Japan Today



Greasy spoon eateries to avoid like the plague


This summer, Sendai City was abuzz with a leak by a former employee of the Osaka Osho gyoza restaurant chain.

"On July 24, the employee tweeted images of an infestation of namekuji (slugs) on the wall behind the refrigerator and around food preparation equipment," a reporter for a food industry publication told Shukan Taishu (Sept 5).

As a result, the city's public health department raided the restaurant. Although no slugs were found, the health department instructed the restaurant to clean up the area because it was not well maintained.

A dirty restaurant can do more than spoil your visual dining experience: Shukan Taishu recalls a fatal incident of food poisoning where five people died from eating raw meat at a BBQ restaurant back in 2011.

So Shukan Taishu set out to compile a list of ways to identify yabai (dangerous) food and beverage establishments.

"Places that are lacking in sanitary management can be risky, not only in terms of raw foods, but any type of food ingredients, including those that are heated," Masakazu Ema, a food consultant, tells the magazine. "For example, curry sauce might be prepared and then left to stand at room temperature, allowing germs to propagate. The same goes for ankake-men (noodles covered with condiments in sauce). There are cases of the sauce producing a foul smell if it is not kept refrigerated."

"Even at outlets of restaurant chains, there are places that don't strictly follow the manuals, so in the end, it's really up to individual workers. The best way to identify them is to go down the list in terms of visible slovenliness," Ema continues. 

Number one on his list would be the exterior of the shop. Is the sign soiled, or the same old sign still in use for a long time? Another giveaway, Ema says, is faded labels on bottles of sake or wine.

Ryuji Tazawa, a critic of "B-grade" restaurants, is aware of small things that only a heavy user of such establishments might know.

"Some places place a blackboard with the daily specials written in chalk," he tells Shukan Taishu. "If the writing is so slapdash I can barely read it, that really puts me on my guard."

Other warning signs include signs of poor air conditioners maintenance; messy grease traps in kitchens, evident by a foul smell noticeable when walking into the shop; understaffing; and soiled menu covers.                             

Shukan Taishu's list of how do identify "dangerous" restaurants also included these:

-- Overall appearance

Dirty restrooms are a dead giveaway in any kind of shop. In addition, soiled doormats and chair cushions and even table legs should be checked.

-- The icemaking machine at the drink bar

Shops that leave the hand scoop thrust into the ice making machine are dangerous, as they can convey microbes from customer hands into the machine itself. The scoop should have its own receptacle.

-- Shops that don't sanitize tabletops after customers depart. This will be a must as long as the coronavirus pandemic persists.

-- Flavor and aroma of draft beer

Draft beer dispensers need daily cleaning and regular maintenance. Changes from normal flavor and aroma of draft beer is a surefire sign of problems and such establishments are to be avoided.

-- Customer reviews online

Word-of-mouth reviews on websites should be checked out. Glowing reviews exclusively may suggest that sakura are at work. (A "sakura" is slang for a person who is hired to blend in with the audience or lineup to enhance a particular scene or to create an atmosphere of good sales for a product. It can also be translated as "fake customers.")

© Japan Today

©2024 GPlusMedia Inc.

Login to comment

Good advice.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

Most of these advice should be terribly obvious, people are getting too used to just trust everybody is doing their work properly and forget to use their common sensei if they need to be told that places that look dirty and won't clean up the space after a customer leaves are dangerous.

7 ( +9 / -2 )

A lot of the good ramen shops I've encountered fail to meet some of the above criteria.

I'll just have to take my chances.

11 ( +11 / -0 )

Another giveaway is the nasty mildew smell from the dishcloth used to wipe down your menu and table. Check recent photos on IG and see how much business they get. If there are just a few customers during peak dining hours, stay away.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

This article makes me chuckle.

If you're truly worried about cleanliness,you wouldn't touch any food here.

Even the most fastidious restaurants would be closed down by EU standards inspectors.

Still tasty, though!

-2 ( +5 / -7 )

As a result, the city's public health department raided the restaurant. 

I'm shocked! Shocked that there are public health departments that inspect restaurants here, that is.

Similar to Piskian's comments about the EU, most joints here would not pass health inspections in the US cities I've lived in or near, as well.

I still eat at a number of them (limited to outdoor dining at the moment). But, just about every food preparation area I've seen would not pass.

So, I assumed there was no regular inspection process here for restaurants and such.

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

If your spoon is greasy, relax! The folks running the joint are probably focused on turning out delicious wholesome meals! No one is perfect, it's better to have a fine meal in a junkyard than eat slop in a penthouse!

-3 ( +3 / -6 )

Wouldn't it be a greasy chopstick?

1 ( +3 / -2 )

No delicious food or meals without taking a few of the named challenges. In new, totally clean and sterile restaurants you won’t find any good taste and culinary happiness.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Here in England all food restaurants and takeaway outlets are regularly inspected by the local food health inspectors and awarded a star rating. I personally would never use a place without a top 5 star rating, a 1 star rating will need to improve quickly or just close due to lack of business. If a restaurant or food outlet don't display a rating in their window I would walk on by to one that has. The inspectors can shutdown a business on the spot to make improvements ready for a further inspection.

They have an inspection list that is very strict, hand washing facilities, food storage separated for types of food, cleanliness, staff food hygiene certificate's and many other checks they make.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

For example, curry sauce might be prepared and then left to stand at room temperature, allowing germs to propagate. 

So THAT'S why it always taste better the next day!

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Similar to Piskian's comments about the EU, most joints here would not pass health inspections in the US cities I've lived in or near, as well.

And yet the US vastly outpaces Japan in food poisoning cases. Part of the reason is that food processing has become so centralized and industrialized. And locally? One only needs to look at the state of toilets in the US. It's a myth that excessive regulation results in safer food supplies. Safety is better insured by an owner/chef who is always present and has a personal stake in maintaining a good reputation. Avoid chains.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

This is a complete contrast to Anthony Bourdain's opinion. When asked if he ever got sick from street food, he said he never did. He said the only time the whole film crew went down was after a buffet breakfast in a chain hotel.

I remember saying in Thailand one time that I thought street food was safer than hotel food because the owners of the business actually worked there and did the cooking. If a customer got sick, they would lose a customer, thereby losing business. It was not in their interest to let anyone get sick. One Thai laughed. I asked him why he laughed. He explained the he laughed because I was correct adding that he had worked in a five star hotel so he knew. He said that most of the questionable food was put in a buffet to get rid of it quickly.

In a hotel the staff are probably on minimum wage, so they don't care. Also, as I learnt when I worked in a hotel for a summer job when I was a student, everything is counted and calculated, and if anything disappears, the hotel will assume it was stolen by a member of the staff, so nothing gets thrown away even if it smells dodgy.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Another dead giveaway is when the utensils are placed on an unclean table and if the ice in your drink is from dirty tap water.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Login to leave a comment

Facebook users

Use your Facebook account to login or register with JapanToday. By doing so, you will also receive an email inviting you to receive our news alerts.

Facebook Connect

Login with your JapanToday account

User registration

Articles, Offers & Useful Resources

A mix of what's trending on our other sites