’t bother trying to explain why, and instead just declare that’s some darn good eating. Very very juicy. It’s a great meal to splurge on, and I would say sort of a must if you ever find yourself in Kobe someday, price be damned. Plus, that’s some quality bread!

Following lunch we spent the rest of the day moseying around Kobe, seeing the famous port area and the also pretty hyped up annual “illumination” aka Christmas lights display. It’s a city far too beautiful to just describe as “looks like Seattle” like some bumbling traveling writer, a compact but packed place deserving of words far more inspired than whatever I barf up from one afternoon spent wandering around the harbor. So let’s just stare at some pictures.

Coke Machine In China Town That Loves Stereotypes

Coke Machine In China Town That Loves Stereotypes

China Town

China Town

Big Fish

Big Fish

Port Area

Port Area

Japanese Icon Hard Gay

Japanese Icon Hard Gay

Illumination

Illumination

I get off my plane at Narita International Airport and not more than 30 minutes what do I find staring me down outside the McDonald’s located near my hotel? An ad similar to the one above declaring a new crop of Big America burgers have arrived in stores, proving that this gimmick must really sell. The four sorta-new locations serving as culinary themes are Texas 2, Idaho (?), Miami and Manhattan. Click here to get full descriptions of each, though I’ll even spend some space to celebrate the absurd brilliance of the Idaho burger, which completes many a fast-food junkies’ dream of combining the McDonald’s breakfast menu with the regular menu via the inclusion of a whole hash brown on the burger. How that didn’t become an option in America baffles me. One of my New Year’s resolutions was to drop fast food out of my diet, but I might have to break it for the Idaho entry into this series. I’m a very sad individual.

In other 2011 news…you’ve probably noticed how little this blog has been being updated recently. Whooops! Blame it partly on me being surprisingly busy at the end of last year, along with the fact nothing terribly interesting happens to me much anymore which, hey, isn’t actually a bad thing! Still a few semi-interesting things (read: I went somewhere) happened before the end of 2010 and you can expect thrilling write-ups of what I ate in the coming weeks.