The other week, a television show featured restaurants from all over Japan that regularly attract long lines of Japanese customers. Here are some of the food for which Japanese will happily wait in line for as much as four hours:
- California-style pies
For 1850 yen, one gets soup and salad and a choice of either chicken or salmon. But the main attraction is the eat-all-you-can (tabehodai) California-style oven-baked pies. For lunch, four types of pies are offered: chili beans, chicken pot, avocado tuna curry, and shirasu (baby sardines). The average (mostly female) customer eats around four slices. The dinner menu offers 20 different kinds of pies.
- “Malformed” bread
Japanese production standards are so high that even the smallest hint of a flaw can banish freshly baked bread to the trash bins. Instead of throwing perfectly good bread away, one bread factory regularly discounts its rejects. Bread-eaters (whose consumption now outweighs that of rice in Japan) happily line up to buy bread in boxes at 700 yen each box. Considering that ordinary bread costs around 100-300 yen each, this is a stupendous discount. A lucky few—children mostly—get to do jack-en-poy with the friendly sales clerk to avail themselves of a jumbo box of bread for the price of 10 yen. Yes, 10 yen!
- Keema curry
Not just keema curry, but one lovingly cooked by the chef with thirteen spices (cloves, cardamon, tumeric, coriander, and cumin, among others) for more than five hours and left to stand overnight to let the flavor mature. Served with the delightful ontama (eggs poached in hot-spring water) and cheese.
- Jumbo melon pan
Kagetsudo (founded 1945) in Asakusa is known for its “melon pan.” Its 200-yen jumbo bread is as large as one’s hand and served piping hot from the oven. Popular among foreign tourists, the melon pan is golden-brown crunchy on the outside and fluffy soft inside.
- Custard apple pie
A shop in Ikebukuro sells as much as three thousand of these baked apple custard pies, brushed with syrup, in a day.
Conoisseurs of grilled unagi (eel) find themselves in unagi heaven when they are served double-layer unajyuu, meaning two layers of unagi sandwiched between sauce-drenched rice. All for 4500 yen.
- Tempura at 11 p.m.
Light, crunchy tempura (shrimp, kisu, anago, etc.) at 100-200 yen each to assuage one’s midnight craving in a restaurant next to the fish market in Osaka. Tempura is ubiquitous in Japan, so the real difference is not just in the material, but in the art of frying. Good tempura must not feel oily, and does not sit heavily in the stomach.
- Roast beef
A restaurant near Waseda University serves a huge mound of thinly sliced roast beef over rice, with egg yolk and yogurt mayonnaise.
- Hokkaido ice cream
Customers endure a three-hour wait for the privilege of being served by a man in brown face and dreadlocks (political correctness, anyone?). 71 toppings—including sweet potato, cream cheese, strawberry, pineapple, lemon, cinnamon—combined any different way, always with a big smile.
- Nama shirasu-don
Fresh baby sardines, called shirasu, prepared by fishermen’s wives in a restaurant by the shore, and served with strips of seaweed (nori), raw egg yolk, and soy sauce.