NAGASAKI – The Sasebo burger, touted as being bigger and richer than its fast-food counterparts, is enjoying a nationwide comeback.
The burger was first marketed in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, for American service members more than 50 years ago. Its big puffy buns encase a juicy handmade patty combined with an omelet, bacon strips and lettuce. The burger comes in many sizes — the largest of which is up to 30 cm in diameter.
At lunchtime on weekends in Sasebo, the wait for a burger can be as long as a few hours at one popular shop.
One a recent day, the street in front of the shop was so jammed with vehicles that police were called in to deal with illegal parking.
“The meat is tastier than the meat used at fast-food chains,” said Miho Uchida, 32, who came in from Fukuoka.
The Sasebo burger got started around 1950 at a local restaurant. After word spread and the burger gradually gained a following, the Sasebo Municipal Government launched a publicity campaign in 2001 to turn the burger into its local culinary specialty, following the examples of Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, known for its Imperial Japanese Navy curry, and Maizuru, Kyoto Prefecture and Kure, Hiroshima Prefecture, which served the former navy with their “niku jaga” boiled meat and potatoes.
As word of the burger spread, department stores began stocking them in 2003. Sales at local burger shops have sextupled over the last four years.
Long-established burger joints in Sasebo, as well as local citizens, have since spread across the country, opening burger shops in Kagoshima, Osaka, Tokyo and Chiba.
Hiroshi Yoshimura, a 34-year-old native of Sasebo, opened Zats Burger Cafe near JR Nakano Station in Tokyo two years ago. At first, customers used to the speed of typical fast food became impatient and complained after waiting 10 minutes to get a burger, which run 682 yen to 1,260 yen depending on size.
But the good taste convinced them it was worth the wait, said Yoshimura, who now runs three shops selling about 450 burgers a day.
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