Washoku or traditional Japanese cuisine has recently been designated as an Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO. To my mind it is a long delayed recognition to a cuisine that is so well balanced -- it is at once simple yet complex, elegant yet down to earth, comforting yet refined and sophisticated.
So why, amidst the choices of washoku on hand, did I have to do a google search for the "best burger in Tokyo"?
Because I wanted to see how this typical American fast food would be treated in the land famous for natural, healthy and fresh meals.
According to Google, the "best burger in Tokyo" is Blacows, located somewhere in the Ebisu area.
It took us quite a bit of wandering around before we finally found our way.
If you're exiting from JR Ebisu station, cross the street at the stoplight and walk straight through a small road till you see this intersection. Follow the road going uphill on the left.
While waiting in line, I looked through the pretty extensive menu.
There are 15 kinds of burgers to choose from plus the Big Blacows, a double patty sandwich. All burgers are made using 100% Japanese black wagyu -- Japanese black cows.
Hence the name -- Blacows.
In addition to the burgers, there are salads, soups , desserts and some side dishes.
You can also customise your burger by adding ingredients like mushrooms, egg, bacon, onions, etc.
The back of the menu shows a photo of a Bacon Cheese Avocado burger (apparently the recommended variety) plus a dissertation on the philosophy behind Blacows burger.
The first line hit me -- "We believe the most important factor for hamburgers is Balance".
There you have it -- the tradition of washoku lives on in a Blacows burger.
Blacows is owned and run by Yazawa Meats, well known and respected meat supplier in Tokyo.
Each Blacows burger is made with 100% Japanese black wagyu and not just any wagyu but Grade A5 wagyu or the top of the line, highest grade Japanese beef.
This board prominently displayed in the restaurant even lists down the cows by their identification number, who gave up their lives to bring us the beef used in today's burgers -- all of the cows are Grade A5.
To ensure that each burger is even more fresh, the beef is ground only upon each order.
No pre-made, pre-formed patties at Blacows!
It's not fast food -- it's slow food, Japanese style.
The burgers take about 20 minutes to come to the table -- just enough time to have a glass of cold Belgian beer.
A platter of Caesar salad with crunchy Parmesan chips and crumbled cheese also helps me endure the wait for the burger.
And finally here it is! The bun is made specially for Blacows by Maison Kayser in Tokyo -- a branch of the famed French boulangerie. There is nothing else on the plate save for a few potato wedges and a small gherkin. I ordered the bacon cheese burger and am happy to see that the bacon is soft cooked and not fried to tasteless crispiness.
Each Blacows burger comes with a special sauce already spread on the soft bun.
It's made of a puree of tomatoes and other vegetables and may seem a bit sweet to some.
The patty was melt-in-your-mouth delicious. Blacows' rough ground texture delivered a full bodied taste of the Grade A5 wagyu. It was an umami rich taste.
The marbling that is a hallmark of Japanese beef made for an extra juicy experience -- burger juices dripped with every bite and I was thankful for the burger wrapper that kept the juices from running down the tabletop and onto my clothes.
I consider myself a fast eater so I mentally had to slow myself down to make this experience last a bit longer.
It was an extremely satisfying meal.
I didn't really consider this as a break from Japanese food as I felt that it was prepared and cooked with fresh and traditional Japanese ingredients and prepared with the quintessential Japanese care and deliberateness.
On the way back to the train station, I saw this statue of the god Ebisu -- one of the seven deities of fortune.
He certainly smiled on me today as it was good gastronomic fortune to have experienced and enjoyed Blacows -- burgers balanced in the Washoku tradition.