Clearly quantity is not an issue here. So, how is the quality?
Beppu in southern Oita Prefecture is mainly known for its highly-regarded hot spring resorts and newly opened onsen theme park. But you might be surprised to learn that the region also makes a mean fried chicken in the Japanese style known as kara-age.
As a result Beppu is a fierce battleground of fried-chicken stalls and restaurants clawing for a piece of that Beppu fried chicken market. As is often the case with such competition, customers usually reap the benefits of outlandish deals and creativity… or in this case, sheer volume.
One well-loved chicken shack in Beppu is Kara-age Kon-chan which is said to be the undisputed king of volume among this vast range of vendors. They offer the seldom heard “MAX” size which would imply that there is none larger.
Could that possibly be true? To find out we sent our reporter Masanuki to order a MAX fried chicken bento.
Kara-age Kon-chan was just a five-minute walk from the east exit of Beppu Station on the first floor of a multi-story parking lot called Tsurumi Car Park. It’s a favorite of the locals and often frequented for their 450 yen (US$4) daily specials.
▼ Many celebrities have also visited Kara-age Kon-chan,
and have undoubted shouted “Umaaaaaiiiiii!” while doing so.
The menu was very typical of a bento shop, and they offered two different flavors of kara-age: “salt” and “garlic & soy sauce.” The sizes offered were Regular for 500 yen (US$4.60), Large for 600 yen ($5.50), Mega 950 yen ($8.70), and MAX for 1400 yen ($12.80). If the prices were any indication, things seem to get exponentially larger.
Masanuki decided on the “salt” flavor and of course ordered the MAX. About 10 minutes later it arrived….
At first Masanuki had thought that someone placed an enormous medical dictionary in front of him, but he soon realized it was what he had ordered. The heaps of rice and chicken were so large that they were unable to close the bento lid properly. Instead the gaps were sealed with some saran wrap and scotch tape.
Both the rice and chicken were piping hot and clearly cooked upon ordering. However, because there was so much of it, the heat was a little intense. Masanuki imagined this would be quite nice on a winter’s day, though.
▼ Compared to a regular sized bento
Our reporter peeled back the tape and cellophane to take a bite. Even though Beppu is famous for its chicken, it’s a general rule that quantity is the inverse of quality, so expectations weren’t sky-high.
Of course, it is also a general rule that general rules are made to be broken, because this chicken was amazing!
The fried salt flavor was unbeatable alone, but combined with the fresh and juicy chicken it was a delectable eating experience. Once he started eating, Masanuki found it hard to stop. This was the battle-hardened taste of the fried chicken war-zone that is Beppu.
About halfway through Masanuki noticed that there were actually other foods in the bento as well such as noodles, potato salad, and some pickled vegetables. They were a nice touch because they offered a change of tastes without taking up any valuable gastronomic real-estate.
Actually, at about the 70-percent mark, our reporter began to feel weary. He wanted to continue, but there is only so much chicken one man can handle. Luckily, the tiny piece of pickled daikon gave him the boost he needed to finish the job.
Eating the whole thing was painful, but he had to do it for the sake of completion. Anyone else who wants to take on Kara-age Kon-chan’s MAX bento should bring some backup. But for the taste alone, anyone coming to Beppu for their hot springs should not miss the chance to try their chicken too!
Kara-age Kon-chan / からあげコンちゃん
Oita-ken, Beppu-shi, Ekimae Honcho 1-5
Open: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Open seven days a week
[ Read in Japanese ]