Saturday, November 04, 2006

Government-certified Japanese Restaurants

I found this very interesting article via a link from a fellow Japanese blogger's site. Apparently, the Japanese government is going to provide a set of guidelines to restaurants all over the world to regulate what Japanese food ought to be like. If a restaurant meets these guidelines, they will receive a stamp of approval. Those restaurants that don't meet the criteria...well, they will not be considered as Japanese restaurants by the Japanese government and consequently the Japanese people.

Although the guidelines will be finalized next February, some of the topics currently discussed are: 1. what defines Japanese cuisine, 2. restaurants in which countries should go through assessment, 3. whether the use of Made-in-Japan ingredients is a necessity, and 4. cooking methods and service attitude that must be included in the guidelines.

I'm all for certifications like that. There are far too many restaurants out there claiming to be Japanese and serving food that is far from Japanese. I cringe at the thought of newcomers to Japanese cuisine swearing off Japanese food after repeated exposure to these faux-Japanese restaurants. I've had sushi rice made with no vinegar far too many times.

I'm not saying that one has to be Japanese to make Japanese food. The Japanese government is not saying that either. But there are certain aspects of Japanese cuisine that must be met if one wants to claim to be a Japanese restaurant. Food is one of the best methods of cultural exchange, and when a restaurant puts up that sign that says "Japanese", they become ambassadors of our culture. Neuvo-Japanese, French-Japanese, and other Japanese-influenced places are less likely to define what the non-Japanese diner may think of our culture - I find it highly unlikely that the horrid Blowfish Sushi can convince anyone of authenticity. But the middle-ground restaurants with that pseudo-traditional decor, serving sushi rice with no vinegar and long grain rice, can do a lot of harm in defining what true Japanese is.

I wonder how many of the Bay Area Japanese restaurants will win the coveted Japanese-government sanctioned title of authenticity...

11 comments:

yamo said...

ugh.. you actually mentioned Blowfish. That hits a nerve in my body hahaha

KK said...

I'mm all for quality control, but I hope prices don't go up at the very few restaurants that get this stamp.

The Papa Bear said...

This is a huge undertaking! But the published guidelines might serve to push up the quality of all Japanese food restaurants and hopefully not the price.

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Tokyo Rosa said...

Makes me wonder how many restaurants in Japan would be denied the stamp of approval.

Mos Burger, anyone? First Kitchen? Not fine dining, I'll admit, but not exactly non-Japanese either.

Anonymous said...

Very good article...infomational for sure...lokking forward to reading some more posts placed on this topic...will be checking this page again..have saved in favorites and bookmarked...thanks

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Anonymous said...

I have never visited a Japanes restaurant before; this is good info to have. Thanks! Toner

Anonymous said...

Good for the Japanese. When you visit a place like Japan one thing that is immediately apparent is the choice in food and also the different taste of their food to what is served up in the western world. The Japanese, Chinese and Indian restaurants in the West chose to change their traditional dishes to accomodate the particular western palletes, which often in most cases means substituting ingredients with good or not so good items. Maybe the Brtish government should try it with British food....oops the british do not have any dishes left, - it is all Chinese and Indian food here!



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RV said...

Hi -- have just discovered your blog and really love it! Have to say, though, that I totally disagree with government "authentication" of cuisine. As your blog shows (ramen history, for example), food changes all the time as ingredients, methods of cooking, etc. evolve and popular tastes change. Having a set of government rules achieves nothing except conformity and stagnation. Say "no" to food police!

Eiko said...

@ RV
Ramen is an example of a dish that has transcended it's origins. Yes, it's Chinese, but it's also authentically Japanese. Pizza ain't originally Italian either. Curry isn't really Indian. And yet all are identified as being an ethnic food in spite of the fact that Pizza was invented in America and the British invented curry. Nachos aren't Mexican either, they were invented for American tourists out of leftovers.

I'm all for this. There are numerous restaurants in my area that want to be trendy by adding a sushi bar to their place. Never mind that they are all restaurants that serve Italian or German food and have nothing to do with Japan. And they don't even serve sushi, the rice is NEVER vinegared. Most Chinese places up here also serve Japanese food because nobody knows the difference.

IMO, it's no different from the restrictions on using the product names of "Champagne" or "Kona Coffee" It's just a broader scope of protecting a country's culinary identity and history and culture.

aznttboy said...

Well, the quality of service by the wait staff is going to make it super hard for 95% of "Japanese" restaurants outside of Japan to qualify for this coveted stamp of authenticity. No matter how high class the restaurants that I have visited, you are just not going to get that awesome service quality that I have come to expect even from your average dining establishments in Japan.