Dear Taco Bell Japan,
I’m writing this open letter to first welcome you back to Japan, but also to warn you of a great danger that lies ahead.
When you first announced you would open in Shibuya I was among those who felt that warm feeling of an old friend returning. And even though there were a few hiccups with your grand opening such as the lack of beans and “supreme court tacos” on your online menu, I had faith Taco Bell would rise to greatness in Japan.
However, since then we haven’t really heard much from your restaurant, and that worries me. So, I’d like to present you with five ideas for uniquely Japanese tacos that will not only appeal to the local crowd, but be eye-catching enough to make your brand a name to remember. I even went ahead and actually made and taste-tested them for you!
“But Master Blaster,” you might be saying and wondering why you’re taking anyone named ‘Master Blaster’ seriously, “we already made a shrimp burrito with some wasabi.”
That’s swell but here’s what your competition is doing.
Mos Burger: A hamburger with a big tomato as the bun
Burger King: Aka Samurai Chicken Sandwich with red buns and red cheese
McDonald’s: A US$10 Quarter Pounder with truffle sauce and mushrooms
Lotteria: Chocolate & Mustard Chicken Burger
In Japan, the fast-food business is war, make no mistake. You cannot simply exist as a regular restaurant here, and like Seal once said “You’re never gonna survive unless you get a little crazy.” Wendy’s made the mistake of trying to be a rational burger vendor focusing on quality products instead of cheesy gimmicks, and as a result I haven’t seen a Wendy’s around my parts for quite some time.
So without further ado, here are the five tacos you should have already been selling to get your piece of the fast-food revenue pie in Japan. I’ve even put together a handy guide for how to make each of them and conducted my own taste tests!
Considering the Japanese word for one of their most beloved foodstuffs, octopus, is tako it doesn’t get more obvious than this, does it? This pun simply cannot be ignored.
To make Tako Tacos, I cooked some regular ground beef with typical taco seasoning like chili peppers. Then I cut up some octopus tentacles. While the beef was simmering I diced up some of the meatier chunks of tentacle and tossed it in with the seasoned beef to soak up the flavor. Since the octopus was pre-boiled, there was no need to cook it for very long.
When it was ready I scooped it all onto a tortilla and into a taco shell. Then I threw on some cheese, drizzled on some mayo, and tucked in some lettuce.
And for that visual impact I kept the left-over tentacle to put on top.
Now to taste.
The octopus blended with the beef even better than I had expected. It was soft but had a distinctive texture that fit right in with the more typical taco fare. Even the decorative tentacles were surprisingly smooth to bite and chew!
If there was only one negative to the Tako Taco, it’s that I would have also liked to have called it a “Tactopus.” Sadly, only one name could be chosen.
Anyway, moving on…
While you did add wasabi to your shrimp burritos, I don’t think you have fully embraced the full greatness of wasabi. For true Wasabi Tacos, I decided to forego all of the typical taco seasonings except for tomatoes, and instead added nearly an entire tube of wasabi paste.
▼ Of course I would have preferred to have used a real Japanese wasabi plant, but then we would be looking at a 1,000 yen (US$8) taco.
For those who have experienced wasabi’s bitter sting, fear not. By cooking it in with the beef the spiciness is greatly removed leaving you with only its splendid flavor.
Again with soft and hard tacos, I spooned the wasabeef onto a bed of lettuce and cheese. Finally, I gave it a squirt of mayo and a squirt of raw wasabi paste so it still has a little of that kick we all know and some of us love.
Going in for a bite…
Fantastic! The wasabi flavor filled each bite, but the tacos still maintained their standard overall taste as well. It was a perfect marriage and one that I wouldn’t hesitate to eat again and again. Also, as a fun little bonus, that dab of wasabi in the soft tacos was a suspenseful treat, since you never knew when you’d bite down on those little bombs.
