Best and worst items at McDonald's in Japan you can't get in US – Insider

In October, Japan dropped all travel restrictions after closing its borders to visitors more than two and a half years as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Once I heard the news, my cousin, her boyfriend, and I booked a ticket to arrive at the end of the month.
I first visited Japan in 2016 and until the pandemic, traveled there quite frequently. Since that first visit, I’ve spent anywhere between one to three months every year in the country.
One of the reasons I love to visit is for the local food. While I don’t frequently dine at fast food restaurants, I occasionally give into cravings. In Japan, I’ve always been intrigued by unique menu items at McDonald’s, particularly the shrimp and teriyaki offerings, that I can’t get back home in Charlotte, North Carolina.
So on this most recent trip, when my cousin’s boyfriend was keen on trying McDonald’s in Japan, the decision to have one meal there was settled.
We went to an outpost of the chain in the neighborhood of Ginza in Tokyo and tried seven items that you won’t see on the menu in the US. Here’s how I thought they ranked, from worst to best.
Tsukimi, which is moon-viewing season in Japan, is a Japanese tradition that celebrates the autumn moon. One way locals partake in the occasion is by preparing dishes with produce that’s representative of the fall season, especially sweet potatoes.
In honor of the holiday, McDonald’s released a limited-time McShake using anno imo sweet potatoes from Kagoshima Prefecture, which are a variety of Japanese sweet potato that turn from a pale orange color to bright yellow when cooked and are very sweet.
In my opinion, the shake wasn’t the most attractive item. I thought it had mostly a light yellow hue due to the root vegetable’s natural golden pigment, but the concoction had no significant color contrast as a result.
I thought the consistency was thick and creamy. The milk and sweet potato flavors were distinct, in my opinion, and it wasn’t overly sweet, but there was a noticeable starchiness with every sip.
While I enjoy candied sweet potatoes at Thanksgiving, I thought the concept of turning the root vegetable into a frozen dessert just didn’t work, in my opinion.
McDonald’s Japan currently offers a trio of burgers that pay homage to the FIFA World Cups in 2002, 2014, and the upcoming 2022 event in Qatar.
The 2014 burger, or Wild Beef Burger Onion Rings & Cheese, is designed for the 2014 tournament in Brazil I learned, but it remains unclear to me what the correlation is between the ingredients and the South American country. Nevertheless, the onion rings were a big draw for me, so I decided to try it anyway.
I thought it was cute that the textured sesame bun was made to resemble a soccer ball. Inside was a burger patty, cheese, pickles, bacon, onion rings, and a black pepper sauce. I thought the pickles, bacon, and onion rings were soggy and I didn’t think it helped that the sauce was at times extremely spicy and at others slightly bitter. I was disappointed by this item.
Sankaku Choco Pie, which translates to “triangular chocolate pie” in Japanese, is another limited-edition item on McDonald’s fall menu in Japan. There are milk chocolate and white chocolate versions and I chose the latter.
I enjoyed the croissant-like dough the pie came in, which I thought was incredibly flaky. But I noticed a lot of oil coating my fingers when I split it in half.
Inside the small parcel was a filling that was a combination of white chocolate and vanilla with some crushed almonds mixed in. When I took a bite, I appreciated that it was sweet without being cloying, which I thought was a nice surprise since white chocolate tends to have a high sugar content. This gave it a positive ranking on the scoreboard for me.
Unfortunately, the pastry to filling ratio was off, in my opinion, hence the fifth-place ranking.
With just two tenders tucked in a cowboy–marked paper bag, the Chicken Garlic Pepper seemed a little overpriced to me compared to some of the other cheaper items on the menu. It also wasn’t as crispy as I would have liked it to be, almost like it was stale, in my opinion. But its redeeming quality was that I thought it tasted exactly as its name indicated it would.
I found that the chicken had the perfect amount of garlic where it was noticeable without being overwhelming. The black pepper was also palpable and I appreciated the slight kick with every bite.
With that being said, I personally would still rather have fried chicken from Lawson or 7-Eleven for around the same price.
I know some people won’t agree with me, but I think this Egg Cheese Burger from Japan is superior to the beloved Egg McMuffin in the US.
In this case, English muffins were swapped out for pillowy burger buns and the Canadian bacon that I find to be rubbery in the US was replaced with a beef patty. The slice of American-style cheese was beautifully melted and the entire ensemble was topped with onions and pickles, adding a touch of freshness and acidity to the burger. I also thoroughly enjoyed the sweetness of the ketchup that helped balance out the savoriness of all the other ingredients.
The only downside, in my opinion, was that the yolk in the egg patty was overcooked, but I’m willing to forgive the blunder and chalk it up to the cook having an off day given its surprisingly low price tag.
One of my favorite things to eat in Japan is tempura, where the art of frying protein and vegetables is widely recognized by chefs who specialize in this particular style of cooking.
I’m always particularly excited when shrimp tempura is on the menu. In my opinion, there’s nothing quite like a tender prawn coated in a light batter. I find it to be delicious.
So I knew I had to order the Shrimp Filet-O at McDonald’s in Tokyo, where the patty resembles my beloved fried crustacean, and I thought it hit all the right notes.
The thick, panko-crusted patty was straight-out-of-the-fryer crisp and crunchy and stuffed with whole pieces of shrimp. It was topped with fresh shredded lettuce and a sweet and tangy sauce that reminded me of eating a Big Mac.
The only oddity I experienced was that the mustard on the bottom bun was unevenly spread. In fact, it seemed like the cook just placed three drops on it and threw the sandwich together.
Nevertheless, I still enjoyed it and despite being one of the pricier items on the menu, I’d happily order this again.
At home, I usually order either chicken nuggets or a McChicken when I indulge in McDonald’s in the US.
So when I saw the Teriyaki Chicken Filet-O on the menu in Japan, I knew I had to get it, especially since I practically grew up eating teriyaki chicken.
Sandwiched between a sesame bun was a piece of battered chicken coated in a sweet and sticky teriyaki sauce that brought me back to my childhood. It also came with shredded lettuce and a generous dollop of mayo. When I bit into it, it satisfied my cravings for both fried and teriyaki chicken, and I thought it had a nice balance in both flavors and texture. I decided it was the best thing I tasted on this day.
Choosing it as my top choice was a tough decision.
The Shrimp Filet-O nearly edged the Teriyaki Chicken Filet-O out of first place since I thought the chicken wasn’t quite as crispy as the shrimp. Ultimately however, I thought the combination of teriyaki sauce and Japanese mayonnaise was irresistible and found myself instinctually reaching for the latter again after sampling everything I ordered.
As we finished our meal, my cousin, her boyfriend, and myself were all in agreement. We were glad we tried McDonald’s in Japan and would happily pop in again for a Shrimp or Teriyaki Chicken Filet-O if we need something fast and convenient.
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