★ ★ Nathan is on vacation in Japan, but of course we put him to work. He emailed me this review of a Japanese take on the American classic:
I just left Kyoto. I had a burger while I was there. In retrospect, Kyoto was probably a strange place to seek out a burger; famous as it is for being the stronghold of everything traditionally Japanese. Then again, perhaps that’s a fine enough reason so long as you don’t hope for anything too familiar.
I have given up on hamburgers as an antidote for homesickness. In rural China, near the Tibetan border, I once ordered a hamburger but was served instead a steak of gristly yak meat between two thick slices of toast. What a disappointment. There is simply too much nostalgia built into a hamburger. How wonderful would it have been to have ordered a yak steak sandwich and received a yak steak sandwich? When abroad I think it is best to keep one’s hamburger expectations low.
So we rented bicycles and rode out to a small cafe called Salut Ya. It is located in a renovated old machiya (townhouse) and I heard is famous for it’s burger.
I ordered their cheeseburger. What arrived on my plate appeared to very nearly be a classic cheeseburger. All the usual elements were stacked in place: bun, lettuce, tomato, grilled onion, melted slice of cheese, beef patty, bun. But the burger arrived cut in half like a deli sandwich. A pair of toothpicks kept each slice intact. The grind was dense and devoid of grease, juiciness, or attitude. The bread dominated. It was a round (very round) sesame-encrusted baguette— puffed up like a rotund caricature of a bun.
There was, however, one inspired moment in Salut Ya’s burger. It occurred at the crossroads of its most misguided elements: the patty that was too dense and the bun that was too bready. The diameter of the patty was just narrower than the diameter of the bun. This offset allowed it to be pressed slightly into the soft spongy part of the bread, such that it was encased by the lip of the crusty part. Sadly, this clever feat was made possible by the two elements that were least satisfying.
To be honest, the meal was not unpleasant, so long as the memory of a cheeseburger didn’t crop up. Because what looked like a classic cheeseburger was more of a beefy hamburger-inspired sandwich. Looked at this way, it was a hell of a lot better than yak.