Sarku Japan

I've eaten two or three chicken teriyaki meals at Sarku Japan without ever having ordered or paid for any of them. How, you may ask? One free sample at a time. I love Sarku Japan's chicken teriyaki, and I love that I can always get a bite or two of it for free. This brings up the age old question about whether or not the distribution of free samples helps or hurts a food brand's profit. On the one hand, if Sarku Japan stopped giving out free samples, I would certainly crack eventually and need to finally pay for my own plate full of juicy and heavily-sauced chicken. On the other hand, had Sarku Japan never given out free samples at all, I'd never have known chicken teriyaki could be so delicious. In fact, I never even knew what it really was until I was fourteen years old or so.

This is because the public school cafeterias in my hometown served what were called "teriyaki chicken dippers." They were essentially elongated misshapen grilled chicken nuggets encrusted with hardened sticky soy sauce. There was nothing to "dip" them into, except maybe for your milk, which a friend of mine recently referred to as "dishwater-colored." Indeed, the lunches offered at the elementary, middle, and high schools in my hometown are often tough to remember fondly.

While "teriyaki chicken dippers" were a misnomer, they had nothing on the "bacon burger." This dish contained neither bacon nor a traditional burger. It was a meat patty between two buns. Nobody knew what the meat was. I still don't know what the meat was. To say "mystery meat" is to use a very cliche cafeteria term, but quite honestly, there's nothing else I can even consider calling it. I guess it did sort of taste like bacon, but even that is a stretch. I will say with a little bit of shame that it was pretty tasty, especially for seasoned processed meat; sad as it makes me to admit it, I miss the non-bacon non-burger bacon burger.

Another great lunch name was "KFC-style chicken." Why not just call it fried chicken? It was terrible, overcooked, and dry, in stark contrast to actual KFC chicken, which is a wonderfully oily mess of delicious and greasy meat. At KFC, you crave the chicken skin; with KFC-style chicken, the skin was too hardened to chew, and tasteless anyway.

My personal favorite, comically speaking, was the lunch called "french toast sticks." This dish consisted of a hash brown triangle, a sausage patty, and a pair of french toast sticks. The sticks were good - so good, in fact, that I always wished the school had provided me with more than two. I would hardly consider anything less than eight to ten french toast sticks a meal. I understand the desire to combat childhood obesity, but two french toast sticks, an entree? That's a 150-calorie meal. So much for growing up big and strong. Then again, the sausage patty was so greasy that it may have been the focal point of the meal design. In one of my more successful childhood experiments I managed to use seven different napkins to absorb all of the grease from one sausage patty. Two alone were used just to wipe it down before the wringing could even begin.

I began this entry by noting that I have eaten two or three Sarku Japan meals without ever having paid for one. I'll now confess that in my twelve years of grade school, I ate about twenty meals I never paid for. Now, I consider myself an honest man, and have never stolen or shoplifted a thing in my life. Except from my school cafeteria. I would ask for "double nuggets" and eat one serving's worth in line waiting to pay. I would hold slices of pizza under my lunch tray while paying for what was on top of it. I would sneak a couple of milk cartons into my big front sweatshirt pocket. Never did I steal entire meals; I just sometimes found myself hungry enough to eat two while only having enough money on me for one. I would simply want just a little bit more food than I had paid for. It's just like taking a free sample from Sarku Japan with no intention of eating there.

So thank you, Sarku Japan. You account for that free post-meal morsel I get during all of my food court visits. No matter how many burgers, sandwiches, or milkshakes I've purchased and eaten, you're always there to give me just one bite more. Someday I will actually bite the bullet and purchase an entire meal from Sarku Japan in gratitude for all of those which I have already eaten, bite by bite, over the years.

But not yet. Not yet.

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