Sunday, March 8, 2015

Manga-Inspired Gluttony

I love food manga. Last year I started reading a manga series called "It will be breakfast at Tiffany someday" (いつかティファニーで朝食を Itsuka Tiffany de Choushoku wo) by Maki Hirochi, published by Bunch Comics, Shinchosha. (Only five books in the picture, but there are currently 6 volumes of the manga out.)
It will be breakfast at Tiffany someday いつかティファニーで朝食を マキヒロチ
The protagonist, Mariko, grew up enjoying eating breakfast with her family as a child, but as a working adult living with a boyfriend working late hours, she finds that they sleep in late and  can't be bothered to eat a proper meal together in the morning. After going out for breakfast with a group of girl friends, she realizes that she is losing her sense of self in her efforts to accommodate her boyfriend's schedule/routine and that his lack of understanding of her desire to enjoy breakfast together is a sign of bigger problems with their relationship. She decides to move out of their apartment and break up with her boyfriend in order to start a new life of enjoying breakfasts.

Apart from enjoying the story, what I like about this manga is that it features a lot of different real cafes and restaurants where you can eat breakfast in Japan--mostly in Tokyo, although she does go on business trips to Nagoya, etc., so there are other places as well.

A spin-off manga series starring the boyfriend she broke up with also started recently; "Sotaro's lonely lunch of business trip" (創太郎の出張ぼっちめし Soutarou no Bocchi Meshi).
Sotaro's lonely lunch of business trip Maki Hirochi 創太郎の出張ぼっちめし マキヒロチ
Sotaro is not a gourmand by any means of the imagination. When he goes on business trips, he usually eats at chain restaurants because it's easy and he knows that the food/quality is generally the same wherever he goes. When a co-worker nags him into going out of his comfort zone and checking out a local restaurant (alone) on the last day of a business trip, he discovers the joy of trying out new places to eat. From there on, he decides to make the most of his business trips by trying out local restaurants instead of going to chain restaurants.
In the first (and so far only) volume of this manga, Sotaro actually goes on a business trip to Aomori City and goes to a cafe that neither my husband (who worked in Aomori City for a couple of years before moving to Towada) nor I had ever been to before. Obviously, I was very interested in checking the cafe out!  

My husband had a meeting in Aomori City from 10am-12pm this past Saturday morning, so I went with him to Aomori and spent most of the time while he was in the meeting at the cafe, Kissa Marron 喫茶マロン (also known as Marron Coffee/Coffee Marron マロン珈琲店).

It has a great retro look and feel, and the atmosphere is very relaxed and friendly. It clearly appeals to a wide range of people, since in the slightly over two hours I was there, I saw single diners (male and female), couples, groups of friends, and families (mother and daughter, and mother and son) all come in.
Kissa Marron 喫茶マロンMarron Coffee Coffee Marron マロン珈琲店
Kissa Marron 喫茶マロンMarron Coffee Coffee Marron マロン珈琲店
Kissa Marron 喫茶マロンMarron Coffee Coffee Marron マロン珈琲店
Kissa Marron 喫茶マロンMarron Coffee Coffee Marron マロン珈琲店
Kissa Marron 喫茶マロンMarron Coffee Coffee Marron マロン珈琲店
Kissa Marron 喫茶マロンMarron Coffee Coffee Marron マロン珈琲店
Since we had skipped breakfast, I took advantage of their "morning service" (7am-11am)--you get free thick-cut toast and a boiled egg for free with the purchase of a drink. You can also pay a little extra to get add-ons like jam on the toast, or ham and cheese, etc. etc., but this time I stuck with the standard set. The hot chocolate ('cocoa") I ordered was dark and rich, and not overly sweet--definitely a good choice!
Morning Service with Cocoa ココアのモーニングサービス Kissa Marron 喫茶マロンMarron Coffee Coffee Marron マロン珈琲店

While I was enjoying my "morning service," I heard a number of people ordering the kabocha purin (pumpkin pudding). Once I found out that it is a seasonal item, only available from fall to spring, of course, I naturally  had to try it as well. I expected it to be like something you could get in a grocery store--an orange coloured pudding served in a dish--so was quite surprised when it came out looking more like a rare cheese cake!
Pumpkin Pudding かぼちゃプリン Kissa Marron 喫茶マロン Marron Coffee Coffee Marron マロン珈琲店
Although the pumpkin taste wasn't very strong--it only hit as a very subtle when I was mostly done eating it--and the pudding was not at all what I had expected, it was nonetheless very tasty.

