Friday, 4 May 2012

New York City: Japadog

The Japanese are well-known for taking western ideas and developing them into something that is familiar but unmistakably Japanese.  For some things, the results have become synonymous with improved design and quality.  Sony and Honda are perfect examples.  Another lesser-known example of Japan taking a western invention and helping it fulfill its potential is the vending machine.  In Japan, people aren't content to use vending machines to just buy soft drinks and snacks.  When I lived in Hokkaido, vending machines carried a much wider assortment of products including hot coffee (or cocoa) in a can, batteries, laundry detergent, and finger puppets.  For a few thousand yen (not nearly as much money as it sounds), a five-year-old could also buy enough sake from a street-side vending machine to put her entire kindergarten class into a coma.

Of course, if you want a soft drink, those are also available but in intriguing varieties like Pocari Sweat (not a is Sweat, not Sweet), Muscat Melon, Calpis (say it out loud for the full effect), and Cucumber Pepsi.  And we think we're so innovative when we add a bit of cherry to Dr. Pepper.

In food, the results are a bit more mixed.  McDonald's serves a teriyaki burger in Japan that isn't too bad, and their melon flavoured milkshakes are really good.  The Batman movies are hugely popular in Japan, and just like here, each new film is accompanied by an enormous cross-promotional marketing campaign.  We've all bought snacks, usually some kind of chip, that features a movie scene on the front of the bag and a collectible card or sticker inside.  Well, I collected a few cards - featuring characters from the Batman movie - found in bags of crispy snacks when I lived in Japan.  Only instead of corn or potatoes, these were made from dried squids.  They were actually better than you would imagine.  (They would have to be, wouldn't they.)

So, when we saw a hot dog place in the East Village called Japadog, we were naturally intrigued.  Japadog, founded in Vancouver B.C., takes your traditional beef wiener and bun combination and gives it a washoku twist.  They offer over 20 varieties, half of which were available at their NYC location.  Some options sounded like crimes against nature - the Yakisoba noodle dog sounds about as appetizing as an iCarly spaghetti taco (I have kids; don't judge me) - but we each ordered different versions that looked like they had real potential.  Alison picked Japadog's signature dog, the Terimayo.  It features Japanese mayonnaise (apple cider vinegar gives it more bite than its western counterpart) and teriyaki sauce over a beef sausage, all garnished with a small nest of nori seaweed.  I selected the Tonkatsu which replaced the wiener altogether with two small breaded pork cutlets, buried under a big pile of shredded cabbage and drizzled with a sweet tonkatsu sauce. 

I'll admit I had much higher hopes for Japadog than Alison did.  I expected a culinary experience that would be both nostalgic for my days spent in Japan and exciting in a way that "adventure eaters" everywhere can appreciate.  So when I try to describe to you just how disappointing it was, English fails me and I need to use a word that has the kind of depth that can only be found in a language where each character (each "letter", if you will) in a word contains a multitude of meanings.  The Japanese have such a word.  I can't display the Japanese kanji, but I can tell you how it's pronounced:


Japadog's first mistake was to boil the wieners instead of grilling them.  That was followed by a bland-as-white-bread (literally) bun, untoasted and unappealing.  Finally, as fun as the  East meets West combinations sounded, the hot dogs were still very much like Skyping or phoning my parents with both of them on the line st the same time.  Separately, they're fine, but together they spend much of the time bickering with each other (usually over whose fault it is that the webcam isn't working properly), leaving us to sit back and observe the whole scene with dismay.  The two aspects of the Japadog are similarly conflicted.  Sampled separately, the flavours were fine, but together...well, you'd think they had been married for 40 years.

I thought I avoided the mystery meat scenario with my dog's pork cutlets, but the first cutlet had a bit a gristle in it, and the second cutlet had a bit of meat in it.  I ended up throwing away half of it, and we both left Japadog feeling queasy and very disappointed.

I have since learned that Japadog also serves specially spiced fries, and others who agree with our lackluster assessment of the hot dogs have admitted to loving the fries.  That just makes me even sadder;  I would have liked to have tried the wasabi fries, since I can no longer find one of my favorite snacks, wasabi potato chips, at any of Calgary's Japanese importers.

If I can offer some advice, if you find yourself in New York and feeling a bit "peckish for tubesteak" (nope, not a euphemism), skip Japadog and visit Sigmund twice instead.


  1. Darin, I forgot that you went to husband, Kurt went to Hokkaido also and I was fortunate enough to go to Japan with him 2 years ago...we spent an amazing week in Tokyo and I fell madly in love with Japan and her people. Reading your entry made me 'homesick' for Japan. Kurt brushed up on his Japanese before we went and shocked a lot of people when he would speak to them in Japanese with a pretty good accent..."how does this blond, blue-eyed guy know how to speak Japanese?".
    And it really was crazy how much stuff you could buy from a vending machine! I even tried Calpis :)
    Cheers, Corinne

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