Just days after the taking Chicken McNuggets off its menu in the light of the China food scandal, McDonald’s Japan has unveiled a brand new, rather unusual product: Tofu Shinjo Nuggets and Ginger Sauce, a combination of bean curd, fish and vegetables shaped into bite-size pieces and deep-fried.
Turning to tofu–a food that has long been a favourite in Japan and known for its health benefits–is certainly a wise move, and McDonald’s is undoubtedly in need of something new to entice customers back with, but while we’ve no doubt all craved deep-fried chicken at some point in our lives, we’d hazard a guess that very few have ever longed for a box of tofu nuggets at the end of a night on the town.
Curious cats that we are, we headed over to our local McDonald’s to grab a few boxes of the new nuggets. Join us after the jump to find out how they taste.
After it became clear that Shanghai Husi, a major Chinese food supplier operated by America’s OSI Group, had sent products containing expired meat to numerous companies in Japan, McDonald’s Japan opted to remove its Chicken McNuggets from menus of some 500 locations, and is currently working to secure chicken from vendors in Thailand.
McDonald’s Japan’s PR department reportedly claims that the company had been working on its tofu nuggets since long before the recent meat scandal began, but the new product’s appearance on the menu has raised eyebrows all the same.
A combination of tofu, fish, carrot and onion, the nuggets are similar in both size and shape to Chicken McNuggets and retail for 249 yen (US$2.40) for a box of four, as opposed to the batches of five that chicken nuggets usually come in (yes, Japanese fast food diners get one fewer than some of you in Europe and North America).
First impressions are decidedly mixed. The nuggets certainly look a lot like their meaty brethren, albeit with an unusual series of ridges on their undersides that make them look a bit like tiny hash browns. They’re the same colour as Chicken McNuggets, too, but slightly more uniform in shape. As a chicken nugget replacement, they certainly look the part – they even come with a little tub of dipping sauce – but they’re strangely rubbery in texture and the batter felt soft between our fingertips, so weren’t hugely appealing to begin with.
Mention tofu to most meat lovers and they’ll run a mile, but we at RocketNews24 are actually quite fond of the stuff, and are more than used to eating it not as a meat substitute but for its own texture and taste (trust us: when made properly, tofu’s delicious!). Turning the stuff into nuggets, however, is an unusual move, so we were reluctant to dive straight in, instead prettying them up as much as possible by decanting our sauce into a tiny dipping bowl and placing the nuggets on a plate.
In the interests of culinary science, we sliced one of the nuggets open to take a peek inside. They don’t look especially delicious, but honestly these nuggets’ innards look a lot more appetising than some of the chicken ones we’ve bitten into before now, and the tofu itself is pleasantly white and fresh-looking. Although not quite as veggie-packed as McDonald’s official photos would have us believe, there are clearly flecks of carrot and spring onion here, and the tofu and fish (don’t worry, it doesn’t smell or taste fishy at all) mix is satisfyingly firm.
The bad news for tofu lovers is that McDonald’s Tofu Shinjo Nuggets nuggets are as underwhelming as tofu-cynics were probably already imagining. It’s a real shame because as genuine fans of the stuff we were actually hoping that this could be one of the few products on McDonald’s menu that didn’t make us feel guilty immediately after eating it. They don’t taste bad by any stretch of the imagination, but they’re definitely not going to win many fast food lovers over, least not the big meat eaters.
After chewing on the first nugget for 20 seconds or more, it became increasingly obvious why McDonald’s serves them in smaller batches and bundles sauce as standard: without anything to dip in, these would be kind of dull, and for a foodstuff that typically contains a lot of water the tofu is surprisingly dry. There’s a nice hint of spring onion that comes forth if you let the tofu, rather than the batter, rest on your tongue, but without the ginger sauce (which, it has to be said, lacks any real kick and is a little on the sweet side) the nuggets become dull fast. Suffice it to say, we made sure to slather the remaining pieces in plenty of sauce before eating them.
And yet, in that typically McDonald’s way, they’re still kind of moreish. The flavour grows on you after a while, and although we’d never claim to have enjoyed our first taste of tofu nuggets, per se, before we realised it we’d finished the entire box.
We doubt anyone will be “lovin’ it”, as McDonald’s insists on shouting at us from every available media outlet, but these new nuggets are neither awful nor worth rushing out to buy. If you’re curious to try them for yourself, you have until the beginning of September to pick up a box, but if they’ve disappeared before you get around to doing so and the only nugget-shaped offering on the McDonald’s menu once again contains chicken, it’s unlikely that you’ll hear anyone bragging or waxing lyrical about those mysterious non-meaty nuggets that disappeared as quickly as they came.
Still, they’re a marked improvement over out-of-date meat from mass-produced birds, so it’s a step in the right direction we suppose…
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