What does Japanese fast food look like?
I have posted about a few choices. There are vending machines or onigiri from a conbini. There is train food including bento boxes, hard cooked eggs, and snacks from the train cart. There are street venders selling food on a stick.
There are also some chains similar to those we have grown so used to in the US. Some look very familiar to us. McDonald’s are almost as easy to find in my travels to Japan as they are at home. I passed two walking from my hotel into the temple area in Nara. Much more tempting to my tourist’s curiosity, however, is a uniquely Japanese fast food restaurant called MOS Burger.
A quick look at the menu posted outside the door proved that among the more obvious choices for a fast food hamburger restaurant, choices including a MOS Cheeseburger and the Double Fresh Burger, there were a few uniquely homespun offerings. The MOS Rice Burger with mixed burdock, carrot and vegetables looked intriguing. The pressed rice bun alone was worth a try although I had to admit I had little idea of what burdock might taste like.
The MOS Rice Burger with fresh seafood fritter looked a little less surprisingly adventurous. An element of the known and predictable, even if just a shred of carrot, a pea and an identifiable shrimp, helps to ground a new taste experience in a familiar frame of reference. a perspective I have learned to value as I travel.
Inside, I placed my order at the counter by pointing to my selection on a laminated menu with translations in English. I chose the MOS Rice Burger with Seafood Fritter, a mixture of French fries and onion rings with cold tea to drink. I was given a number and gestured to find a table.
I sat at a small booth and looked over my surroundings. The other customers that afternoon were young. There were teenagers, apparently students, talking in one corner and a young mother with a preschool child in a nearby booth.
The most attractive seating area appeared to be the smoking area. It was a glass enclosure like a sunroom on the front of the restaurant. Through the glass I could see a couple talking. The young man lounged casually in his chair smoking a cigarette with appealing drama as the young woman listened attentively.
Before long my order was brought to my table. My MOS Rice Burger came wrapped in a sturdy absorbent napkin. This napkin prevents the diner from having to touch their food and gave me an added degree of confidence that the rice bun would not disintegrate into my lap as I ate.
The burger was fun to eat if not completely delicious. I liked the rice bun, in texture and taste. It was browned a little and crispy on the outside and it stayed together well. The seafood fritter, on the other hand, was crispy on the outside but a little greasy on the inside. The flavor was good though strangely both a little overseasoned and still fairly bland. It seemed to consist more of texture than of flavor. The onion rings and fries were fine but again seemed to highlight the texture of the outside without truly tasting like onions or potatoes.
Since eating Kentucky Fried Chicken as a teenager in Madrid, I have found fast food in a foreign country to offer an experience both comforting in its familiarity and disappointing in its lack of distinction. MOS Burger offered an interesting twist. While it was short on comfortable familiarity it was memorable in the unique quality of the food it offered. Still it's food summed up the same familiar shortcomings of most fast food restaurants, a meal short on fresh and satisfying flavor. Even so, I'm glad I tried it.