Get a taste of Sasebo right outside Camp Zama
For those of you who have been in Japan a while, you’ve probably heard about the famous “Sasebo Burger.” And if you’ve bitten into one, you know they are deliciously satisfying and messy.
But you don’t need to go to Sasebo to taste these delicious burgers. There are many place across Japan that serve these tasty treats, including Sasebo Burgers Uncle Sum, a tiny burger joint that’s a seven-minute walk from the main gate of Camp Zama. And it’s a walk that many take.
“Most people on Camp Zama seem to know my shop,” owner Masahiko Koda said recently while he flipped some patties for some eagerly awaiting customers. Koda said newly-arriving service members tell him that they have heard about his restaurant from coworkers in the States. “I always feel very glad and proud to hear that.”
The first thing I noticed when entering Uncle Sum, were the hundreds of dollar bills with messages and signatures on the shop’s American-themed walls. “Those bills were left by American customers who departed Camp Zama,” Koda said with chuckle. “I think they are the ones who introduced my shop to their coworkers in the States.”
Following Koda’s recommendation, I ordered a Bacon Cheese Egg Burger for 500 yen ($4.50), the most popular of the 20 burgers on the menu. So, if you’re looking for a Mexican Avocado Burger, Teriyaki Egg Burger or a SPAM Cheese-Topped Burger, here’s the place to get them.
And no matter what you decide, it’ll always be hot and crispy because Koda doesn’t make a burger until it’s ordered. In less than five minutes, my burger was placed in front of me.
It was an American-style, 100-percent pure beef burger packed with bacon, cheese, egg, lettuce, tomato, onion, mayonnaise, ketchup and mustard. I can tell you that the flavor of the well-seasoned beef stood out amid the mound of toppings. The vegetables were really fresh and the large crispy sourdough bun that this feast was piled onto was truly made with an American-size appetite in mind.
Koda specially orders the buns from a local bakery. According to him, the additive-free 3-ounce bun is almost double the size of major hamburger chains.
“The large bun can hold all the ingredients, and it can soak in and mix the tastes of each ingredient easily,” Koda said.
The prices are very reasonable, as well. I saw no individual items on the menu that costs more than 600 yen. And there are a variety of meal sets available. For example, the Bacon Cheese Egg Burger with French fries and a large soda cost 830 yen. It’s inexpensive lunch, and it really fills you up.
So why did Koda name his hamburger after Sasebo, a town home to a U.S. naval base?
Sasebo is the very first town that introduced American hamburgers into Japan. The locals learned the recipe from sailors at naval base and started making their own in the 1950s. Today, there are more than 50 shops in Sasebo offering their original tastes, according to Koda.
Koda, a Sasebo native, brought the taste to Zama 11 years ago and continues to inspire locals and Americans alike.
Open until 11:30 p.m., you can drop by Uncle Sum for lunch, dinner or a late-night snack.
OPEN Mon-Sat, 11 a.m.– 11:30 p.m.
Location: 1-4509 [1F], Sobudai, Zama City, Kanagawa Prefecture