Family Mart wants to make amends for simple yet linguistically complex mistake.

On Monday, Japanese convenience store chain Family Mart issued an apology regarding one of its products. For any company in the food industry, there’s nothing more important than customer trust, and so Family Mart wanted to apologize for a mistake in which packages of meatballs which were sold to customers actually contained Meatballs.

OK, so this food recall notice comes with a side order of linguistics. In Japanese, the word for “meat” is niku. Meanwhile, dango refers to a ball-shaped dumpling or other edible morsel. Put them together, and you get nikudango, which translates as “meatball.” So if you walk into a Family Mart and buy a pack of their Chinese-style nikudango, you wouldn’t be surprised when you open the pack and it contains balls of meat, as shown in the photo below.

So some people were left scratching their heads when Family Mart issued a statement that it’s recalling a number of packs of those nikudango that were sold last weekend because instead of nikudango, they had “Meatballs” inside. See, in addition to nikudango, Family Mart also sells a product officially called, in Japanese, Mito Boru, the Japanese corrupted pronunciation of the English loanword “meatball.”

Family Mart’s statement includes:

“We deeply apologize for the great trouble this has caused our customers, and will be expanding our management efforts and coordination with suppliers to prevent such a thing from happening again.”

While a sincere apology is almost always appreciated in Japan, this situation left more than a few scratching their heads, but there is a legitimate problem Family Mart is addressing. Though nikudango and meatball/mito boru do both technically refer to the same thing, they tend to get used for different purposes within the food industry and foodie circles.

As a Japanese word, nikudango is usually used when talking about meatballs used with traditional Asian seasonings/in Asian cuisine. So, for example, the meatballs that are popular at Chinese restaurants in Japan are generally called nikudango, not “meatballs.” On the other hand, meatballs with/for Western seasonings/dishes usually get called mito boru/meatballs.

▼ The Japanese company that makes these calls them nikudango

▼ …while the restaurant in Japan that makes these calls them meatballs.

It’s a little like how some restaurants in the U.S. will use the term “wrap” instead of “burrito” if their tortilla-wrapped menu items don’t contain other traditional Mexican foodstuffs; not a hard-and-fast rule or requirement, but more about conveying what sort of flavors/ingredients the customer can expect.

In Family Mart’s case, its nikudango has a sweet-and-sour sauce-style glaze as indicated by the product’s full name, Famimaru Kitchen Special Sweet Vinegar Chinese-style Niku Dango. The Meat Balls, on the other hand, are the Tomato Sauce Meatballs. It’s unclear if the meat mixture is identical between the two products, but at the very least their sauces taste very different from one another. There’s also the matter of price and quantity, with the nikudango pack being 158 grams (5.6 ounces) and 221 yen (US$1.50), and the Meatballs 110 grams for 119 yen, making the nikudango about 30 percent more expensive per gram, which means the customers who received Meatballs by mistake were being overcharged. On the bright side, there seems to be no product safety issue here. Though mislabeled as nikudango, the Meatballs aren’t defective or unsanitary in any way, and Family Mart says there’s no difference in potential allergens contained between its nikudango and Meatballs.

Anyone who purchased the item in question (which has an expiration date of October 2) can bring either the package or the receipt to a Family Mart branch and receive a full refund, which effectively makes this a case of people who’ve already eaten theirs getting a free sample of Family Mart Meatballs, and if you like nikudango enough to be shopping for them, you’d probably enjoy “meatballs” too. In the end, to most people who were affected it’s probably not the “great trouble” Family Mart is worried it might have been, but it’s a good call to correct your mistakes when you can, like when the Pokémon Center apologized for writing model Nicole Fujita’s name as Nicole Fujita.

Source: Family Mart via IT Media
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Insert images: Family Mart, SoraNews24
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