Tonight, exactly a week after my frightful Gusto experience (please scroll down and read my last story before you read this one), I once again decided to drop my foreign face into one of Rural Japan’s many family restaurants. I wanted to give the Zentsuji Gusto some time to hire and train some new staff after my last visit, so I bypassed it tonight and went out of the way to stop at the local Tadotsu branch of Joyfull (yes, there are two l’s in the Joyfull restaurant). It’s a restaurant of comparable menu and quality, only Joyfull is a little cheaper for most things, the drink bar is a mere shadow of Gusto’s, and I’m not on their blacklist. I was in the mood for hamburg (Here’s a Japanese word for you: hanbaaga), and Joyfull is a good place for it. Japanese Hamburg is bunless, like a small meat-loaf about the size of a thick hamburger pattie. Often, it is served with a sweet, onion sauce, and it serves as a cheap filler for western food when you’re feeling beef-deprived.
Now, Japanese hamburg is different from an American hamburger, which is more like Japanese burger (another Japanese word for you: baagaa). But I wasn’t in the for boogers or burgers, rather for hamberg. Upon ordering, I found that my Japanese had much improved, because ordering in a restaurant no longer holds me in terror. The only part I’m still not sure about is the question “yoroshii desuka?” It either means “Can I get you anything else” or “Is everything OK?” The problem with this is that I never know if I’m supposed to answer yes, no, “I’m sorry,” or “domo arigato gozaimasu.” Usually I mutter “hai,” (yes) in a low enough voice that the server goes away after giving me my food, which is what I want in the first place.
It was an interesting evening, because it took them about three times as long as usual to bring out my food. In the high-class world of Japanese customer service, this is a cardinal sin. However, they delivered my hot-iron plate (set in a wooden holder) in picture-perfect formation: two hamburgs (one with cheese and tomatoes, one with a pepper-onion sauce), two potato chunks, four green beans, and a handful-size pile of corn. Oh, and a separate plate with rice on it. Happily, I finally began to feast.
BUT NO. There was a problem. As I began to eat my pepper-oniony hamburg, I found that in the middle, it was still very pink. As I munched on my cheesy-tomato hamburg and my four green beans, I pondered if it would be worth it to tell the server and finally rung the pager to call him over. A lady come, and when I muttered something about a little raw, she instantly began apologizing and took my hamburg plate back to the kitchen, ignoring my protests that “well, the other one is OK…”
When she got back to the kitchen, I heard her say “kotchi mo” or “this one, too.” As I sat there, I pondered Japanese customer service and realized that they would probably make me a whole plate, which would take time. I really wanted to eat the rest of my food, but they’d taken everything except my plate of rice, which I continued to munch on (but rice by itself doesn’t have much flavor, and I wanted to save it for the return of dinner).
When the server returned, apologizing, with my meal, sure enough, there was a brand new meal: two hamburgs, two potato chunks, a handful-sized pile of corn, and four green beans, all served on a hot iron plate set in a wooden holder. To top it off, they gave me a new plate of rice, even when I tried to say that I already had one (they snatched the old plate like some kind of radioactive waste).
So, there I was, already half-full from eating half a meal, with a whole new meal in front of me. Did you know that it takes at least 15 minutes for your body to realize it’s full, no matter how much you eat? Well, it had been 15 minutes since I’d started eating. There was just no way I could finish it all. I still can feel the texture of soft, warm beef in my mouth.
However, here’s where I really tripped them up. When I was down to my last hamburg, I called the server over and said, “I’m really full, and I’d like to take this home.” He stared blankly. “Do you have a box?” Embarrassed, as Japanese employees always are when they can’t give you exactly what you want, he shank back to the ubiquitous “employee only” safe haven (in this case the kitchen) after telling me to wait. There, I’m certain that all the server held a small-scale meeting to discuss the situation. He returned with some aluminum foil from the kitchen and wrapped my meat up quite nicely, completing it with a small floral arrangement. Apparently, you just don’t use to-go boxes much in Japan. However, I got breakfast out of the whole ordeal.
To end the evening, the chef came out, said something I didn’t quite catch about “dishonoring Japan and the Joyfull corporation,” and committed seppuku.
And so, the legend of the wide-eyed foreigner who asks for boxes at restaurants continues to spread across Kagawa prefecture. At this rate, I may run out of restaurants within a few months.