Thursday, December 10, 2009

Beer, bras and donburi: they're all just a vending machine away

People often ask me if I am a good cook. To this I reply: I've got some skills, but I am definitely, 100 percent, much better at eating. I am really good at going out to eat too. You should see me! I like nearly everything about a restaurant meal...except paying the check. You've just had some wine, a good chat, and stuffed yourself silly. There has never been a worse time to do math and, if it's a fancy pants night, hand over the equivalent of a month's rent in Calcutta. I would much rather pay up front, so that by the time I've thoroughly stained my shirt with Sriracha, slurped the oysters, or dragged the last piece of naan around the empty, curry stained, bowl I can leave in a happy daze and pretend the meal was free.

It appears some people in Japan felt the same way. Introducing: the vending machine restaurant! It's the perfect solution for those who'd rather avoid the end-of-meal bill and pretty much any interaction with a server.

Here's what you do: walk into the restaurant, choose your meal by pushing a button on the vending machine, and insert cash. The vending machine spits out a little ticket that you hand to a server, who wordlessly whisks it out of your hand, only to return with your meal in minutes flat.

Now, this is far from fine dining. The donburi vending machine restaurant near my work is basically the equivalent of a greasy spoon diner, and to be perfectly honest, after 3 visits, I swore I would never go back. Yes, three. I really like pushing the button on the vending machine. The donburi in the photo might look tasty, but it might as well be a pile of salt, shaped and painted to look like food, topped with a slimy egg and fatty meat. This doesn't mean all vending machine restaurants are crap. I'm sure some are quite tasty. I hope to find the tasty ones so that I can enjoy pushing the button and partake in a delicious meal.

Japan is famous for its vending machines, and according to Wikipedia, there are over 5 million of them scattered around the country, one for every 23 people, selling everything from live lobsters to freshly popped popcorn, umbrellas, underwear and sex toys.

Here in Kanazawa, I haven't seen such an impressive variety, but we do have a particular type of vending machine that I hold close to my heart. The beer vending machine. Correction: the beer, cocktails in a can and sake vending machine. Fuck the Flowbee, this is an amazing invention! It's 3am and all the stores are closed? Beer vending machine to the rescue! It's 3am and you need a new bra? Yes, there is a vending machine for this as well. In walking distance of my apartment. My boobs have never been so lucky.