We taste test the teriyaki burger from the chain that first created them.

Our Japanese-language reporter Daiki Nishimoto absolutely loves teriyaki burgers. Recently, though, he got to wondering just where the first teriyaki burgers came from.

That might seem like a strange question if you’re mainly familiar with the kind of food served at Japanese restaurants outside Japan, where teriyaki beef is one of the most common menu items. If teriyaki is traditionally used with beef, then putting the sauce on the beef patty of a hamburger is probably an idea that a lot of different restaurants in Japan came up with separately and almost simultaneously, right?

Here’s the thing though: in Japan, teriyaki isn’t traditionally put on beef. In classical Japanese cooking, it’s pretty much only used for fish or chicken. So the idea of putting teriyaki on a beef patty was, originally, going against the grain of Japanese cuisine, as was eating teriyaki and bread (i.e. the burger’s bun) in the same bite.

So who was the first restaurant to serve teriyaki burgers? None other than Mos Burger, Japan’s favorite domestic burger chain.

Mos Burger opened its first branch in 1972, a year after McDonald’s entered the Japanese market. Mos introduced Japan’s first teriyaki burgers in 1973, and as soon as they went on the menu, people across Japan…mostly didn’t care about them.

On its website, Mos Burger describes the lackluster launch with:

“We had high hopes for [the teriyaki burger], but in the period right after we started offering them, we didn’t sell very many. It might seem odd now, but at the time when people heard the word ‘teriyaki,’ they mainly thought of fish.”

The fast food industry has always been highly competitive, and a young chain like Mos Burger couldn’t really afford to keep an item on the menu for too long if people weren’t ordering it. So what ultimately saved the teriyaki burger? The same heroines who have saved the world in countless anime series: ordinary high school girls.

“What turned things around [for the teriyaki burger] was, actually, reactions from high school girls. They were openminded, without such strong preconceived notions about food. When they tried the teriyaki burger, they thought it was delicious. They told their friends about it, and then those friends told other friends, and word of mouth gradually spread.”

From that Mos Burger’s innovation eventually become a sales hit across all demographics,  proving that there was a market for teriyaki burgers. Other chains started adding their own, leading to the present-day situation where teriyaki burgers are a standard menu item at just about any fast food burger joint or burger cafe.

Getting back to our teriyaki burger-loving reporter Daiki, this history lesson made him realize that he’d never actually eaten a Mos Burger teriyaki burger. By the time he was born, you could get teriyaki burgers just about anywhere, and McDonald’s has been his go-to chain for pretty much his whole life. Now that he knew Mos was where teriyaki burgers started, though, he had to try one.

Opening up the wrapper, he was surprised to see just how moist the burger was, with a generous amount of teriyaki sauce dripping from the patty down into the lower half of the bun. This amount of sauce is exactly what he, as a teriyaki fan, was craving, though, so so far so good.

Taking a bite, he was immediately impressed by the texture, as his teeth passed through layers of fluffy bun, crisp lettuce, and tender patty. Mos Burger is known for the high quality of their ingredients in general and that holds true here too. And the teriyaki sauce? Delicious. It was rich and flavorful, but not in a heavy-handed way that would ever tire out your taste buds.

Daiki couldn’t help noticing that there’s something about Mos’ teriyaki sauce that makes it feel more “Japanese” than McDonald’s, and it turns out that a big part of that is because Mos puts a bit of miso paste in its teriyaki. Miso isn’t usually an ingredient in teriyaki sauce, but it’s been part of the sauce for Mos’ teriyaki burger since the very beginning, added in help with the overall balance and blend of flavors between teriyaki, beef, and bread.

At 430 yen (US$2.95) Mos’ teriyaki burger is just a little more expensive than McDonald’s, which is 370 yen. That’s not a prohibitive price difference by any means, though, and if you’ve got a love for teriyaki burgers, Daiki highly recommends trying one from the chain that created them when you have the chance.

Reference: Mos Burger
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