I’m assuming we all have one: a Japanese fast food restaurant close to our heart for one reason or another. Just as we distinguish Wendy’s from Burger King, McDonalds from Taco Bell, so too would it be natural to have a preference among the Japanese chains. Or, maybe you don’t. Maybe Yoshinoya, Sukiya, Matsuya, etc. are all the same to you. Though, if this is the case I insist that it is because you are just not paying enough attention to what you eat, not because they are in fact all the same.
For me, it’s Matsuya. I eat almost exclusively Matsuya. I’ve tried them all, and every time I cheat on my love I feel remorse. So I have stopped straying or trying new specials at places like Sukiya or Chikara Meshi. Granted, overall they’re all great. The fact that you eat raw egg at a fast food joint, and that instead of fries you get a side salad speaks volumes about Japan’s food culture (and their thin waste lines). But for me the crown will always go to Matsuya, the prettiest one at the ball.
There are so many reasons why I fancy Matsuya. First of all, it’s just better. Period. Why? I don’t know. It just is.
Or maybe that’s a little subjective. Maybe I think it’s better because I’m used to it. The lunch options are very limited around where I work. We have a KFC, a McDonald’s and a Matsuya. The cheapest and most filling option of those three is definitely Matsuya, so I have spent too many a lunch break chowing down on its pickled ginger, raw eggs, and thin meat. And the more I spent my lunch breaks at Matsuya, the more time Matsuya had to court my affections. But it’s not just the taste I’ve acquired that gives me passion for the great gyudon of Matsuya, there are other things that also distinguish Matsuya from other chains.
For one, you don’t really have to deal with humans. You walk into the restaurant and it’s very simple. You go to a machine, put in the money, and the machine tells you what they have. You press a button, get your change immediately, and hand the ticket with your order to the worker who in turn hands you tea or water. Maybe they’ll ask you if you want a half-cooked or raw egg, but you can easily sit down and place your order without saying a single word. And you never have to flag anyone down to place your order.
I used to think this system was ridiculous because it is quite impersonal and I questioned how much more efficient it could possibly be. But all it took was one trip to Yoshinoya where I had to wait and wait to place my order with a human that convinced me otherwise. Aside from being more efficient, after you get used to it there’s something nice about the silence of using a machine. Not to mention, Japanese waiters and waitresses are often rather mechanical themselves. Better to deal with the real thing than a human imitating a robot.
And then there are the specials. Perhaps that really is my favorite part of Matsuya: the seasonal dishes, or the fact that they have seasonal dishes in the first place. The summer offers vegetable and tomato curries, and a hamburger steak topped with mozzarella. Granted, it’s not the best meal in town. It’s far from a five star restaurant, but it gets the job done. And my favorite, my absolute favorite is their winter special: Matsuya’s kimchi chige. It’s beautiful, I tell you, just beautiful! Tofu, beef, kimchi, and it’s actually got a little kick to it! It’s not just like most Japanese kimchi dishes, which are too sweet for me, and taste more like they’ve been sugar coated than pickled. On a cold winter day, Matsuya’s kimchi chige won’t just warm you up, it will complete your soul—your soul!—for only about five hundred yen. In my opinion, it’s one of the best deals out there, and I wish it wasn’t just seasonal.
But I know I’m not the only one who has biased preferences, and no matter how much I defend Matsuya I can’t objectively prove its superiority. In fact, I’ve met one person who feels just as passionately about Sukiya as I do about Matsuya. Don’t worry, we’re still friends, but I have to admit it’s hard to maintain a friendship when your interests are so different. To each their own, I guess. All I know is there’s nothin’ like getting a salad and pouring sesame dressing over it, then cracking that raw egg and dropping it over a bowl of thinly sliced beef and rice. Just add a little of Matsuya’s pink pickled ginger and I’m good to go. Who needs McDonalds when you’ve got Matsuya?
Of course, if you disagree, please fell free to tell me why another chain is better. Comments are always welcome!