Why Matsuya’s the best gyudon shop around

By Peter Edmondson

I’m assuming we all have one: a Japanese fast food restaurant close to our heart for one reason or another. Just as we distinguish Wendy’s from Burger King, McDonald's from Taco Bell, so too would it be natural to have a preference among the Japanese chains. Or, maybe you don’t. Maybe Yoshinoya, Sukiya, Matsuya, etc, are all the same to you. Though, if this is the case, I insist that it is because you are just not paying enough attention to what you eat, not because they are in fact all the same.

For me, it’s Matsuya. I eat almost exclusively Matsuya. I’ve tried them all, and every time I cheat on my love I feel remorse. So I have stopped straying or trying new specials at places like Sukiya or Chikara Meshi. Granted, overall they’re all great. The fact that you eat raw egg at a fast food joint, and that instead of fries you get a side salad speaks volumes about Japan’s food culture (and their thin waste lines). But for me the crown will always go to Matsuya, the prettiest one at the ball.

There are so many reasons why I fancy Matsuya. First of all, it’s just better. Period. Why? I don’t know. It just is.

Or maybe that’s a little subjective. Maybe I think it’s better because I’m used to it. The lunch options are very limited around where I work. We have a KFC, a McDonald’s and a Matsuya. The cheapest and most filling option of those three is definitely Matsuya, so I have spent too many a lunch break chowing down on its pickled ginger, raw eggs, and thin meat. And the more I spent my lunch breaks at Matsuya, the more time Matsuya had to court my affections. But it’s not just the taste I’ve acquired that gives me passion for the great gyudon of Matsuya, there are other things that also distinguish Matsuya from other chains.

For one, you don’t really have to deal with humans. You walk into the restaurant and it’s very simple. You go to a machine, put in the money, and the machine tells you what they have. You press a button, get your change immediately, and hand the ticket with your order to the worker who in turn hands you tea or water. Maybe they’ll ask you if you want a half-cooked or raw egg, but you can easily sit down and place your order without saying a single word. And you never have to flag anyone down to place your order.

I used to think this system was ridiculous because it is quite impersonal and I questioned how much more efficient it could possibly be. But all it took was one trip to Yoshinoya where I had to wait and wait to place my order with a human that convinced me otherwise. Aside from being more efficient, after you get used to it there’s something nice about the silence of using a machine. Not to mention, Japanese waiters and waitresses are often rather mechanical themselves. Better to deal with the real thing than a human imitating a robot.

And then there are the specials. Perhaps that really is my favorite part of Matsuya: the seasonal dishes, or the fact that they have seasonal dishes in the first place. The summer offers vegetable and tomato curries, and a hamburger steak topped with mozzarella. Granted, it’s not the best meal in town. It’s far from a five star restaurant, but it gets the job done. And my favorite, my absolute favorite is their winter special: Matsuya’s kimchi chige. It’s beautiful, I tell you, just beautiful! Tofu, beef, kimchi, and it’s actually got a little kick to it! It’s not just like most Japanese kimchi dishes, which are too sweet for me, and taste more like they’ve been sugar coated than pickled. On a cold winter day, Matsuya’s kimchi chige won’t just warm you up, it will complete your soul—your soul!—for only about five hundred yen. In my opinion, it’s one of the best deals out there, and I wish it wasn’t just seasonal.

But I know I’m not the only one who has biased preferences, and no matter how much I defend Matsuya, I can’t objectively prove its superiority. In fact, I’ve met one person who feels just as passionately about Sukiya as I do about Matsuya. Don’t worry, we’re still friends, but I have to admit it’s hard to maintain a friendship when your interests are so different. 

To each their own, I guess. All I know is there’s nothing like getting a salad and pouring sesame dressing over it, then cracking that raw egg and dropping it over a bowl of thinly sliced beef and rice. Just add a little of Matsuya’s pink pickled ginger and I’m good to go. Who needs McDonald's when you’ve got Matsuya?

© GaijinPot

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Matsuya's regular gyudon is fine, and one of their sauces (a garlicky ponzu deal) is pretty tasty. But all of the extra toppings and seasonal varieties are uniformly terrible.

I'm partial to Sukiya's cheese gyudon...but yeah, when you get down to the base gyudon, all these places are the same.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I can't remember which was my favourite from my last holiday - but i think we went to matsuya the least often. But as long as there's a raw or half boiled egg i'm set :p Will definitely have to try chikara meshi on the next trip to see how grilled beef goes - i don't think they had many stores open last time round.

But i agree, definitely - screw mcdonalds or kfc...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

(and their thin waste lines)

Oops. A small mistake, but not an image you want to have in an article about food and restaurants.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

How often can you have gyudon without getting sick of it?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I had Sukiya for breakfast on the way back from my morning jog along the river, next to rice fields and through other Tohoku serenity. Just got the mini gyudon though as I had a microwaved burrito from 7/11 pre-exercise. Gotta stay healthy.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

What about Yoshinoya? :(

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While gyudon chains like Yoshinoya, Matsuya and Sukiya have their fans, don't forget that there are many "mom and pop" gyudon places that are often just as popular in most Japanese city neighborhoods--especially around the entertainment districts.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

yeah, I also like Matsuya, but I cannot eat there every day, I need to change places :) I just have one complain about Matsuya - air conditioners are often too powerful in summer, it's just too cold

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Matsuya used to have pretty tasty chicken curry for only 350 yen, and they used to have "Sumibiyaki ( charcoal grilled ) chicken teishoku" set that came with rice and a salad and miso soup and was delicious for only 480 yen...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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