Blogging about Japan, food, parenthood, music and life!
Eating out in Japan is a joy.
All Japanese people are foodies – it’s just a fact. I haven’t met a single Japanese person who isn’t interested in food, and who doesn’t demand the highest quality when it comes to meal times.
Customer service is BIG in Japan. The customer is KING. You will never feel quite so special as when you order a Big Mac in Japan!
Restaurants are clean, service is ingratiating and meals are prompt. Anything else would be an insult to the customer, and require some kind of ritual debasement on the part of the staff.
Here in the UK, it must be admitted that the food industry is hit and miss. When it’s good, it’s really, REALLY awesome; but when it’s bad…well, it stinks. The comically bad experiences that Hubby and I have had over the years we’ve been together could fill a book in themselves – a tragic litany of spilled peas, swearing waiters, ruined jackets, snot-like gravy, hairy caterpillary salads (once, HALF a caterpillar – I sure complained about that one. I’m not one to be short-changed…) and pink chicken.
We have also ordered meals, only to find they arrive bearing little resemblance to the flowery description on the menu. When you order ‘Hand-crumbed goujons of monkfish, delicately crisped sautéed anya slices, with a scented aioli, and buttered trio of heritage petit pois varieties’, you don’t want to be served with a plate of bog-standard fishfingers, chips and peas, with a blob of mayo.
But how do you know?? Short of sidling around the restaurant peering at other diners’ plates, how can you guarantee that you’ll like what you’ve ordered?
The Japanese have a novel way of combating this problem – a solution that ensures every customer knows exactly what they will be getting, how large the portion sizes are and how much it will cost.
The first time I came across this, I was about 14 years old, and we’d stopped at a restaurant window in Tokyo somewhere, looking for a good place to stop. The shelves in the window were adorned with colourful, beautiful plates of real food – every single listed item on the menu was there, together with the price.
“How come the window isn’t teeming with flies?” I asked my mum.
She laughed. “That’s not REAL food!” she replied. “It’s made out of wax.”
I looked closely, but it was almost impossible to believe it wasn’t real food. In fact, the only thing that convinced me was that it looked BETTER than real food – the lettuce looked crisp, the tempura as if it had just crackled out of a deep fryer, the beer had a smattering of bubbles and a perfect proportion of tempting froth. Real food would have looked a little withered, faded and unappetising after a few hours on display.
Seriously, the artistry that goes into these displays of food is utterly astounding, and needs to be seen first-hand.
A couple of years ago, when I was visiting Japan with my two children, I took a day trip with some friends to a street in Tokyo called Kappabashi. It is also known as ‘Catering Street’, and is lined with shops selling all manner of catering goods – kitchen utensils, pots and pans of all sizes, wholesale packs of sweets, chocolate and biscuits for kiosks, crockery, cutlery and plastic sushi trays.
It’s a delight for any kitchen gadget freak; I bought my beloved ‘handai’ there – a large, low-sided bowl made from fragrant cedar wood, which is used in the vinegaring, salting and sugaring of sushi rice. It is a thing of beauty – and a snip at 3600 yen.
Kappabashi is also famous for its wax models of food. The shops are mobbed with customers who want to buy wax pizza; Spaghetti Bolognese with a fork suspended in the act of twirling pasta; tall parfait glasses of brightly coloured ice creams and sorbets, sprinkled artfully with chocolate, chopped fruit and sugar strands; individual rectangles of sushi with various toppings, made into keyrings and fridge magnets; and even burgers and hotdogs, dripping with ketchup and mustard.
There was a workshop upstairs, where customers could experience wax food-making workshops, which were sadly sold out on the day we visited. To allay the children’s disappointment (and mine) we bought wax food modelling kits so we could take them back to the UK.
These kits sat in the ‘craft room’ for 2 years, but last weekend we finally managed to find some time to make them.
My daughter made a ‘melon soda float’. Melon soda is an acid green fizzy drink, popular with Japanese kids, and stunningly artificial. And yet, it’s oddly compulsive. I always order one on the first day back in Japan – just for the sake of it. This one is perfected with the addition of a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a maraschino cherry.
My son chose the ‘chocolate parfait’ – a concoction of chocolate syrup, cornflakes, ‘soft-cream’, chocolate sticks and a sprinkling of coloured strands.
Hope you enjoy the pictures!
Interesting video on the fake food industry...