As a holiday meal, KFC offers a bucket of disappointment
December 28, 2017
Many people get into the holiday spirit by gathering around the dinner table with loved ones to enjoy a Christmas dinner that often includes roasted turkey, glazed ham and all the trimmings.
But, somehow, many families in Japan are able to get those warm feelings from a bucket of greasy Kentucky Fried Chicken.
KFC Japan’s Christmas meal, an annual offering consisting of a bucket of chicken, a “Christmas salad” and a chocolate cake, has evolved from a marketing scheme to a holiday must-have that requires reservations weeks in advance.
According to KFC Japan’s website, the phenomenon began in the 1970s when an observant store manager had an epiphany after receiving a special order that required him to dress as Santa Claus and deliver chicken to a Tokyo preschool. In 1974, it says, KFC started its first Christmas campaign, creating a new Japanese custom “established as a strange kind of poetry from the West.”
This Christmas, I decided to experience this “poetry” for myself and reserved a meal two days before Thanksgiving.
I was overwhelmed while standing at the counter. KFC Japan added two new Christmas bucket options in addition to premium choices involving grilled or roasted chicken.
I chose a traditional bucket for 4,100 yen (about $36), which included eight pieces of fried chicken, a Christmas salad (which is really just a Caesar salad with bacon bits), a chocolate cake and a commemorative KFC Christmas plate.
For the same price, I could have gone for another option that included a whopping five pieces of fried shrimp, four pieces of chicken, plus the salad and cake. For 5,100 yen (about $45), customers can get everything included in the original meal plus a grilled chicken thigh and a berry mousse tart instead of the cake.
I also could choose to pick up my Christmas meal either on Dec. 23, Christmas Eve or on Christmas Day. I decided on the 25th to get the full effect of the Japanese Christmas experience.
On Christmas Day, I arrived for my 6 p.m. pickup appointment to find a throng of people without reservations waiting in line. A KFC employee rushed me to a special area, and within minutes I was walking out with my Christmas meal in hand.
The bucket fit the entire meal inside. A piece of cardboard separated the cake and salad from the hot chicken, with the commemorative plate on top.
Dismantling this took some time, and once everything was laid out, the disappointment started to set in. The salad was packaged, and I had to dress and toss it myself. The cake was also packaged and shrink-wrapped, probably at the same factory where the salad came from.
The disappointment continued to grow as I sat down to eat with my sister.
The chicken was similar to that served back home, though a little saltier and not as crisp. The salad was probably the tastiest part of the meal (must’ve been the fake bacon bits). The cake was moist, but I wasn’t impressed to see that it had been sprinkled with edible gold flakes. It’s difficult to mess up chocolate cake, but it wasn’t all that good.
KFC Japan’s infamous Christmas meal failed to do its job. Instead of providing me with a taste of home, it only made me crave the American version even more. All through the meal, visions of mashed potatoes, gravy and flaky biscuits — items not offered with any of KFC Japan’s Christmas meal options — danced in my head.
For those looking to get over some holiday homesickness during future Christmases in Japan, KFC’s Christmas bucket will not likely be that cure. It’s just an expensive meal that will leave you with a full stomach and an empty heart.
Later, as I was putting away the commemorative plate, I found a hand-written note that had fallen out of the bucket. It was from the store manager thanking me for sharing the holiday with KFC.
That small personal touch made my Grinch heart a little warmer that Christmas night.
KFC Japan Location: Multiple locations throughout Japan
Hours: Vary by location
Prices: Christmas buckets are available only on Dec. 23-25 of each year and start at 4,100 yen.