Japanese Chinese food chains to open stores in China

Gyoza No Ohsho (餃子の王将 — Their gyoza are “Oh-sho” delicious!) was one of my favorite Chinese food places when I was living in Kyoto. Cheap sets, good food, and plentiful locations! My favorite was the ramen set: it included ramen, karaage, gyoza (of course), AND fried rice. Man was I full.

The branch right outside the Ritsumeikan campus was owned by a die-hard Beatles fan — he decked out his store with volumes upon volumes of manga (lots of ashita no joe, hajime no ippo, and captain tsubasa), rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia, and Beatles music (more often Beatles covers, actually) on the old-school stereo system he had set up. I was saddened to see one day that the whole place had been swept clean of any differentiating marks, and when I returned to Kyoto earlier this year it was “closed for repairs”.

BTW, Ohsho is some kind of mahjonng term, so the fact that they named a Chinese food chain after a mahjonng reference says something about what Japanese people think of when they think of China… what I’m not sure, but it definitely says something.

So on a completely unrelated note, recently I was Google-alerted to the fact that Ohsho is planning to open its first stores overseas in — no joke — China. And their timing couldn’t be better! Nikkei has the story:

Kansai’s Chinese food chains trying their craft on home turf
“Made in Japan” Image to appeal to middle and high-class customers (March 12, 2005)

Kansai’s restaurant industry, which has been making chain stores out of ramen stands and Chinese restaurants, continue to extend their businesses into China. At 10-30 yuan per customer (13 JPY), they plan to charge twice the amount of local restaurants. Reversing their low-price strategy for the Japanese market, the chains intend to exploit their Japanese image to target middle and upper class consumers. Escaping from the shrinking restaurant market in Japan, they are attempting to succeed in the home of Chinese cuisine.

In addition to Osaka Ohsho (opening in Shanghai, offering izakaya food as well, plans to franchise up to 25 stores) and “Bikkuri Ramen” (opening in Tsingtao, offering curry and donburi) which is famous for the 180 yen ramen bowl, Gyoza Ohsho is also opening a store in Dalian. They plan to offer grilled gyoza (generally not available in most of China), ramen, fried rice, and other items directly from the Japanese menu. They will consider expanding the chain after viewing results from the first store.

1000-yen high class burger available at MosBurger

The new high-class hamburger offered by Mos Food Service (MosBurger), the “Takumi 10”. Using safely-raised eggs and domestic bacon, it also comes with a Japanese-style sauce. The odd high price is “the result of emphasizing quality and disregarding commercial concerns.”[Jiji Tsushin]

Comment: I might split this with someone. But 1000 yen for a damn burger?! Forget it.

Lame “Asian” Restaurants

This blog has a great rant about how much “Pan-Asian” restaurants suck. In trying to cover the whole damn continent they get it all wrong and water it down way too much to please the yuppies. In DC the big crap-fest is Raku, but there are some Thai fusion-type restaurants that fit the description as well. But Mr. O-Dub can tell it better than I can (link via The Melting Blog):

Memo to All “Pan-Asian” or “Asian Fusion” or “Asian-Infused” Restaurants:

First of all, just admit it: “Pan-Asian” is your way of charging exorbitant prices and exploiting naive white people who don’t feel comfortable venturing into a restaurant run by actual Asian immigrants.

Second, stop skimping on the flavor and spices. Are you interpreting the Greek prefix “Pan” in “Pan-Asian” to mean “not even remotely”? I’m talking to you, Zao Noodle, king of bland.

Third, if you’re going to co-opt Asian food, stick to the cuisine of one country. You can’t offer watered-down versions of pad thai, adobo, sashimi, and bi bim bop on your menu. You’re destroying the ongoing struggle of Asian Americans to convince everybody else that we’re not all the same.

No beer and no gyudon make ossan go crazy!

Last year, after Yoshinoya ran out of its famous gyudon (see here for background), there were multiple cases of ossan (middle-aged men) getting violent and demanding their beef bowls. It seemed as though these men couldn’t understand just what was going on and were hurt by the change.

Well, last week those wounds were ripped open as Yoshinoya resurrected its long-absent gyudon — for one day only in commemoration of the first anniversary of the ban (一年ぶりに、一日だけ). I don’t know where they got the beef, but it was a momentous day that brought people out of the woodwork to get their hands on that sweet beefy goodness. And right on cue, some people got way too excited about it and did stupid shit like this:
Car crash
The headline: Car crashes into Yoshinoya on “gyudon resurrection day”

The arrows point to people “still eating” despite the fact that they were almost killed by a runaway car. That’s dedication, folks.
Continue reading No beer and no gyudon make ossan go crazy!

