Originally published Feb. 3, 2007
A seemingly innocuous television commercial became a staggering ordeal a couple weeks ago. There I was, minding my own business, trying to get my fill of “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” or “Teletubbies” or whatever it was I was watching, when I was blindsided by the ad, touting Kentucky Fried Chicken’s latest, well, innovation.
First, start with a bowl of fluffy mashed potatoes. Hey, I love mashed potatoes! Next, heap on some of Colonel Sander’s famous corn. Okay, but is it famous? Then pile it high with golden nuggets of Original Recipe™ chicken. Makes sense after all, I guess… Add a generous helping of savory gravy. Well, I, uh, maybe… And top it off with tangy cheddar cheese. Cheese? On fried chicken? What the…?
There’s been a trend of late in the fast food industry, one almost certainly begun by Yoshinoya: to get a complete meal (such as it is) into a bowl that can be held in one hand, leaving the other free to shovel the contents of said bowl into one’s mouth.
In the case of Yoshinoya’s Beef Bowl, it made perfect sense. The dish is based on the traditional Japanese gyudon, a bowl of rice topped with sautéed beef and usually a raw egg. (That’s the way it’s served at Yoshinoya outlets in Japan.) Given the physical properties and nature of rice and sautéed beef, this dish would be maddeningly difficult to eat off a plate with chopsticks.
Though it took a little while, American grab-n-go chains recognized the virtues in this format—after all, a burger, fries and soda can be rather cumbersome to negotiate while doing 65 on the Ventura Freeway. I think El Pollo Loco launched the first salvo a few years back: keeping the rice as its basis, it was a Mexican-style bowl with grilled chicken strips, corn, beans and salsa, that wasn’t too bad, despite being a bit awkward in its presentation. On another one-handed food front, that breakfast sandwich at McDonald’s with the maple pancake-flavored bun was straight-out nasty.
But the art of form and function has been taken to a new level by the Colonel’s task force, who some time ago began their campaign of simplifying our lives by relieving us of the tedium involved with reciting the joint’s entire name, “Kentucky Fried Chicken.” The place is now officially “KFC.” Their Famous Bowls—while probably not so famous with your local cardiologist—are everything we’re rumored to love, in one easy-to-grab container.
Now, I know that as a society we’re becoming increasingly fat and lazy—soon to be known as F & L, perhaps—but whose wacky idea was this? I’m certainly one to enjoy a chicken dinner from time to time, but that doesn’t mean I need it all piled together to save me the trouble of selecting which dish to try first. I suppose what’s next is a feed bag they’ll strap onto your face as you stick your head out your car window at the drive-thru. They may as well chew it for me first.
But enough of my blathering. Let’s get back to the delicacy in question.
I’d been meaning to give the infamous bowl a try, if for no other reason, to say I’d tasted it before the company pulled it off their menu due to pressure from health advocacy groups. Not surprisingly, the manager of the South Pasadena KFC told me the bowls are very popular. “Mostly, kind of fat guys really like them,” she said with a grin.
I further learned that there is some variation involved with the construction of the meal; namely, whether to have it with or without honey barbecue sauce. Not wanting to tempt fate or spoil the purity of the original concept, I requested the BBQ on the side. By the time I got the bowl home–about four and a half minutes–the blizzard of cheese had melted and the whole thing resembled some kind of sculpting compound, with BBQ on the side.
After a couple of quick photos, the Mrs. and I dove in–a spork was provided for added clarity and convenience. Everything was as advertised–taters, corn, nuggets, gravy generously slopped on and the ubiquitous cheese. I still can’t get over it–why cheese?
Anyway, the grub had one distinct flavor that I’m sure you won’t find to be a startling revelation: it tasted like salt. The corn had a little pepper in the mix and the cheese added a little zest, but all in all, it was more reminiscent in taste to a salt lick than a chicken dinner.
I suppose that would pair well with the feed bag.
Mikey Hirano Culross is editor of the Rafu’s Arts & Entertainment and Travel sections and can be reached at [email protected] Ochazuke is a staff-written column and opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the Rafu Shimpo.