When I visit Happy Salada in Akasaka, owner Raphael and his multinational staff are flat out preparing salads for the lunch rush. The store itself is very squeezy, but you get the distinct feeling from the organization of the workspace and the slick iPad based ordering system that Happy Salada has spent countless hours since their launch refining their processes to offer a wide range of tasty salads at an affordable price.
The approach to salads at Happy Salada is quite different to how they’re treated elsewhere in Japan. Usually a salad is an innocuous side dish that’s designed to give you a bit of light relief from chewing on your steak or between mouthfuls of rice. Here, the salad takes center stage – it’s big, bold and it demands your full attention.
As Greek salad is a bit of a rarity in Japan, that’s what I went for. As a New Zealander, a Greek Salad holds a special place for me. It’s one of those idiosyncrasies – like NZ also being the 2nd biggest consumers of Sweet Thai Chilli Sauce outside Thailand. It might have something to do with the huge surplus of milk fat in the country and the need to turn it into something – in this case, large quantities of feta cheese. Anyway, I was hanging out for a Greek salad so that’s what I went for.
It wasn’t completely authentic, but modern salads rarely are – they’re an interpretation – although thankfully not an interpretation with some exotic local ingredients like wakame and tofu (although they’re available for a make your own salad). The lettuce, tomatoes, red onions, cucumber and capsicum were beautifully fresh and provided nice contrast in texture and flavour. The cheese wasn’t goat milk feta but sated my feta craving nicely. The olives also weren’t kalamata but I wasn’t expecting complete authenticity so to complain would be nitpicking.
The balsamic dressing did take me by surprise though – it was thick and tangy with the balance of vinegar and olive oil a lot more on the vinegar side. It was good though – rather than putting me off it just reminded me how innocuous the salads I usually consumed were. The volume was something else too – usually if you make a salad your main meal you risk those hunger pangs attacking the lining of your stomach about 2 hours after lunch. Happy Salada takes care of this with enormous volume – I filled up my plate 3 times with the contents of my plastic container. In fact, if you were to treat it at as a side dish, one large salad would be plenty for a family of four.
A long with “recommended salads” (basically a menu with fixed prices) you are free to construct your salad on the web site or using the iPad ordering system within the store. Ingredients include the unusual (for Japan) quinoa, turkey, artichokes, beetroot (beets to Americans), couscous and jalapenos – along with 21 different varieties of dressing.
In addition to salads, they stock wraps, sandwiches and thick fruit smoothies.
Disclosure: I did accept a free salad from Raphael – although I went back later and bought one with my own money so I go there even though I don’t get it for free.