While America reels at whatever form of animal protein or snack food Taco Bell has morphed into a shell this month, the rest of the world must contend with a far more harrowing fast-food-menu arms race. Playing fast and loose with both customers' emotions and flavour-profiling ethics, chains around the world have spent the past few years offering regional Frankensteinian food creations such as McDonald's Italy's Nutella burger, Dunkin' Donuts China's pork and seaweed doughnut, and Pizza Hut Hong Kong's pizza crust that oozes roe.
Though their concepts may be disconcerting, the above dishes at least incorporate elements that we've all agreed upon as consumable foodstuffs. Tenka Torimasu, a Japanese chicken chain, has disposed of these usual rules of culinary engagement and launched a promotional menu item that defies the laws of both God and man: "girl sweat"-flavoured chicken.
The chain's primarily offering is chicken cooked in the Japanese deep-frying technique of karaage, serving the chunks of fried meat with a variety of sauces ranging from spicy wasabi mayo to sweet Japanese plum. Their latest sauce endeavor had them venturing into uncharted territory as they attempted to capture the complex profile of female perspiration while (presumably) somehow keeping the dish palatable.
The company isn't asking customers to consume your run-of-the-mill July-humidity-subway-car girl sweat, of course. For the promotional dish, Tenka Torimasu has partnered with J-pop idol group Kamen Joshi to replicate the special kind of sweat flavor that can only be produced from the bleak existence of an idol singer.
Kamen Joshi, which translates to "masked girls," consisting of three core performance teams who dance and sing while wearing variations of the classic Jason Voorhees hockey mask. They ape Babymetal a bit, with some hoarse metal vocals and riffs peppered into their otherwise kawaii songs, their biggest of which is the above "Genkidane." Since "Genkindane" topped the Japanese charts in 2015, the girls have resorted to attention-grabbing gimmicks to stay in the spotlight, including an instructional video on how to quickly become topless; courting Donald Trump's weaboo base with a MAGA tribute video; and, now, selling bodily fluid-flavored food.
The idol group's leader, Anna Tachibana, released the following overly-emphatic statement about the special menu item: "Wow! To be able to taste the refreshing flavour of an idol's sweat, this is the karaage of your dreams! This is the kind of thing that was only possible thanks to the crazy team-up between Kamen Joshi and Tenka Torimasu. Please try the Girl's sweat flavoured karaage!!!"
Though I'd never really dreamed about tasting a girl's sweat, or even about chicken in general, my morbid curiosity and journalistic thirst compelled me to visit a Tenka Torimasu to try the sweaty poultry for myself, if only to serve as a cautionary tale for others.
I traveled to Tokyo's collegiate Ikebukuro neighborhood, arriving at a Tenka Torimasu stand right as it was opening for the day's lunch crowd. It was embarrassing to request the sweat dish. I pleaded with my eyes for the lone employee taking my order to notice my professional-looking camera and recognize that I was here on official business and not some wota with a fetish. Seeming more tired than judgmental, the cashier unflinchingly took my money—just under $4 US—and got to work preparing the dish.
While he cooked, I realized that this wouldn't be the first time I'd tasted something perspiration-themed while in the country. Japan's top sports drink is named Pocari Sweat, and I'd resorted to it a few times on humid days when the vending machine water was in short supply. While its name is a bit unsettling, the drink itself only has a mild grapefruit flavour with a bit of that filmy, electrolyte-y Gatorade aftertaste. Still, this implies that, collectively, Japan isn't that squeamish about the abstract (and sometimes less abstract) concept of sweat in their mouths. So maybe this chicken, weird as it may seem to me, is perfectly calibrated to be a fast food craze.
Soon, my order was up, and the visual presentation did little to assuage my concerns. Served in a cup, orange chunks of meat were covered by slightly yellow opaque sauce that seemed less like an appetizing condiment and more like something you'd WebMD.
I took a bite. It was not a pleasant bite. The full bouquet of sweet, sour, salty, and cheesy flavors I'd been promised in the promo ads came in waves, with the savory umami of the chicken adding a gym clothes undernote to the experience.
Perhaps the best way to describe the "sweat" flavor that the mad scientists at Tenka Torimasu have devised is with Harry Potter. In the HP universe, Hogwarts kids eat Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans, jelly beans with gross flavors (vomit, soap, dirty sock, etc.) mixed in with the desirable ones. Real world jelly bean manufacturer Jelly Belly brought these Every Flavor Beans to consumers in conjunction with the release of the first film in the series. Jelly Belly's dud flavors did a commendable job of capturing the disgusting essence of earwax, grass, and the like, while blunting the full impact of those tastes with candy sweetness.
READ MORE: How Fried Chicken Has Fueled My Entire Life
Following in the footsteps of Jelly Belly, Tenka Torimasu has tiptoed right up to the line of nauseating the customer without sending them into an ipecac fit with this girl sweat special.
I powered my way through half of my chicken cup before tapping out. As I wastefully threw out the remainder of my lunch, I wondered who this sweat chicken was even for? Everyone involved—from the sleepy cook, to the idol singers who could've never imagined such a partnership during their childhood vocal lessons, to me, the finished but still hungry customer—seemed to be getting some kind of raw deal.
Is stereotypically "weird" Japan really so large a market force that this could be a sound business venture? Just how many fans does this idol group have?
These questions may go unanswered, but Japan's novelty foods are nothing if not full of surprises. Should the country's tolerance of sweat foods prevail, and the Kamen Joshi special become a hit, I'll happily eat my hat. But I won't be eating girl sweat chicken again.