TOKYO (TR) – Tokyo Dome, located right in the middle of Japan’s capital, serves as a host to numerous sporting events and concerts in any given year. It also is the unlikely inspiration for a food item: the Dome Melon Pork Sandwich, whose melon-shaped bun is reminiscent of the stadium’s sectioned roof.
In recent years, washoku, or traditional Japanese food, has been steadily garnering praise internationally. But when it comes to baseball, the culinary offerings, such as the aforementioned Dome tribute, are quite literally a whole other ball game, as I discovered on a Sunday afternoon in April.
Food at the ball park primarily falls under a category known as B-kyu gurume, meaning second rate. Tokyo Dome has such items in spades: sandwiches containing potato patties covered in barbecue sauce, rice bowls topped with grilled eel, yakisoba (stir-fried noodles mixed with cabbage and pork), which is available in a plastic batting helmet, and the list goes on.
In the first inning, as the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks took on the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters on the field, I asked a vendor, attired in a brown uniform and cap, what fans like to eat. “Why don’t you take a look at the gourmet hot dogs?” he said, pointing a few windows to his left.
A large message board above advertised sausages covered in everything from chicken to eggs to orange pieces to beef. I made a conservative choice: a barbecue dog (550 yen). Slathered in a mild, smoke-tinged sauce and covered with crunchy bits of some kind, it was rather bland, barely warm and unremarkable.
As I finished the dog on top of a trash can, the fans groaned as a runner was caught stealing at second base. I then went back to the vendor. Now smiling, he pointed to the melon bread sandwich, selling for 570 yen. “The fans really enjoy it,” he said.
After a skeptical bite, I noticed immediately that the sweet bread and mustard proved to be a palatable combination for the pork. I carried the rest of the sandwich to my seat and sought out a beer.
Just as at all baseball stadiums in Japan, Tokyo Dome features ladies roaming the aisles with large kegs of cold suds strapped to their backs. “Nama biru wo hitotsu kudasai (I’d like one draft beer please),” I instructed one girl just before she poured out a tall cup of frothy Suntory Premium Malts (800 yen).
With no score in the bottom of the fourth inning, Hawks third baseman Nobuhiro Matsuda made a fantastic grab for an out. I then doled out 700 yen for a dish called Curry Wurst, a plate of sliced sausages and fries separated by a ladle of spicy sauce. It proved to be an interesting mix but its tepid temperature was a tad disappointing.
Things warmed up in the top of the sixth, when I picked up a Mentaiko Cheese Pretzel (390 yen). This hot, spongy pretzel offered a delectable mentaiko (marinated fish roe) aroma. As I pulled on some of its stringy cheese, Brandon Laird slugged a three-run shot just over the fence in right field to give the Fighters a 4-1 lead.
Laird’s blast sent the fans in the Fighters oendan (cheering section) into hysteria. Interestingly, some of them had arrived at the stadium with their own food. To wit, a young gentleman with slicked-back orange hair could be seen tucking into sushi rolls.
Snack time. A quick perusal of the food stands on the upper deck revealed snacks (otsumami), such as small wrapped cheeses and salamis, lemon-flavored dried squid and Toppo chocolate pretzels, to be readily available. I picked up a plastic box of edamame (green beans in the pod) for 350 yen to catch the ninth.
For the final out, Fighters closer Hirotoshi Masui whiffed the powerful Yuki Yanagita, last year’s Pacific League Most Valuable Player, with the bases loaded. “Thank you to Tokyo Dome for being kind of small,” joked Laird during his “hero interview” held on the field after the game.
I popped a final bean into my mouth. I also wanted to thank Tokyo Dome, for a dining experience I will not soon forget.