It’s rare that I have a ‘Lost in Translation’ moment in Japan nowadays. Having spent a total of over two years here – on and off – there’s not much that surprises me or makes me blink twice. The irony is that the very night I try to do something very un-Japanese – the night I decide to binge on American junk food – is the night in which Japan threw all it had at me, as if to say, “Behave like a foreigner? Right! Have some Japan in your face!” Of course, it didn’t say it quite so directly though…
First ‘gaijin’ (foreigner) behaviour of the evening: meet other foreigner at Hachiko, where all the foreigners meet and half the world, so finding each other without electronic communication is impossible.
Second, head to Taco Bell. Having opened last month as Japan’s first and only outlet of this American fast-food giant, the queues were over an hour long. Taco Bell is a rare breed in the UK and so, having never sampled it, I was intrigued to see what all the fuss was about. Given that you wouldn’t catch me stepping into a MacDonald’s, I was a little apprehensive about actively seeking out junk food.
We find the queue to be only 15 minutes long. This is pretty good for Japan. Let’s not mention the time I queued over 3 hours for ramen.
We select our items, choose our meat, our spice level and receive a buzzer to tell us when our order is ready.
Downstairs, we begin to choose a table when we spot a corner lounge-style set-up recently vacated by high school boys. We are about to sit down when rushes back over and begins brushing lettuce and cheese off the seats. I patiently wait. I thank him with a brief “arigatou”.
He beams and half bows. “You’re welcome!”
Laughing, I sit down on the seat cleaned by a conscientious high school kid. Thank you, Japan.
Our food when it comes is as plastic-looking as the pictures, which in a way is reassuring – at least you know what you’re getting. We tuck into a beef taco, hard shell, medium spice (790円 for a set with drink and fries). The beef is peppery and turns out to be the most flavoursome thing in the entire meal. Most of the taco, however, is bland salad that enjoys attention-seeking by flopping out of the shell and decorating our laps. We tuck into soggy and very salty fries. We then try the CrunchWrap Supreme (630円), pork, medium spice, which isn’t spicy or crunchy, and consists mainly of uninspiring wrap.
The Loaded Fries (630円) which, at first seem greasily addictive, until we realise that the potato, soured cream, cheese, meat combo actually tastes like everything else.
In fact, Taco Bell miraculously makes everything taste exactly the same – all greasy stodge, indistinguishable carbs and lumps. The ‘medium’ spice level was actually non-existent.
Still, we raised our disposable soda cups and said a big CHEERS/ KANPAI! and ticked it off our bucket list. However, at over a 1000円 each for this junky privilege – about twice the price of the American version – Taco Bell is unlikely to find itself on your wallet’s bucket list.
And medium = no spice at all.
Address: 2-25-14 Dogenzaka, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
When: 10:00 – 23:00 every day
Next up… Cold Stone Creamery
Hailing from Arizona, Cold Stone Creamery is a super-popular ice-cream store across Tokyo. I don’t know if it’s just because of the ridiculously decadent ice-cream sundae concoctions served in ridiculously decadent waffle cones, or because of the performance. We selected our ice-cream and suddenly the women become our ‘personal’ servers.
“Now I make for you Chocolate Devotion!” she announced with a grin. She scoops my ice-cream onto the metal ‘cold stones’ and begins to mash brownies, chocolate sauce and chocolate chips into it. Then her coworker joins her….
And so, I am transported to the Japanese version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Apparently, in the States, employees are auditioned and sing when they receive a tip… so this is not an only in Japan thing. It just felt that way – after all, this is a country where a a trip to Tokyo Disneyland seems to be a highlight for all ages and genders.
The ice-cream itself was mediocre quality (I chose chocolate at a ‘Love It!’/ medium size for 630円), with the slightly nasty artificial chocolate sauce. I should have known as chocolate is rarely amazing in Japan. Although it should be noted that the chocolate waffle cup – for an extra 110円 – is a worthy investment. Still, it looked fantastic, and the wannabe dwarves made it for me! Keep singing, girls!
Cold Stone Creamery – Looks amazing, but it’s best for sugar junkies, not ice-cream snobs.
Where: Various across Japan (we visited Shibuya Mark City)
The day was not over, however. The elderly man who regularly dresses in a schoolgirl’s uniform around Tokyo came running past, followed by loads of actual Japanese schoolgirls. Why he was being followed by his own personal fanclub, I have no idea. Yet if he likes schoolgirls, this could be a brilliant way to get some attention…