I had the "morning service" around 10:00am and the pumpkin pudding around 10:30am. Since the manga had featured "Jamaican curry" (ジャマイカンカレー), I couldn't very well leave without trying that, so around 11:00am (the start of "lunch service"--a drink comes with the lunch), I ordered the Jamaican curry (comes with a "stick salad").
Jamaican Curry ジャマイカンカレー Kissa Marron 喫茶マロン Marron Coffee Coffee Marron マロン珈琲店
It was really delicious, but it was a loooooot of food. I  somehow managed to finish everything, but that was probably the first time I have ever eaten so much that my stomach actually hurt. I didn't linger after finishing eating but left so I could stand up and walk around--I felt like I would explode if I stayed seated. (Plus the cafe was pretty much full and I wanted to open up a table for more customers.)

My husband scolded me for being too greedy when I told him how much I had eaten, but I rather thought that it was his fault for not being there to share with me so I could try more food! :P (jokes) I did feel sheepish, though, when I remembered that I had heard people ordering take-out, so I probably could have just asked them to box up whatever I couldn't finish rather than forcing myself to eat everything! Since not all restaurants/cafes in Japan allow people to take doggy bags, I've gotten used to assuming that everything is strictly eat-in only.

Oh well, next time I plan to go with my husband so I can try out more of the menu: the "tuna curry toast" (comes with a side of fruit) sounded really tempting and there's also still the "Marron parfait" featured in the manga that I wasn't able to try since it is only served after 2:00pm.

(I probably won't have to wait long for my chance, since apparently my husband has a meeting in Aomori next Sunday afternoon...!)

Kissa Marron 喫茶マロン
(a.k.a. Marron Coffee/Coffee Marron マロン珈琲店)
Hours: 7:00-21:00 Daily (closed 1st & 3rd Wednesday each month)
"Morning Service" 7:00-11:00; "Lunch Service" 11:00-14:00
Phone: 017-722-4575
Parking: N/A (pay parking nearby)
*Take-Out Available*

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Afternoon Tea x Pocky

Kirin bottled tea brand "Gogo no Koucha" (午後の紅茶 meaning "Afternoon Tea") and Glico's "Pocky Midi" currently have a collaboration product campaign going on.

If you buy a bottle of Gogo no Koucha's "Honnori Cinnamon no Apple Tea" (ほんのりシナモンのアップルティー meaning "faintly cinnamon apple tea") and a box of "Butter Hanayagu Potteri Custard" (バター華やぐ ぽってりカスタード loosely meaning "Buttery Rich Custard") Pocky Midi, you can combine the packages to make a charming fairytale scene.
Being a sucker for advertising--although I also do happen to like both Gogo no Koucha and Pocky quite a lot--of course I had to go out and buy both products shortly after seeing the ad. (At Lawson's, it was 151yen for the Gogo no Koucha, and 193 yen for the Pocky Midi.)

On the package, it recommends drinking some tea eating some Pocky, and then drinking tea again for the best taste experience. Apparently the tea is supposed to taste different after eating the Pocky, but I honestly couldn't tell the difference.

The tea is tasty; although if you are hoping for a good balance of cinnamon and apple, you'll probably be disappointed since--true to the flavour name--it really is nothing more than a "faint" after taste of cinnamon at best. But--as I find to be the case with most white-chocolate based treats--the Pocky is rather over sweet. Surprisingly it does actually have a bit of a buttery taste, though, so it's not just a standard custard flavour.  

What I liked most about the products, though, is the variety of arrangements possible due to the fact that there are two different Pocky box designs and the label on the tea also has two different designs.

Based on the advertising, it's likely the makers intended them to be aligned in this manner:
Gogo no Koucha x Pocky Midi  Princess x Prince Design
 Gogo no Koucha x Pocky Midi  Prince x Princess Design
But the products can also be aligned in this manner if you so desire:
Gogo no Koucha x Pocky Midi  Prince x Prince Design
 Gogo no Koucha x Pocky Midi  Princess x Princess Design

Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but I'd like to think this could be considered a small win for equality?

Apology Burger

(Note: This is a follow-up to my previous post about "McDonald's Japan's Unbelievable Customer Service.")

