Yes, Japan’s Christmas fried chicken tradition is great too, but if you want turkey, this is a quick, simple, and affordable option.

In Japan, pretty much everyone eats fried chicken on Christmas Eve. Depending on where you’re from, that might seem like a comically cheap choice for what’s supposed to be a special night, but fried chicken has two very big things going for it. First, it’s delicious, and second, turkey, the traditional Christmas dinner star in many western countries, is very hard to find in Japan, as it’s not carried in or served by the vast majority of supermarkets and restaurants here.

Fried chicken is so strongly associated with Christmas in Japan that many Japanese people aren’t really conscious of the fact that it’s a uniquely Japanese way to celebrate the holiday. Worldly guy that he is, though, our ace reporter Mr. Sato does know that Christmas fried chicken started off as a turkey substitute that eventually became a Japanese tradition in its own right. So this year he set out to find the true meaning of Christmas, or at least its original taste, by looking for an easy source of turkey.

That search eventually took him to Kaldi, a chain of slightly upscale markets that have branches inside many major shopping centers in Japan. Kaldi started off as a coffee bean specialty shop, and they’re still known for that, but they’ve expanded to carry various semi-gourmet foodstuffs, often with an international flair, and right now they’re selling turkey legs.

Mr. Sato found these smoked Spanish turkey legs in the frozen section, priced at 969 yen each (US$6.75). While that’s more than a piece of fried chicken would cost, this felt like a more upscale offering, and a reasonable price for a special Christmas experience.

We should mention that this would be Mr. Sato’s first time, in his entire life, to eat turkey, so he was eager to try it as soon as he got home. Since Kaldi’s turkey legs are sold frozen, he was going to need just a little more patience. They are already cooked, though, so you can dig in as soon as they’re defrosted, either by boiling the still sealed package in a pot/pan of water or letting them thaw out at room temperature.

▼ Since he was hungry, Mr. Sato opted for boiling

After about 20 minutes of boiling, it was thoroughly defrosted, but Mr. Sato delayed his first bite just a little longer so that he could first crisp the turkey leg up in the oven.

Following the suggestion from Kaldi’s website, he removed the turkey leg from its packaging and wrapped it in foil, then put it in the oven for eight minutes. The website recommended going all the way to 10 minutes if you want the skin to get extra crispy, but Mr. Sato, ever a man of moderation, wanted a more balanced approach.

Now it was finally time to eat, and Mr. Sato gripped his turkey leg in excited anticipation.

But in addition to being a man of moderation, he’s also a classy guy, so instead of cramming the whole thing into his mouth, he elegantly sliced off a piece of meat and ate it with a fork.

Compared to what he’s ordinarily used to eating at this time of year, Mr. Sato was pleasantly surprised at how substantially meaty turkey feels, as there’s less skin and fat than with fried chicken. He had the impression that this leaner meat was packed with protein too, another energizing plus for the turkey column.

On the other hand, since it wasn’t hitting him with as much succulent grease as a fried chicken drumstick, Mr. Sato felt the turkey leg didn’t stand as strongly as a meal all on its own. Delicious as this was, he found himself craving some strongly flavored sides, like maybe an assortment of pickles, or that cranberry sauce he read about while researching the West’s Christmas turkey tradition.

Overall, though, Mr. Sato enjoyed his first-ever turkey tasting, and all the more so because of the time of year he did it. If you’re spending this Christmas in Japan and craving turkey, but can’t find a store selling a whole bird, don’t have an oven big enough to cook it in, or aren’t having enough people over during the holidays to eat one, Kaldi’s turkey legs are a great way to preserve this edible part of the yuletide menu, and if you want to get internationalized and have both turkey and fried chicken on Christmas Eve, we see nothing wrong with that plan.

Related: Kaldi location list, online store
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