Benson's: Get a boost of energy on Okinawa
Habu bites should be avoided, but how about the “bite” of Habu sake?
Would you be scared to see a large jar of a sake with a snake coiled in it? Well, you shouldn’t be. And I found a good place to give it a shot, literally.
Benson’s, a 10-minute drive from Kadena Air Base and located right in the middle of American Village, is a one-of-a-kind hot dog joint where you can try a shot of habu sake as you enjoy hot dogs and Angus beef hamburgers at reasonable prices.
“I started serving habu sake because it was something nobody was doing in the neighborhood,” said owner Kou Hirayama, who added that Asian tourists and American customers are fascinated with the bottles that have a snake in them.
“Many of them try a shot of Habu sake just to test their nerve,” he said. “But now, some customers are huge fans of the local liquor. I even have an American customer who comes to this place regularly and has a shot of habu sake every
Hirayama, who opened Benson’s in 2012, said the reason why the liquor came to be accepted by his customers was the fact that it tastes better than people imagine it would, as well as the “energy” it provides.
“I hear that habu sake tasted awful back in the old days,” Hirayama explained. “But now, it tastes much better thanks to the effort made by sake makers such as Nanto Syuzo.
“The Habu sake I serve has more than 10 herbs blended in it, which helps the liquor taste so good,” he said. “I drink a shot of it myself when I need a boost of energy.”
At Benson’s, you can enjoy a shot of Habu sake for only 300 yen, which is a very reasonable price.
“I don’t try to make a profit from my sales habu sake,” he said. “The intent is to serve customers who are big fans of my hot dogs and hamburgers.”
During my recent visit to Benson’s , I saw many tourists, especially those who are from Asian countries, lining up in front of the restaurant. Looking at how surprised I was, Hirayama touched on another attraction: Benson’s all beef hot dog.
“All beef hot dog are still not so common in Japan,” he said. “Although there are some places where you can eat such hot dogs, but they can serve only so many because it costs a lot to make all beef sausages. My shop deals in about 30,000 all beef sausages a year, which is unheard of in Japan.”
Determined to make his hot dog the best possible, Hirayama went to Los Angeles, a mecca for hot dog lovers, last year and visited many hot dog joints to experience and learn the taste of authentic hot dogs. Among 20 well-known hot dog places he visited, World Famous Oki-Dog stood out to Hirayama.
“In fact, the biggest purpose of the trip was to see Mr. Iha, who is from Okinawa and has been running the World Famous Oki-Dog for 35 years,” he said. “He kindly shared the recipe of his chili sauce with me. I learned a lot from him.”
After the trip to L.A., the taste of Hirayama’s hot dogs has created more buzz among his customers, he said.
“Now we have many customers especially from Taiwan. This is thanks to Stanley, a Taiwanese TV talent who raved about my hot dogs on his blog,” he said. “My shop is now a must stop place for so many Taiwanese tourists who come to Okinawa.”
It is not just the Taiwanese who are dazzled by Hirayama’s hot dogs. American customers also praised his hot dogs by saying, “nice job.”
But it’s not just the habu sake and hot dogs that that are drawing customers to Benson’s.
“My Angus beef burger is now as popular as my all beef hot dogs,” he said, telling a story about an old couple from Hawaii who visit every two years to munch on one of his burgers.
“They’ve visited all the hamburgers joints in Hawaii because they love burgers so much, Hirayama said. “But once they tried the Angus beef burger at my joint, they said, ‘Your hamburger is the best.’”
As someone who has tried a chili dog and Angus burger at Benson’s, I can tell you they are awesome. The all-beef hot dog has a very rich flavor to it, and the chili tastes as good as pasta sauce at a fancy Italian restaurant. As for the burger, its gentle sweetness and smooth texture opens your eyes to the appeal of Angus beef.
So next time you go to American Village, make a stop at Benson’s and try a shot of habu sake with an all-beef hot dog or Angus beef hamburger.