So the call from the McDonald's manager came on Sunday around 11:20am--a good 25 minutes earlier than I was expecting. He asked if I would mind if he left/came over a little bit earlier, which was fine by me since I was up anyway and had not yet eaten anything.

As promised, he came bearing not only my 690yen refund for the Hawaiian BBQ Pork Burger (Set) that wasn't, but also with a freshly made replacement set.
McDonald's Hawaiian BBQ Pork Burger Set マクドナルド ハワイアンバーベキューポークバーガーセット
The conversation was about as awkward as you would expect it to be--with him apologizing again in excruciatingly polite Japanese and ending with a 90-degree bow. Thankfully it was a very short conversation--quite a bit shorter than the phone conversation. Not an experience I would want to repeat, but some did good come out of it.

Having had some time to think about what I would say, I was glad that I was at least able to somewhat apologize for having inadvertently made it into such a big deal with comments along the lines of: "I"m sorry, if only I had noticed it while I was in the store..." and "Thank you and sorry for making you come all the way out to deliver this to me."

Also, I was glad that he did in fact come over to our apartment instead of me going over to the McDonald's (as my husband suggested I should call back and say that I would do). If I had gone into the store to pick up the refund, all of the staff would know my face and I doubt that I would feel comfortable eating there again anytime in the near future. But this way, only the manager can connect my face to the complaint. And since I had never seen him before I opened the door, I think it's fairly safe to assume that the manager isn't usually out front, seeing customers.

As for the "proper" Hawaiian BBQ Pork Burger itself, well, it probably wasn't worth all of the fuss. There wasn't even all that much pulled pork on the burger anyway--I had to look twice after taking off the top bun to confirm that I hadn't somehow managed to get a pork-less burger a second time. The pork definitely did make the burger tastier the second time round but it didn't improve the taste enough that I would bother going back to eat it a third time.

So yeah, if you're going to make a complaint at McDonald's, I would highly recommend doing it in person while you are at the restaurant, rather than escalating things by filing a complaint through the McDonald's Japan's online comment/inquiy form (which I forgot to mention in the previous post was a bit of a pain to find anyway). My husband said that the apology wouldn't have been so over the top if I hadn't gone higher up the command chain with the complaint, and I tend to agree with him. 

The idea of the personal apology and hand-delivered replacement meal sounds impressive and makes you feel like the company values its customers in theory, but in real life it is just a really awkward and embarrassing situation all around.  And if--as my husband suggested (I hadn't even considered the possibility until he pointed it out)--it was indeed only by command of the McDonald's headquarters that made the manager apologize in the way that he did, and it wasn't something that the manager genuinely felt that he should do, then that definitely changes my perspective/feelings on the matter. It would suck to work at a company that makes you apologize so abjectly over such a small issue. Valuing customers is important, but it is more important to value your employees and to treat them with respect!

I would like to think the best of the manager and McDonald's, though. Even though I would never ask or expect someone to go so far in apology--especially over such a minor matter--I would like to take the gesture at face value as a sign of the amount of respect the Towada Aeon McDonald's has for its customers. 

And to end the post on a lighter note, have fun playing a game of "Spot the (Pulled) Pork"!
 McDonald's Hawaiian BBQ Pork Burger マクドナルド ハワイアンバーベキューポークバーガー
 McDonald's Hawaiian BBQ Pork Burger マクドナルド ハワイアンバーベキューポークバーガー
 McDonald's Hawaiian BBQ Pork Burger マクドナルド ハワイアンバーベキューポークバーガー
 McDonald's Hawaiian BBQ Pork Burger マクドナルド ハワイアンバーベキューポークバーガー
 McDonald's Hawaiian BBQ Pork Burger マクドナルド ハワイアンバーベキューポークバーガー

Thursday, February 19, 2015

McDonald's Japan's Unbelievable Customer Service

The high quality of Japanese customer service is well known around the world and a point of pride within Japan as well. I admit that after living here for nearly eight years, excellent customer service is something I have come to take for granted.

But McDonald's customer service has just blown my mind.

