Some time ago, I wrote about Japanese travellers complaining about Japanese food abroad. Today, I’ve been thinking about the more general complaints about food abroad that I often hear – basically, the food-in-(big foreign city)-is-rubbish view. Of course, this isn’t representative of all Japanese travelling abroad. I am sure plenty drool over local dishes with the relish of an oyaji eating sushi off a naked woman but, even so, more than a few of my adult students have travelled to foreign lands and come back to tell me their trip was good but that they didn’t like the food. Los Angeles, Paris, London and Rome have all been accused of having disagreeable food. Yet I have been to all of those cities and food has been a most pleasant part of the experience. Why do our views differ so?
Perhaps it is because I am British and, if the words of my students have any truth to them, I have grown up eating food not much better than pigswill. That seems to be the general view of my home country’s food expressed both by Japanese who have visited and, just as often, by those who haven’t. My ire was provoked most recently by a woman who informed me that food in London is absolutely awful. She has never been to London, but that isn’t really the point. The point is that for anybody to visit a major city and say with some authority that the food is terrible is ridiculous. London is huge, Los Angeles is huge, Paris is huge, Tokyo is huge. They all have rubbish food. That is true. What is equally true is that they all have fantastic food and plenty of it. To travel to a big city and not find any food that meets your taste suggests very bad luck or that you just ate in shit restaurants. Often, with my Japanese acquaintances, I feel it is the latter. If they didn’t dine in Japanese restaurants, they ate in bog-standard Pizza Express type places or cheap-as-chips joints where they really ought to have lowered their expectations. When friends visit me in Japan I could take them to Yoshinoya and Gusto and Royal Host every night and they would surely complain about shitty food and how you they only give you four chips with a hamburger steak and the salad is two bits of lettuce with a bit of pink sauce. But that, of course, is not representative of all food in Japan and does its fine cuisine a disservice.
I will admit that it is perhaps easier to find good quality food at a lower price in much of Japan than it is in London, but that is really just a question of price not availability. I would also add that whilst the best food in Japan is almost always Japanese, the best food in Britain is not necessarily British. There is plenty of fine British fare to be had, but there is as much or more very good food either from or based on the cuisine of other countries. To suggest otherwise is either to be misinformed or have a shockingly low threshold for welcoming the unfamiliar into your digestive system.
For me, food is one of the finest things about travelling and I find it hard to understand those that don’t seem able to enjoy dining out on their travels. But what do I know? I was brought up eating bland stodge and grease, apparently.