Stomaching Mt. Fuji
You Are Not Supposed to Eat the Whole Thing
Mount Fuji is not majestic like our volcano, Mount Rainier, but simply beautiful. Its slopes are elegant, its cone is smooth, and it parts the sky and earth with remarkable symmetry.
Sixty or so miles from Tokyo and 12,389 feet high, Fuji—which has not erupted in 300 years (some scientists are worried that this unusually long period of peace will end with the kind of violence that would put Godzilla in the shade)—is as Japanese as cherry blossoms and the Shinkansen train, which is often pictured bulleting past the volcano's blue-black base. The futurism of Shinkansen, the ephemerality of the cherry blossoms, and the tranquility of the volcano form in the popular mind the trinity of Japanese aesthetics.
Mount Fuji is also the most conquered mountain in the world. It's estimated that 100,000 people reach its summit every year—by comparison, only 5,000 people yearly reach the summit of Mount Rainier, a volcano that surprisingly did not erupt in the 20th century. I bring this up because I recently attempted to conquer a massive burger called Mt. Fuji at Katsu Burger, an uncommon restaurant in a common strip mall in Georgetown. This burger looks nothing like Mount Fuji; it's not beautiful, or smooth, or serene. It's an uneven stack of deep-fried meats, rich sauces and spices, and vegetables that wants nothing more in the world than to collapse all over your plate. When you look at it, what you instantly see is the mess it will become the moment you put your hands on it. When you hold it to your face, you do not know where to begin. The thing is just too big, and Fuji is not known or admired for its bigness.
The burger, which at $16.25 is the most expensive item on the menu, has bacon, cheddar cheese, a fried egg, a beef patty, wasabi and spicy mayo, pickles, tomatoes, onions, shredded cabbage, tonkatsu sauce, a thick pork cutlet, and an even thicker chicken breast—all of this stacked up on a bun. This burger is not a mountain but the whole farm. All the basic animals of our diet are in it: cow, pig, chicken. And the beef, pork, and bird are all done katsu style: dipped in tempura batter, coated with panko, and deep-fried (like all Katsu Burger's burgers, which are also growth hormone– and antibiotic-free). The thing is, of course, insane.
"It's shocking. That's why I made it," says the burger's inventor, Hajime Sato—he also owns the highly regarded Mashiko sushi in West Seattle. "I really didn't expect anyone to attempt to eat the whole thing. I just wanted to put something crazy on the menu because, you know, why not? It's a joke you can order. It's not meant to be a challenge. But, of course, several people have tried to eat it. I can't."
I wanted this whole joke in my stomach. We humans are like that. We find big challenges irresistible. I sat at a table by the window with a view of bulky industrial structures, fast-food joints, and the traffic heading to West Seattle on the First Avenue Bridge, which crosses the bay-destined murky waters of the Duwamish. This is not the most beautiful location in our generally beautiful city. But before describing my attempt to conquer Mt. Fuji, a little theory and a story.
The theory: Katsu Burger is the point at which American excess meets Japanese excess. The burger patties, buns, and fries are American; the katsu and tonkatsu sauce are Japanese. The menu also has pure mixes: wasabi mayo, wasabi coleslaw, fries seasoned with seaweed. All of this caloric and cultural richness reaches its peak in the megaburger.
And now, a story: Many years ago, two cousins and I tried to drink a whole keg of beer by ourselves. We sat all afternoon, drinking and drinking, but no matter how much we drank, we could not reach the bottom of the keg. Finally, we gave up on the keg and went to a bar and ordered three pints of beer. What we wanted from the pints, and what the keg had failed to provide, was an ending.
And this brings me to the burger: I was not satisfied with it because I completely failed to conquer it. I did not even get halfway, and it began to collapse right after my third bite. And because so much stuff was in it, I could taste almost nothing. It was more matter than flavor: This part is crunchy, that part is squishy, that bite is packed and demands a lot of chewing.
I put Mt. Fuji aside and ate something I knew I could finish, a teriyaki chicken burger ($7.55). Because it was manageable, I could actually taste the thing: a pleasant balance of sourness, fruitiness, and saltiness. I also ate the seaweed fries, though the seaweed was not noticeable (if you "sumo size" a burger for $7.95, you get banzai bites, which are chicken nuggets, and seasoned fries, wasabi coleslaw, and soda pop).
I left Katsu Burger with two failures: One, I forgot to sample the green tea milkshake (what in the world does that taste like?), and two, a messy mountain of fried meats.