Donald Trump

In Japan, this US$12 cheeseburger is king thanks to Donald Trump

The ‘President Trump Set’ with coleslaw and fries is a new addition to the menu at Munch’s Burger Shack in Tokyo

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 November, 2017, 6:00pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 November, 2017, 6:14pm

Haruyuki Sano travelled 1 ½ hours for a taste of the same cheeseburger US President Donald Trump ate with the Japanese prime minister during his visit last week.

“It tasted great, like steak,” the pastry-maker said, after savouring the 100 per cent US Angus beef Colby Jack Cheeseburger at Tokyo’s tiny Munch’s Burger Shack on Thursday.

The lines at the door during lunchtime are getting longer than ever, thanks to Trump.

Trump’s tough-talk on issues like bilateral trade and security tend to get a mixed response in places like Japan, which sees the US as its most important ally and partner.

But his love for the Japanese take on the all-American hamburger is striking a chord with many here.

“I like Trump,” said Sano, stressing that putting one’s country first amid globalisation made a lot of sense, and Japan should do that, too.

While better known for sushi, soba and tempura, Japan has had a long love affair with American food. So-called “premium burgers” which are more expensive than the fast-food versions at double the price or more, are growing popular.

The “President Trump Set”, a new addition to the menu at Munch’s Burger, which includes a serving of coleslaw and a side of fries with the cheeseburger, sells for 1,400 yen (US$12).

The juicy beef patty comes layered with crisp lettuce, melted cheese and tomato between hot soft buns.

These days, it’s one of the most popular orders, says owner-chef Yutaka Yanagisawa, who recalled Trump shaking his hand after eating the burger and saying: “Very good. Very good.”

“I felt so honoured,” he said, adding that all he could muster in reply was a “thank you.”

Since Trump wanted his meat well-done, that’s how the order was placed for both burgers in case the servings get mixed up on the table.

“That would have been a disaster,” Yanagisawa said with a laugh.

The experience of eating out in Tokyo is becoming more about fun storytelling, such as sharing Instagram photos of meals, says Jotaro Fujii, a Tokyo-based food consultant and the founder of Subway Japan.

And so the “Trump effect” for the humble burger joint is expected to be huge.

“Talk of lines brings more lines,” said Fujii.

“Rather than mere taste, the value and joy come from being able to say: I had the same burger as Trump.”

Munch’s Burger is up against some competition. Not only are there the ubiquitous McDonald’s and Burger King chains, and relative newcomer Shake Shack, but Japanese burger joints are popping up, such as Shake Tree, which serves the breadless burger.

Yanagisawa’s dream is to open a restaurant in New York. He hopes to show what Japanese sensitivity and attention to detail can bring to a burger.

“It must have that handmade element,” he said.

“More than anything, it is about the feelings you put in for the customer, in each and every burger.”