The Chinese have always rightly prided themselves on their cuisine, or to be more precise the cuisine from their region or province. They can point to the fact that every major city in the world has a Chinese food restaurant as evidence that the world agrees with the Chinese – Chinese food is delicious. However, over the last few years a relatively new player has arrived on the scene that is threatening to over-take Chinese as the world’s favourite cuisine and that is Japanese food.
In the 1990s a few Japanese restaurants started appearing in European cities. After years of beginning considered ‘odd’ food, the food buying public suddenly started to regard raw fish with not disgust but with relish.
Of course foreign food restaurants are very much connected to immigration. In the UK two big ethnic groupings are the Indians and the Chinese, and so they traditionally tended to dominate much of the budget to mid-level restaurant trade. Also kebab shops run by Middle Eastern people should be mentioned in the same category.
This pattern can be seen reflected over much of the world. Immigration helps to disseminate culture. The Irish due to potato famines and poor economic prospects have left Ireland’s shores in large numbers. Hence the number of Irish bars around the world. Britain had the last pre-World War Empire that spread their culture and that resulted in a spread of the English language, English pubs and other English cultural exports.
The world has changed because of globalisation. This is a new force to spread consumer items and habits independent of immigration. The Japanese, who apart from a brief spell of immigration to Brazil prior to World War II, have never settled in numbers aboard. Instead globalisation and the consumerist obsession with the new and ‘trendy’ have propelled Japanese cuisine on to the world scene. Foods such as sushi, sashimi, udon and grilled meat have become popular. Chain restaurants such as ‘Yo! Sushi’ has educated the food buying public about Japanese food. Moreover, people like to try something new – why not sushi rather than yet another Indian takeaway or Chinese egg fried rice?
Another telling trend is found in luxury hotels around the world in places like Silom in Bangkok, London, Paris, Rome and New Delhi the 5 star hotels have Japanese restaurants rather than Chinese restaurants to accompany restaurants with local food and perhaps Mediterranean food or French / Italian food. The rich obviously think it is more glamorous or sophisticated to eat Japanese rather than the ‘old hat’ Chinese food.
The Japanese shouldn’t however feel too special. Globalisation will no doubt foist on the world public new eating trends and the next big thing could be Mongolian BBQ or Australian bush tucker. These things are ephemeral.
Another thing to consider is that the Chinese have so much more to give to the world economy now than it did in the 1980s. The economic miracle in the People’s Republic of China has led to a legion of highly qualified managers, engineers, scientists etc. who travel the world bringing with them their skills and their cultural mind-set.
Personally, I find the Chinese food outside of China poor. The Indian food outside of India is adulterated with large lumps of meat and tomato soup. The sashimi outside of Japan is not fresh enough and lacks the theatre of the master chef patiently carving up the fish. Globalisation only gives us a copy; and not an exact copy, but rather a market-appropriate product.