What makes a fried nugget so good that it causes a songstress to cram her mouth full with them and create international headlines?
Katy Perry is no stranger to TV audiences in Japan, appearing on a number of popular shows to promote her tours in the country and stepping out as the face of a popular room fragrance on national commercials for Laundrin’.
On her most recent visit to the country, the American singer appeared on TV once again, and this time the hosts of the show had a surprise in store for her, bringing out what they knew was one of her favourite local snacks: nuggets of fried chicken called Karaage-kun from Japan’s Lawson convenience store chain.
What the hosts didn’t know, though, was that Perry had a surprise in store for them, because as soon as she laid eyes on the platter of nuggets she stepped up to the plate, eyes wide, and immediately started popping the fried morsels into her mouth, one after the other, until her mouth was packed full with chicken.
Despite the hosts hilariously calling out, “Katy, stop!“, she persisted until she couldn’t fit any more in between her lips, and after the hosts saved her from herself she said, “I love them so much“, specifically mentioning “the ones from Lawson” with a groan of delight.
Take a look at the clip below:
So what makes these fried nuggets so good that they can send even a world-famous songstress into eye-rolling raptures? Eager to find out, we headed down to our local Lawson to get a taste of the nuggets for ourselves, and when we arrived, we found that there were five varieties available.
We picked up one of each to go, starting off with the mainstay lineup of Regular, Red, and Cheese varieties that appeared on Perry’s TV segment.
And we couldn’t resist trying out the current limited-edition flavours of Ume Katsuo (Plum Bonito) and Prawn Mayonnaise.
When we got home we were able to admire the cute packaging – one of many things that makes this product so great – and read up a bit on the history of this Lawson bestseller. First off, Karaage-kun takes its name from karaage, the Japanese word used for small pieces of fried chicken, mixing in a dash of personification at the end with the addition of “kun“, a suffix used to address younger men (and sometimes women).
▼ Konnichi wa, Karaage-kun!
Although Karaage-kun nuggets were first introduced to the market back in 1986, 11 years after Japan’s first Lawson convenience store opened, the Karaage-kun character seen on the packaging didn’t appear until 2003. Now these nuggets are one of Lawson’s most popular items, with over 100 flavours introduced over the years and half a million sold each day.
Japanese customers can be fickle, so for Karaage-kun to stay on the market as long as it has is a testament to its taste and quality. Plus, there are nice little touches for the consumer to enjoy, like a small toothpick that comes inside a pocket on each pack, designed for easy nugget-eating.
Already impressed with Karaage-kun’s neat packaging and 30-plus year history, we eagerly opened up the packs and saw that no two varieties looked the same, as each came coated in different seasonings.
Starting off with the Regular, which is based on the original Karaage-kun flavour, we upended the contents and immediately started salivating.
Given that some fast food outlets in Japan have had problems with imported meat, it’s good to know that all Karaage-kun products are made from domestically reared chickens.
The golden coating, lightly seasoned with locally sourced salt, is just the start of of the flavour sensation that hits your taste buds, as a cross section reveals the true reason for the popularity of these fried snacks. Rather than being made from fatty pieces of chicken, like karaage, or ground chicken, like nuggets, these are made from slices of chicken breast, which make them light and easy to eat, as well as being healthier than other options on the market.
The five-piece pack was gone in an instant, but luckily for us we had plenty more to come, with the “Red” variety up next to the tasting plate.
These had a distinct red-hued coating to them, due to the fact that they’re covered in 11 different spices, including cumin and red and green peppers.
Just as delicious as the regular variety, these had the added bonus of a mild spicy heat. Packed with so many different spices, these are a great option for those wanting a big flavour hit with their nuggets.
Moving on to the Cheese variety, these looked similar to the regular variety, only with a slightly more golden appearance.
The cheese mix in this variety was absolutely delicious, adding a creamy texture to each mouthful, with umami flavours spreading out all over the tastebuds. While these were perfect on their own, they were begging to be paired with a big cold glass of beer.
With more than a dozen limited-edition flavours added to the main lineup of Regular, Red, and Cheese every year, when we visited Lawson we picked up two of their current specials as well, with Plum Bonito being a perfect partner for the springtime’s flowering season.
If you love the flavour of Japanese plums, you need to run out now and buy these before they disappear for good! Packed with the distinct salty flavour of plum, this is a genius flavour to pair with chicken, and when combined with the taste of bonito, which is a key component used in Japanese soups and stocks, the umami flavour level intensifies, making us wish it could be plum season all year long.
Perhaps the cutest Karaage Kun currently available is the limited-edition Prawn Mayonnaise flavour, which comes with an image of the gang from hit anime Doraemon, showing the blue-and-white robotic cat and his pals dressed as sea-faring pirates on the hunt for treasure.
There’s definitely treasure hiding inside this pack, in the form of prawn mayonnaise-flavoured nuggets of chicken.
It’s an odd mix to pair the taste of prawns and chicken together in a fried nugget, but it works wonderfully, with the familiar taste of mayonnaise tying it all together into one neat parcel of flavour.
Using local ingredients and healthy cuts of chicken, Karaage-kun is one of the most popular must-try snacks for visitors to Japan. And you don’t have to have Katy Perry’s superstar income to enjoy feasting on these; each five-piece pack of nuggets costs 216 yen (US$2.02), which is a bargain for a snack with this much flavour and quality.
Photos © SoraNews24