The Gastronomic Godzilla that is Tokyo


According to one of the world’s top culinary authorities, Tokyo is now the gourmet capital of the world. The Michelin Guide 2010, released this month, gave restaurants in Japan’s capital a collective 261 stars (with 11 establishments receiving the maximum three-star rating), putting it ahead of Paris in the overall rankings.

Personally, I can’t help but wonder if Tokyo’s ‘victory’ this year might have been helped a little by the fact that the 2010 guide employed an all-Japanese team of undercover inspectors for its Tokyo coverage, responding to harsh criticism in the past of a foreign bias. Many food experts in Japan had accused the non-native Michelin inspectors of their lack of expertise — particularly in the finer points of traditional Japanese cuisine.

Well, the results are in, and with the announcement have also come the media reports spinning a Japan-Paris feud angle to their stories.

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Apparently some detractors are already suggesting that Tokyo’s success this year is simply a matter of statistics over real merit, pointing out that while Paris has only 40,000 restaurants, it’s eastern counterpart boasts an astonishing four times that amount.

Meanwhile, it’s also been brought to light that French Le Figaro newspaper’s much-feared food critic François Simon, has most un-patriotically congratulated Japan, saying that he admires their ‘intellectual openness’ regarding food, while blaming his own country’s shortcomings on its lack of trust for foreign flavours. In quite a biting (yes, pun intended) remark, Simon was even quoted at taking a shot at one of France’s most prized culinary offerings saying, ‘Even the croissants are better [in Japan] than in France most of the time.’

Anyway, to add another even more titillating layer to this topic, I’ll wrap-up by mentioning an article I recently came across in The New Yorker, ‘Lunch With M.,’ which is a fascinating exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the ‘life’ of a Michelin inspector based in New York. According to the piece, these people are not much different from CIA agents — they lead highly secretive and solitary professional lives, are advised to keep their work from friends and family, prohibited from speaking to the press and discouraged from dining with others while working. Which, by the way, is often — the inspectors apparently eat out over 200 days annually. And to top it all off, it seems that the pay isn’t even very good either…

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