Boy, two for two! These tacos are just getting better and better. Let’s see, what’s next…
Alright, I’m going to start off by saying that I am not a fan of natto and by extension I’m sure I won’t like Natto Burritos either. It’s not because of the notorious smell ranking somewhere between wet dog and the fart of a skunk or the actual flavor of natto, which is, surprisingly, the least offensive thing about it. It’s the texture that totally turns me off. It feels like I’m eating my cat’s vomit after it had just eaten a whole lot of junebugs while also suffering from a nasty cold.
That being said, one of the major beefs with Taco Bell in Japan was the absence of beans on the menu, and what more Japanese bean is there than the fermented soy beans that are natto. So here we are…
Making this burrito was pretty simple. First, just get a tortilla and scoop on some natto. I decided to sprinkle on some taco seasoning to give it a Tex-Mex edge and hopefully make it not suck so bad.
I then put on some cheese, tomato, mayo, and lettuce.
Unfortunately, I screwed up and tore the tortilla while trying to fold this burrito.
Normally, I’d be a professional and make another one. However, you’d have to be out of your ever-loving mind to assume I’d eat two of these things, so instead I’ll just go and Photoshop that back together.
And now to eat this…thing.
Amazingly it sucked exactly as much as I had expected it to. Really though, it was more to do with my predisposed hatred of natto that the burrito itself. I imagine people who enjoy natto would like this, but I don’t know. I try not to associate with such people.
Since I had some leftover natto and first-world guilt about wasting food, I made an extra Natto Taco too. Guess what? It was also awful.
For this one you’ll probably have to outsource your sushi production, but hey. If supermarkets and conveniences stores can do it, why can’t Taco Bell? After that it’s about as easy as it can get to make these Sushi Tacos.
I just dismantled some regular store-bought sushi and packed the vinegared rice into some hard taco shells. I thought soft tacos would be too soft for sushi, so I left those out. In fact, I even added some cabbage bits and just a tiny amount of cheese to the crunch tacos for even more texture.
And of course, what Sushi Taco would be complete without one of those green plastic hedges often found with sushi.
Let’s try shall we.
All in all, it was pretty good. Actually it pretty much just tasted like sushi with a little cheese and nacho chips, but there’s nothing wrong with that. The only negative was that it was hard to bite through both the taco shell and sushi topping cleanly. As a result I occasionally ended up taking the entire piece of fish out at once which made for some uneven eating.
Last but certainly not least, we have…
This one is more ambitious than the other tacos but certainly has the potential for success. Green tea flavoring has been used widely in Japan for sweets like ice cream and cookies, but what if we added its concentrated powder known as “macha” to tacos as well?
I’ll tell you what. You’d get Mucho Macho Macha Tacos: a name so nice you’ve got to say “Mucho Macho Macha Tacos” twice.
To do this, I had to make some tortillas from scratch using flour, oil, salt, and one of the many recipes found online. However, I also added about three single-serving packets of macha for color and flavor. After that I just made some regularly seasoned taco beef and topped it with some lettuce and cheese. I was very pleased with how green the tortillas came out. They were like little camouflage tacos.
I also put some mayo, wasabi and a little more macha powder on top.
Going in for a bite
It tasted pretty good. The taste of green tea was there but not over powering. I can’t explain why, but something just felt more fun about eating green tacos. However, out of the blue, disaster struck…
The tortilla seemed to lose structural integrity fast and began crumbling in my hand. Perhaps the macha had an adverse reaction to the other ingredients and caused it to break down on a molecular level. Or maybe it’s because I had never made a tortilla in my life and really had no business attempting a green one to begin with.
Whatever the case may have been, I was left picking up scraps of ground beef and cheese like some Dickensian street urchin.
Nevertheless, the Mucho Macho Macha Tacos have a lot of potential in the hands of professionals, and a name that one can’t help but say again and again.
If I had to rank these five tacos from best to worst it would go something like this.
So, there you go Taco Bell. Take this information and use it wisely to make a name for yourself in this highly competitive fast food market. And don’t stop there! Japanese cuisine is full of distinctive foods like miso and okonomiyaki, all of which could be fused with the highly adaptable taco.
No thanks is necessary — all I ask is that when Taco Bell does become a success in Japan you put a statue of me in front of every store like KFC does with Colonel Sanders.
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