Wednesday, November 08, 2006


HERE COMES THE SUSHI SQUAD


Like the French with their Bordeaux and the Italians with their Parmesan, the Japanese are getting proprietary about Japanese cuisine. And rightly so, I say. There are no standards outside of Japan; restaurateurs in other countries can call anything Japanese, and do, for a premium price.

I remember when the kids were little, on one of our trips to the US they wanted to have some Japanese food, so we went into a Japanese restaurant in Brooklyn Heights where we ordered the tempura and were served our bowls of misoshiru with a spoon(!). We sat there staring at the soup and at each other, waiting for the rest of the meal (the misoshiru is eaten together with the meal in Japan), until the American part of my brain noticed that the waiter was standing at a discreet distance waiting for us to 'finish the soup,' which in the West is the first course.

So we finished the misoshiru solo, which was odd to me, but completely bizarre to the kids. Then the tempura came, in a huge four-compartment lacquered box of American portion size, with giant, heavily over-fried tempura in one corner, non-sticky rice(!) in the opposite corner and vinaigrette salad in the other two corners! The kids and I looked at each other in amazement: salad with tempura?? We ate as much as we could of this odd meal, all part of the learning curve, but I avoided Japanese dining in the US for years after that, until Keech and I took my brother and his wife to a 'Japanese' restaurant in Palm Springs.

So at last, the Japanese have taken heed of this widening unscrupled tide of soggy makizushi, too-thick sashimi, excess wasabi, zarusoba on a plate and non-sticky rice: Japan's Agriculture Ministry will now certify authentic Japanese restaurants in foreign countries so as not to have their "brand" diluted, and so that folks in foreign lands can be assured that they're actually eating the Japanese-style food they're paying for. Which is the way it should be, since the real thing is exquisite and worth the price.

However, as a long-term resident in Japan and inveterate seeker here of such renowned foreign cuisine as genuine New York pizza, an authentic range of ice cream flavors and true American pies, I ask: Where, then, are the Pizza Police? I see no Ice Cream Commandos! Whence shall come the Pie Enforcers?

Cuisinal justice wields a two-edged sword.

6 comments:

Tabor said...

Oddly, I just said to my husband the other day that pizza in this country is so heavy with rubbery cheese and greasy toppings, that a simple tomato sandwich in Italy tastes so much better.

Pam said...

Don't forget the Sandwich Squad!

Robert Brady said...

Tabor, you're not ordering your pizzas from California, are you?

Pam, don't get me started on sandwiches... a separate post is required for that-- now that you mention it, I'll get right on it, leaving a decent posting interval for other concerns...

travel said...

In Sabah (Malaysia), the Japanese restaurants serve genuine Japanese cuisine. The component parts arrive en masse! The added flavors are the waitresses / waiters (of various hues) themselves....they may not look Japanese, but you can't say otherwise when they ask for you order!

Chris.

M Sinclair Stevens said...

And the Mexican food militia! I had pretty good pizza in Japan (my favorite was at a pumpkin cuisine shop--a lovely pumpkin pizza that no one wanted to try initially but everyone agreed was wonderful). But Mexican food. Nada.

Robert Brady said...

I've found one decent (C+, but high-priced) Mex food restaurant in Osaka, a city of nearly 9 million souls... Ah, the anguish of a Mexico-lover's heart...