Oh Panda Express – who isn't familiar with the Chinese-American comfort food behemoth that's been going strong for nearly three and a half decades, currently operates over 1,900 outposts across the world and reliably supplies homesick Americans with shockingly orange chicken?
Apparently said institution has plenty of fans on these shores, too (we blame the American bases and an abnormal obsession with California) – or at least enough to have warranted the opening of Japan's first Panda Express in the middle of the Lazona Kawasaki shopping complex's food court on November 25. A couple of days before that, we headed down south for a sneaky pre-open look.
Panda's main menu consists of nine options, including String Bean Chicken, Broccoli Beef, Grilled Chashu Salmon and old favourite Kung Pao Chicken, while the sides range from chow mein and fried rice to spring rolls and fried gyoza. And of course, the ubiquitous Orange Chicken makes an appearance as well.
The sauces and flavours are definitely something that you'd probably only find back in the US, so for those needing a taste of home instead of Japanese-style Chinese food, this is the place to be.
You can order items separately, but mixing and matching the mains and sides makes more sense. Go down this road and they'll all come served on one plate, so you can compare flavours and see which ones blend together well. We'd say the classic combo of Orange Chicken and fried rice remains the champion.
For those who prefer keeping things simple, there's also the option of getting one side menu item and one main on top in a bowl. More extravagant is the one side, two mains option 'plate', or for the really hungry ones, the 'big plate' with one side and three mains.
One note: if you think the portions seem a bit smaller than you're used to, don't doubt your eyes: at the Japanese branch, Panda Express mains weigh 120g on average, compared to the 150g standard back at home base. So if you're used to a local diet, the 'plate' option should be enough.
And the localisation efforts go beyond sizing: they also offer some edibles only available in Japan, such as the Sweet and Pungent Shrimp (akin to sweet and sour). Anyway, if you feel an intense need to feed your inner America, or just want to see what all the fuss is about, make the trek to Kawasaki – but consider waiting a couple of weeks for the worst rush to die down first.