Frankly, I'm not a big fan of tofu, and this came to my attention via a student who shopped at Shigezo's little tofu-laden market before attending my lesson. She pulled a package of burgers identical to the one pictured above as well as a tray of tofu-stuffed pot stickers (gyoza). I told her that the gyoza sounded good, and then she offered the tray to me as a gift. I have to remember not to say things like that to students or they will literally give me the food they had planned to put in their mouths. I thanked her, but told her I could go to the shop and buy my own. I also promised to buy and try the burgers because they sounded interesting to me.
Shigezo is a famous chain of shops in Japan that sells a variety of soy-bean-based products. There are a lot of shops in Tokyo alone. A full list (in Japanese) can be seen here. In my area, there's a shop about 6 minutes from my home. In fact, it took the place of a second branch of Okashi no Machioka snack shops. It's a pretty small and unimpressive-looking place, and very low tech. When I bought my packet of 3 burgers for 198 yen ($2.45), the woman wrote down the cost on a piece of scrap paper along with a bunch of other prices paid for by previous customers. There were items as obscure as tofu melon scones and tofu donuts, and a great deal of little square packages of tofu.
All of you omnivores out there who think a tofu burger is for vegan and vegetarian hippies who can't bear to see an animal suffer so that humans can enjoy delicious meat might think that this "burger" would get PETA's seal of approval. Not so fast... The Japanese aren't big into vegetarianism and their tofu burgers aren't made for people who want to eschew animal products. They're made to taste good and offer people a different eating experience.
To that end, this tofu burger is made with chicken and pork fat in addition to, of course, soy beans, and onion, bread crumbs, sugar, MSG, and various other spices. For something that looks vegetarian and healthy, it's packed with awesome taste-enhancing badness. When you open the package, it doesn't even smell like tofu, but rather like one of those meatloaf-style burgers you get in frozen dinners or shelf-stable plastic packages for heating and eating.
The burgers are very pasty and wet. Moisture collects in the bottom of the plastic tray and handling them doesn't encourage faith that the experience of eating them will be rewarding. I wanted to get a good, possibly crispy, brown coating on the outside of the burger so I put the tiniest amount of butter (about 1/2 a pat) in my smallest non-stick frying pan and cooked it at medium-high heat. I figured the butter would brown and that would transfer to the burger if it wasn't going to brown on its own (which I had no reason to assume it would. It looked good while cooking, and it smelled like meat.
That's my homemade whole wheat bread, the smallest pieces from the end of the loaf.
I had already decided to eat it like any other kind of burger with a bit of cheese and mayo. I picked up some pretty pathetic Kraft "real" cheddar singles several days ago in desperation (thank you, Costco, for being closed for over a month since the quake so that I couldn't buy real cheese instead of processed cheese lying about being "real"). In the picture above, it looks like a lot of cheese, but it's actually a half ounce slice. The burgers are very small, 70 grams/2.5 oz., and probably would not satisfy a hearty eater. Most burgers that you eat tend to be closer to 3.5 oz., and many Americans typically will eat 5 or 6 ounce burgers. This was fine for me though as I don't tend to eat a great quantity for dinner. Each burger, incidentally, is about 170 calories.
The taste is good. In fact, it doesn't taste like tofu to me at all and resembles a mild meatloaf-style burger. That is, the type which has a lot of fillers and not quite so much meat. The texture is very similar to Japanese "hamburg steak" (like Salisbury steak). It's soft, but still meaty. It even breaks off much the same way as meatloaf when you bite into it.
This is a very good tofu burger. In fact, I would definitely consider buying it again in the future if I want to have something pre-made on hand. The price is good and it's easy to prepare and cook and it is tasty and a little on the unique side. Even tofu haters may find this enjoyable. If you're looking to consume more tofu, but find it hard to stomach, this is an excellent place to get started. It's tofu for meat lovers.