Review: Say hello to the new Don 外国人から見た新登場丼

Beef Bowl
Hey guys. As some of you may know, I took a short trip to Japan this New Year’s. As a few more of you may know, I was giddy with anticipation of the new menu items available at the donburi chains. In the two weeks I was there I managed to squeeze in quite a few bowls, so for those of you who are away from the action I will review them here.

But first, some background: donburi (丼) are a dish served in Japan consisting of rice on the bottom and (usually) meat topping on the top. Not sure what the origin of the modern donburi came from, but the most popular one is gyudon (牛丼), or beef bowl. Gyudon are so popular, in fact, that there were about 4 major chains in Japan who sold nothing but: Matsuya, Sukiya, Nakau, and the venerable Yoshinoya, whose logo looks like this:

Now, those of you who haven’t lived in Japan or didn’t venture far outside their gaijin bubble while they were there might not realize just why Yoshinoya and their ilk are so important to Japanese consumer culture. But those of us in the know are fully aware that there are approximately three types of regular customers at Yoshinoya: truck drivers, male college students, and gaijin like me who have no money. What is the draw? It’s CHEAP BEEF! 24 HOURS A DAY! Beef in Japan is fucking expensive, but you could get a good meal at Yoshinoya without buying and preparing it yourself for a mere 250 yen. It’s a good, cheap meal if you are drunk at 3am or are simply too broke and don’t want to eat natto to survive.
Continue reading Review: Say hello to the new Don 外国人から見た新登場丼

Hong Kong Food

Snake Soup

After SARS came out a year ago newspapers worldwide were filled with stories about the eating habits of Southern China, particularly in Guangdong province (Canton), which is the area that Hong Kong was part of before it was split off into a British colony, and still has many cultural links to. I read a lot of stories about horrific semi-underground markets where one can purchase for consumption a whole range of animals from the most mundane such as chickens or pigs to exotic and often highly endangered animals, possibly stopping just short of the very well protected pandas. Well, with the relatively tight customs controls between the Hong Kong Semi Autonomous Region and the mainland no markets like that could possibly exist. While eating a large variety of animals has been part of Cantonese culture for a long time, in Hong Kong their options are very restricted and this snake soup is one of the few mildly outlandish things readily avaliable.
Continue reading Hong Kong Food

Taiwanese restauranteur watches ‘Temple of Doom’ too many times

Originally spotted this morning in the print edition of The Japan Times. A good complement to my previous post about exotic Chinese food.

Monkey Rescued From Being Put on Menu

By Associated Press

July 16, 2004, 8:06 PM EDT

Taiwan — A monkey was recuperating at a wildlife park in Taiwan after being rescued from a restaurant that planned to sell slices of the animal’s brain while he was alive in a cage, a local government official said Friday.

A tourist in the central mountainous area of Nantou bought the monkey, Formosan macaque, after he saw that customers at a restaurant were about to eat its brains, said Huang Kuo-chen, a forestry official in Taoyuan county, where the tourist lives.

The man phoned Huang’s department to ask whether the monkey could be legally raised at home, the forestry official said.

“Raising monkeys at home is banned because they are protected animals,” Huang said.

The man, who didn’t give his name, handed over the animal to the authorities after rescuing it in May, Huang said. An inspection of the monkey showed exposed bone and small holes in its skull, he said.

In a front-page story, the Apple Daily showed photos of the monkey with a patch of hair shaved on its head where the restaurant reportedly planned to cut open his skull and slice off pieces of brain.

Many Taiwanese enjoy eating exotic animals because they believe the creatures provide special health benefits.

CTI cable news quoted doctors who warned that animal brains could contain dangerous viruses and were not fit for consumption.

The monkey is now being held at a wildlife park before experts evaluate whether it can be released in the wild, Huang said.

Here is a description of one monkey brain feast, which according to the source web site happened in 1948 or so.

The monkey’s head was supported by its neck in a
bracket, two pieces of wood with a semicircular hole on each side such that when you put them
together, they form a complete circle around the animal’s neck, allowing the head to be exposed
above the plank. The hair around the head is shaven with a shaving razor. A small chisel and a
hammer is used to quickly chisel a circle around the crown, and the top part of the skull is
removed. A teaspoon is used to scoop up the brain, which is immediately eaten. This has to be
done before the monkey dies.


Treats in a Beijing market.
March 6 2004

I’ve done a closeup as well so you can clearly see the seahorses. There was another stall later on that had actual whole starfish on a stick as a snack food, one of the most horrifying things I have ever seen. When I tried to take a picture the stall owner blocked my shot, so I just went on.

Interestingly there are two different kinds of similar food stalls on this street in the market. One is like this, with a variety of meats and … things that you could charitably call meat. The other is stalls run by Uyghur, the Muslim minority of the Western Xinjiang province of China. As muslims they would never eat or sell something as un-halal as a seahorse. I can’t say I blame them.