What’s the attraction of a miniature hamburger meal painstakingly assembled entirely from packets of dried ingredients?
The packet came, with its unmistakeably Japanese garishness, its jarring colours, fonts, slashes and squiggles. Inside it lay the Kracie Happy Kitchen powdered hamburger meal: a new and unsettling miniature. Six foil sachets filled with powders, some plastic cutlery and plastic tubs. You open the box, slice along dotted lines, cut out the plastic tubs, get some water, mix the powders separately, spread stuff, microwave stuff, and gradually assemble a fast food lunch, or what such a lunch might look like if it was designed by an alien working to a five-year-old’s drawing of a Happy Meal.
I was in Japan recently for the first time, and experienced one of the most refined and elegant cuisines in the world. But much of it isn’t half strange. This is the country where someone – or, more likely, a group of people – decided that the best image with which to decorate a packet of Doritos was two men in wetsuits kicking each other in the balls.
There’s a lot of rote and ritual around food, and there’s a love of small things – tiny fish eggs, little bowls of ozony sea-stuff. People obsess over presentation. And you can see these aspects in the powdered hamburger. Assembling it took me the best part of an hour. I couldn’t read the instructions, so I copied a YouTube video
“It tastes just like real hamburger”, a web comment had promised. I must demur. You start with the fries, whose powder was once conceivably related to a potato. You moisten this, mash it up, compress it to the ridged floor of one of the plastic tubs, microwave it for 30 seconds, then flop it out and cut it into slices. It smelled convincingly of stale chip shop fat and soggy tuber, and was the least offensive component by some way.
The “burger” was next. Though the meal contains pork and chicken derivatives, but no beef, when I stirred the wet powder the smell was horribly and insistently beefy, as if someone had moved an abattoir into a chemical weapons factory and set them both on fire. The colour was a spot-on Soreen brown, and even the texture under my plastic shovel reminded me of the gristly, white-flecked pulp of cheap hamburger. Into the pots went the pale bread powder and the floppy, granular cheese. When I took these three out of the microwave, I retched freely.
The painstaking assembly was fraught with creeping existential terror. When I’d finished, and fizzed the cola powder in the water, I took a photo. I stood back and contemplated. I gave the burger a tentative nibble.
I guess it’s fun, this sort of thing, and I’m sure some children – if their parents could stand it – might enjoy assembling the weird little packets. But you have to wonder at the strangeness of it all. Why go to such incredible effort (working out the precise makeup of the powders with endless testing, planning every stage meticulously, packaging it all in the most sensible way, pricing it keenly) to create such a revolting product? I don’t know the answer; I spat the food out immediately. The powdered hamburger is not even close to being as delicious as McDonald’s, but it does remind me of the chain in one way – the food looks nothing like the picture.