How Americans feel about Chipotle:
How the Japanese feel about Chipotle:
While Mexican food exists in Asia, the place does not observe Taco Tuesday. In America? Nachos are as much a staple in our cultural pantry as apple pie, Snapple, and Chicken in a Biskit.
But there is no Taco Bell in Japan. Or Chipotle. Or Moe’s, Qdoba, or Del Taco.
My burrito-less year in Japan — which I sometimes refer to it as Dinner: Impossible, or An Elegy for a Quesadilla — made me acutely aware of my near dependence on warm, cheesy, spicy foodstuffs.
In January, Chipotle reported a nearly 18 percent increase in sales for 2013, bringing revenue well over $3 billion. What does this mean for you? As the company opens more locations, you’ll likely have even more access to midday barbacoa bowls on your next strip mall crawl.
But if you travel to eastern Asia for work — and more of you will, as U.S. companies continue strengthening ties with that region — you’ll observe cities replete with McDonald’s and KFC, but still no Taco Bell.*
According to NPD, Mexican restaurants make up no more than 1 percent of the food market in any country, besides the U.S. That study is including Asia-Pacific markets, such as China, Japan, and Australia.
Even in London, Chipotle struggles to make it big. Experts suggest that international customers gravitate more toward “real” American food — or what they perceive to be “real” American food — like burgers or fried chicken. That might explain why, unlike Chipotle, Subway and Dunkin’ Donuts have really been hitting their stride on the global stage.
When you’re ordering refillable chips and salsa at happy hour, you’re engaging in a very American activity. Due to geographic consequence, our south-of-the-border neighbor’s cuisine can be found among Zagat-rated restaurants, holes-in-the-wall serving $5 “life-altering” fare, and Applebee’s nationwide.
In fast food, it’s dominated, even pre-Chipotle: Ballparks and cinemas schlep tortilla chips with hazardously yellow “cheez,” and Taco Bell’s cinnamon twists are Dollar Tree churros.
As an American, it’s easy to forget how pervasive Mexican food is. In this country, anyway.
Bonus factoid: I just got back from Japan last week, and I did notice that avocados are casting their creamy, fatty spell on the populace. “Avocado and cheese” even happens to be a flavor of Jagariko now, a crunchy, potato stick junk food in Japan.
So, who knows. Maybe Chipotle will infiltrate Japan someday. I’d be interested to see if Japanese people develop their own cultural soft spot for the increasingly profitable chain.
Japanese already spend a certain special occasion at KFC — lots of people line up in long queues there for Christmas dinner. God bless us, everyone. Including Colonel Sanders.
*: Which is fine, because you should be eating the local cuisine anyway.