The background:
McDonald's currently has a limited time Hawaii-themed menu. I've been interested in trying out the "Hawaiian BBQ Pork Burger" since I first read about it on RocketNews24. A friend of mine tried it out last week and he recommended it, so I decided to try it for myself while I was at the local Towada Aeon Shopping Center last night.
Hawaiian BBQ Pork Burger McDonald's Japan ハワイアンバーベキューポークバーガーマクドナルド
Hawaiian BBQ Pork Burger McDonald's Japan ハワイアンバーベキューポークバーガーマクドナルド
That pulled pork on the wrapper looks delicious, right? Well, I opened up the wrapper and was disappointed with how small and plain the burger was.
Hawaiian BBQ Pork Burger McDonald's Japan ハワイアンバーベキューポークバーガーマクドナルド
 Hawaiian BBQ Pork Burger McDonald's Japan ハワイアンバーベキューポークバーガーマクドナルド
No pulled pork in sight! I thought that was kind of odd, but I figured the picture was just supposed to be an image of what the patty was supposed to taste like. That was not the case, though, as it tasted like a plain old pork burger with some BBQ sauce. I was quite disappointed (and doubting the tastes of the friend who had recommended it to me).

I had some ice cream at Baskin Robbins to salve my disappointment before going to do my grocery shopping. But as I walked past the McDonald's on the way to the Aeon (grocery and everything store--the Japanese equivalent of Wal-Mart), I had a look at the big poster of the Hawaiian BBQ Pork Burger and hey! there was the pulled pork! (It had been a couple of weeks since I first read the article, so I had forgotten what it was supposed to look like.)
Hawaiian BBQ Pork Burger McDonald's Japan ハワイアンバーベキューポークバーガーマクドナルド
Well! At this point I started to think that I had gotten ripped off. After grocery shopping, I went home and checked out the McDonald's Japan website and read the description of the burger, and sure enough, it mentioned "horo horo pork" (ほろほろポーク) as well as the pork patty! I hadn't gotten a Hawaiian BBQ Pork Burger at all--just a pork burger with BBQ sauce!

After a bit of searching, I managed to find a form to get in touch with McDonald's regarding any comments, questions, etc. I wrote a very polite but blunt message (in Japanese, of course) along the lines of:
 I ordered a Hawaiian BBQ Pork Burger Set for the first time today and was very disappointed because even though the picture of  the burger showed delicious-looking pulled pork, all I got was a pork patty. I should have said something to the staff at the time, but I thought that was just the way it was supposed to be. It wasn't until I got home and checked the McDonald's webpage that I realized that there was supposed to be pulled pork on the burger. Since I didn't actually get the Hawaiian BBQ Pork Burger that I ordered, would it be possible to get a refund or something? (If necessary, I have photos of the burger that clearly show there was nothing but a patty.)

I filled in the date, time, and location of the McDonald's I had been at, as well as my home address, email address, and home phone number and submitted the form.

From my limited experience with making complaints to stores (I once found a bug baked into the corner of a Chinese bun I had already bitten into, and all I did was pull out the part around the bug and finished eating the bun), I figured I would get an email back saying that they would send me a voucher for a free burger or meal or something.

The customer service:
Instead, when I checked my email this morning, I had a message from McDonald's saying that someone from the Towada Aeon McDonald's would be calling the number I had put down in the form. Unfortunately that was my home number, so I missed the first call, but thankfully I have an answering machine so I got the message that the store manager would call me back.

I was expecting that he might ask me to come into the store and bring the receipt for the meal and the picture of the offending burger so that he could process a refund for me. Oh boy, was I wrong.

Around 8:30pm, I got the call. The manager was very apologetic and asked if I would allow him to come to my house to personally deliver the refund. All this and no question whatsoever about proving that the burger had indeed been made missing the pulled pork, or that I had truly purchased a set (and not just the burger).

But here's the real kicker: since I had been disappointed with my first Hawaiian BBQ Pork Burger experience, he wanted to make it up to me by also delivering me a freshly and properly made Hawaiian BBQ Pork Burger Set together with the refund.


Being completely surprised and having no experience with this kind of conversation in Japanese, I couldn't figure out a polite way to refuse the offer. Ironically, I ended up feeling extremely apologetic about the fact that he was being so apologetic about the whole thing.

So yeah. This Sunday afternoon, I will get a refund and a freshly made Hawaiian BBQ Pork Burger Set hand delivered to me by the manager of the McDonald's. Oh, and even though we confirmed the date and time for him to come, he will also call me before coming over on the day of, just in case my plans change or something.

Never again will I think that people are exaggerating about how over the top Japanese customer service can be.


Looks like I won't be giving up the (bad) habit of always wanting to try out McDonald's new special menu item anytime soon. I'm still not a fan of the company overall, but I do have respect for McDonald's Japan now.