The food at Ming General Japanese Sushi Restaurant in Hong Kong is so bad, it actually has its own fan following. In fact the sushi chain is so popular that it has 6 branches located in various parts of the island city, which are regularly visited by bad eaters who dare each other to finish the cheap but hard-to-swallow sushi dishes they serve.
19-year-old Don Tsang, an active member of one of Hong Kong’s ‘bad-eating groups’, said: “It’s the worst. So it’s the most popular.” To me, that’s just weird logic, but it seems to make perfect sense to these groups that actively seek out what they consider bad food, and then spend hours discussing it.
So what exactly is it that makes the food at Ming General so bad? According to food blogger Patrick Lai, 38, the deep fried scallop sushi and the mini-sized prawn sushi are the worst. “They’re very small and very skinny. I don’t know where the restaurant can find such skinny prawns.” Another notable dish, he said, is the tuna sushi, which is served with a ‘mushy brown pool of liquid topping’. The restaurant is also notorious for its unusual dishes like fruit salad sushi and corn salad sushi.
Patrick compared eating at Ming General to reaching the final stage of the Super Mario game – a not-to-be-missed life experience. “I have a lot of friends who won’t dare to come,” he said. “They’re scared just at the sound of Ming General’s name.” But he pointed out that many locals love the restaurant – it’s great for an affordable, no-frills meal.
Tsang, a fan who posted a video of his experiences at Ming General in which he competed with a friend to see how many pieces of sushi they could consume in a minute, said: “The rice was warm. Sushi rice should be cold.” There are actually scores of videos online, featuring bad-eating group members challenging each other to eat at Ming General. Auman Yick, another fan, uploaded a video blog about his Ming General experience – it went viral with over 65,000 views.
There’s also a song called ‘Ming General’s Comrades’, which goes something like: “I don’t know why my right hand is trembling, I can’t bring myself to eat it/Once the sushi’s in my mouth, my heart cries for help. Once we’ve paid the bill, we hug our fellow survivors/The strange thing is that outside the restaurant, there are still warriors lining up to put themselves to test.” A four-minute version of the song was posted recently on YouTube and got over 350,000 views.
“When you go to the restaurant, you will find a lot of people eating with painful look. They try so hard to finish the sushi. People are cheering up others to finish the sushi even they don’t know each other. The atmosphere of the whole restro is really funny. This Ming restaurant is also a famous place for Eating Competition, people would challenge each other who can eat more dishes of the nasty sushi here,” Sarah, an expat in Hong Kong posted on her blog.
The song sounds as bad as the food at Ming General, but I suppose it just adds to the absurd experience of dinning there. But not everyone considers it a joke, there are some serious eaters who come there for the dead cheap ‘all-you-can-eat conveyor belt sushi’, priced at only $10. “We can sit there for around two to three hours, it’s very convenient and comfortable for me and my friends,” said 23-year-old Tango Chan. According to Chan, the restaurant’s salmon sushi is actually of an acceptable quality.
It might seem strange that a restaurant chain would continue to serve bad food, even after gaining such a terrible reputation for it. But a few people suspect that it’s all one big marketing strategy. “People in Hong Kong are always looking for something new or special,” said Lau Kin-wai, a Hong Kong food writer and restaurateur. He recently ate at Ming General for the first time, his first dish was the Mackerel sushi, what the internet public calls the ‘boss’ of the restaurant. “It’s a little bit too fishy. It’s not so fresh. But it’s not as worse as I expected,” he said. When he tasted the seaweed sushi, the poor guy couldn’t swallow it, he had to spit out most of it back on to his plate. “It’s rather difficult for me to swallow it,” he said politely. “I think the bigger problem is the rice. It isn’t very good.”
But he did admit that the restaurant wasn’t that bad, going by its low pricing. “For less than $7 and all you can eat, the quality of the sushi can’t compare with the others,” he said. “I believe that people go to restaurants not only for food. They are looking for an experience much more than the taste itself. For me, as a food writer, I find this quite amazing.”
Given how popular Ming General is, it was also surprising when their most popular Sham Shui Po branch shut down earlier this year. Several fans were terribly disappointed, expressing their anger on online forums with messages like: “Give me back my bad food!”
Chan visited the new restaurant that opened in the same place, called Korean-Japanese BBQ Buffet Restaurant – with refurbished interiors, higher prices and a new menu. “The quality is better than before,” said Chan. “But that’s a little disappointing, because now you don’t feel like you’re in Ming General.” Fortunately, the new place still does serve some of the old sushi dishes and phone operators still answer with the usual “Ming Restaurant”.