In many countries around the world, Japanese cuisine has found a home. However, when one nation’s food culture lands in another’s backyard, things tend to get lost in translation. Deliciousness is always in the mouth of the beholder but Japanese people can often take issue with the way their food is prepared overseas.
For example, the website Madame Riri lays out their take of faux Japanese restaurants in Paris, a majority of which she claims is run by Chinese management. While we all might not share their hardline view of how Japanese food is prepared, they do have an interesting list of ways they believe can tell if a Japanese restaurant is truly run by Japanese people or not.
So without further ado: You might not be in a real Japanese restaurant when…
…sushi and grilled chicken are sold together.
In Japan, sushi and skewered grilled chicken known as yakitori are rarely found in the same restaurant. From its humble beginnings sushi has become a sophisticated food admired for its rigorous preparation technique and elegant presentation. Even the cheaply sold sushi at sushi trains float along the conveyor belts with a certain grace. Yakitori, however, is mostly regarded as bar food or suitable for other quick snacking occasions. Moreover, its tangy sauce has a bold taste that is in stark contrast to the subtle nuances of sushi. They are two great tastes, but do they go great together?
Madame Riri turns their noses up at such a combo due to the strong flavor of yakitori. I’d be willing to give it a go, but then again I make no bones about being a philistine.
…the menu items are numbered.
A notorious feature of the Chinese restaurant in other countries; the number menu helps to avoid confusion between the usually non-native speaking staff and native speakers who can pronounce the names of the dishes properly. Truly Japanese restaurants aren’t particularly known to do this. They probably should though along with most other restaurants. Numbers are fun after all.
…the restaurant is named after a Japanese prefecture.
Okay, technically you’re not “in a restaurant” when you notice this, but according to Madame Riri a good way to spot a non-Japanese Japanese restaurant is by the name. They say restaurants named after prefectures like Saitama, Kyoto, and Wakayama are a dead give-away as are well-known Japanese words in foreign countries like Sakura, Ninja, and Konnichiwa.
There’s nothing particularly wrong with names like these but administrative districts tend to lack flare in their native language. It’s kind of like calling a place Table, Paper, or Stapler.
…you always get marinated cabbage for an appetizer.
Japanese restaurants often give out mandatory appetizers called otoshi before the main meal which usually consist of some kind of marinated vegetable or meat that changes every time you go. However, Madame Riri says that in Paris if the management is not Japanese then you’re destined to get cabbage every time when ordering an appetizer.
This comfortable predictability would probably be more welcome in Western countries. Japan largely lacks in picky eaters who would compare the custom of random otoshi to a culinary game of Russian Roulette.
…there is no dashi in the miso soup!
Outrageous, isn’t it? Although I envision the blank expressions on 99.5 percent of the people reading this, not putting dashi in the miso soup (also served as an appetizer) is an egregious error in Japan. It’s understandable since dashi, a stock made from kelp and fish, is the foundation of the soup’s salty flavor. Without it, it’s comparable to eating unsalted fries or unbuttered bread.
…your sushi comes with a side of rice.
Perhaps in honor of the Xzibit meme, ordering sushi –which is 40 to 60 percent rice itself – at a non-Japanese Japanese restaurant can land you a bowl of rice on the side too. You know, it’s so you can eat rice while you eat rice. Atkins be damned!
…chicken sauce is always at the ready.
When taking a seat at a faux Japanese restaurant in Paris you’re immediately within arm’s reach of extra soy sauce and yakitori sauce. Although different, this isn’t what really amazes Madam Riri. It’s what people do with the sauce.
Apparently standard practice in Paris is to squirt a dose of yakitori sauce into the bowl of white rice – an act that would elicit a hardy “Eeeeeeh?” from many a Japanese person. Still, it does look kind of tasty, especially considering the last item on the list.
…the rice tastes like s#$t.
Of course this is a highly subjective opinion, especially when factoring in Japanese people’s high sensitivity towards the quality of their rice. Here’s what Madame Riri, who doesn’t mince words, had to say about it.
“In Paris, Chinese-run Japanese restaurants’ rice has an indescribable but distinctive smell. Or to put it more bluntly: It stinks. They’re definitely not using Japanese rice. The grains are kind of elongated like Thai rice. It was flaky, dry, and tasteless. The vinegar on the sushi rice had too strong of a taste as well as making it watery and squishy.”
Right, so next time you have Japanese company over for dinner, make sure to keep the Uncle Ben’s tucked way back in the cupboard. Hopefully it goes without saying that these are just generalizations and of course not every non-Japanese-run Japanese restaurant follows these rules. This list was simply made from Madame Riri’s own experiences. Personally, a lot of these differences sound appealing and if Japan can put clam shells on their pizza, why can’t French people put yakitori sauce in their “s#&$$y” rice.