The beef bowl king also offers fried bird, but does the flavor fly?

Yoshinoya, of course, is famous for its gyudon (beef bowls). It’s so famous for them that fast food fans in Japan often combine the words “Yoshinoya” and “gyudon” and call the chain “Yoshigyu.”

But while Yoshinoya deserves all the love it gets for its beef bowls, they’re not the only thing on the menu, and it turns out Yoshinoya offers fried chicken too.

Specifically, they offer karaage, as Japanese fried chicken, boneless and seasoned with such wonderful things as garlic and ginger, is called. However, there are plenty of other fast food chains in Japan that also offer karaage, and never being ones to pass up an opportunity to eat fried food in a professional capacity, we went on a karaage run to Yoshinoya and three other competitors, for a karaage taste test battle royale.

▼ Left to right: karaage from Yoshinoya, fried cutlet chain Katsuya, fried cutlet chain Matsunoya (part of the Matsuya group), and donburi (rice bowl) chain Nakau

First up, let’s talk price. Yoshinoya will sell you a single piece of karaage for 127 yen (US$1.20), but the more economical deal is a six-piece pack for 699 yen. At Nakau, 450 yen gets you a two-piece set, and at Katsuya three pieces will cost you 230 yen. Things are a little more complicated at Nakau (we’ll explain in a second), but the per-piece price for karaage (assuming you get the six-piece at Yoshinoya) works out to:
● Nakau: 45 yen
● Matsunoya: 76.7 yen
● Katsuya: 82.5 yen
● Yoshinoya: 116.5 yen

And now, let’s dig in.

● Nakau

We start with Nakau, whose karaage is the lowest-priced, but also the smallest size (per piece) of the bunch. In addition, you can’t order karaage by itself at Nakau. Instead, it comes as part of something called the Go Go Karaage set, which is a mix of karaage and tatsutaage.

▼ Tatsutaage (blue arrow) and karaage (red arrow)

They’re both types of Japanese fried chicken, but tatsutaage is breaded only with potato starch, while karaage uses wheat flour too. That doesn’t make such a huge difference, but to fried bird connoisseurs, the distinction merits a different name. We’re focusing only on the karaage part of Nakau’s combo, and we’ve got no complaints in the flavor department, although we did notice that the flavors seemed especially strong, even for karaage. If you want, you can pump them up even more by pouring on some of the included salty sauce Nakau gives you, for which you can also substitute their curry ketchup.

▼ The salty sauce


Next up is Katsuya, with the big boy of the group. These extra-large pieces are what you’d call a textbook example of karaage (yes, we believe fried chicken should be part of the standard educational curriculum). The seasonings aren’t as pronounced as with Nakau’s, and there aren’t any hidden tricks waiting in its flavor profile. That’s OK, though. Sometimes people just want the standard karaage flavor they know and love, and they’ll find it here.


It’s obvious that fried chicken is fried, but Matsunoya’s karaage makes sure you won’t forget that fact. They’re not greasy, per se, but the mid-sized pieces have a distinct aroma of cooking oil that makes them seem extra hearty. The seasonings here are on the heavy side, like with Nakau, and the meat is especially juicy.


And last, we come to the dark-horse contender in fried chicken from the beef bowl specialist. With karaage being outside Yoshinoya’s ordinary field of renown, you might expect their plan to be to simply pound your tongue with as strong of stimuli as possible. To our surprise, though, Yoshinoya’s is actually the most lightly seasoned of the bunch. That’s not to say it’s bland, and by showing a bit of restraint in the salty/oily factors Yoshinoya lets a refreshing citrus element shine through. Size-wise, the pieces are in the middle of the pack, and they’re nice and juicy too, though a touch less so than Matsunoya’s.

So if you, unlike us, have to pick just one of these four karaage to eat, which one should you choose? There’s not a bad pick in the bunch, and even for us the answer would depend on our exact cravings at any particular moment. The strong flavors of Nakau’s chicken with its special sauce, for example, would make a great side snack to munch on while knocking back an ice-cold beer.

However, if we’re just going to eat karaage, we think we’d have to go with Yoshinoya. It’s by far the least oily of the bunch, and it’ll fully satisfy your taste buds without also leaving your stomach heavy and bloated. Granted, that might not be a concern if you’re buying karaage to share with other people and only going to eat one or two pieces yourself, but deep down I think we all know that the best fried chicken is the fried chicken you have all to yourself, and in that situation, Yoshinoya is our pick.

Karaage isn’t available at every Yoshinoya branch yet, but in Tokyo you can find it at branches including Akihabara, Harajuku Takeshitadori, Shinagawa Station Konan Entrance, Shinjuku Keio Mall, Shimo Kitazawa Station East Entrance, Shibuya 109, and Ikebukuro Staiton North Entrance. A complete list of karaage-serving branches can be found here.

Photos © SoraNews24
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