Even as someone who can always appreciate a tasty hamburger, there’s a quandary I face whenever I go out to satisfy my beef-based sandwich needs. Your standard burger gives you plenty of protein from the meat, some nice carbs from the bread, and even a scattering of veggies between the buns, but it’s hard to get your fruit fix at a burger emporium.
Or, more accurately, it was, until Burger King Japan started offering two hamburgers with slices of grilled apple. We traveled to one of Burger King’s branches in Yokohama to try both on the day of their release, but they weren’t the only discoveries waiting for us. So come along with us as we present the ABCs (apples, booze, and couches) that make Burger King different in Japan.
I’ve got a confession to make: I hate tomatoes. Not tomato sauce or ketchup; I’ve got no problems with those. I can even appreciate some tomato broth soups. But an actual slice of tomato in my food? I’ve never been happy to see one and probably never will.
So when word came that Burger King had two new sandwiches with grilled apple in place of tomato, my dinner plans were set. This actually isn’t the first time Burger King has combined fruit in Japan, as apple burgers were also available for two limited periods during 2012, but the two current versions, the BK Ringo and NY Whopper, are both brand new.
Figuring if I was going to have a double helping of fast food for dinner I should at least get some exercise in, I walked the 20 minutes to the Burger King branch closest to my apartment. Displayed at the entrance was a poster for the two new sandwiches, which seem to be playing off a New York/Big Apple image by featuring the Statue of Liberty.
I placed my order and took a seat, which is when I noticed that Burger King is a lot swankier than I remember it being in the U.S. You’d never mistake it for a Michelin-ranked restaurant, but the interior was tastefully appointed, and even had some plush couches.
▼ Signs indicate that the couches are only for groups of three or more, but they look comfy enough that my wife suggested inviting the stranger reading a book by herself to come and sit with us.
But I came to eat, not pick up pointers for sprucing up my living room. Despite the upmarket look, the staff was as quick as you’d expect from a major fast food chain, and before long I had my two apple-toting burgers before me.
I started with the smaller of the two, the BK Ringo (ringo being the Japanese word for apple, and not a Beatles reference). Aside from the grilled apple you’ve got some shredded lettuce, but that’s all, with no harsh pickles or onion to battle the fruit flavors.
The BK Ringo comes with a unique cinnamon infused mayonnaise, and a pretty generous portion at that. The cinnamon smells great, and the scent mixes with the meat and produces an almost Middle Eastern effect. It doesn’t impart as much sweetness as you’d expect, though. There’s a short burst of cinnamon flavor that comes just before you wrap your mouth around the sandwich, but once you bite in, the initial flavors on the tongue is mayonnaise, followed by the juicy meat and slight char.
The apple comes out a bit later as you chew, and the fruit’s texture is somewhat like a firm apple pie. It’s mild, but with a definite sweetness that makes the decision not to put ketchup on the burger definitely the right one. After that, the cinnamon notes come out for a tiny little encore, with the sesame from the bun finishing off the flavor profile.
Next up was the bigger burger, the NY Whopper, which differs from the BK Ringo not only in size, but by having two slices of apple instead of one, plus a few small bits of bacon.
The NY Whopper also ditches its little brother’s cinnamon mayo for Hollandaise sauce, something gourmet enough I had to go online to remind myself of what exactly it is (egg yolk, butter, and seasonings including lemon juice).
After the amount of mayonnaise on the BK Ringo, the NY Whopper was a lot drier. A little Hollandaise sauce goes a long way though, and while the BK Ringo has a subtle sweetness, the NY Whopper replaces that with a touch of sourness.
It’s not clear how much of this comes from the citrus in the sauce itself, and how much of it is drawn out from the natural acidity in the apple, but it’s definitely there, and gives the sandwich a more upscale feel that justifies its higher price. And while the bacon was hard to find during our visual inspection (color-wise it sort of blends in with the red apples, whose skin is left on), but it lent a surprisingly smoky finish to the NY Whopper.
Of course, you can’t put away two hamburgers without working up a thirst. Japanese fast food chains sometimes have unique beverage offerings, such as oolong tea or grapefruit juice. Burger King does them one better by offering beer and cocktails.
The mixed drink list is limited (highballs made with cola or ginger ale or your only options), but they are the real deal, with plenty of alcohol and a stronger kick than you’d expect from a fast food joint. But really, would you expect anything less from the chain that invites customers to “Have it your way?”
▼ My way is mixed with whiskey.