The great Tokyo Michelin sham

By Steve Trautlein

Young French chefs who aspire to earn a Michelin star must undergo a training regimen that is as wide-ranging as it is intense. For starters, they are expected to master grandes sauces such as béchamel, hollandaise, espagnole and veloute, plus dozens of variations of these classic recipes. They must be schooled in charcuterie, the division of cooking that deals with prepared meats—paté, terrine, ham, bacon, sausage, galantine and more. And, of course, they need to develop a repertoire of inventive dishes featuring ingredients as diverse as shellfish, game, fruits and cheese, all the while overseeing a restaurant whose wine cellar, ambience and service capture the attention of the world’s fussiest diners.

On the other hand, Japanese chefs who want to earn a Michelin star just need to know how to slap a piece of raw fish on some rice.

That idea, simplistic though it may be, was first expressed to me by the manager of a major hotel restaurant following the publication of the inaugural Michelin Tokyo guidebook in 2008. I’m reminded of his gripe with each new appearance of the guide, when the editors inform us, with a characteristically French air of adulation and smug self-assurance, that Tokyo is the finest city in the world in which to dine. Although this idea was originally dismissed as a cynical marketing ploy by most right-thinking people—including, it was rumored, some local chefs who refused their proffered stars—the publisher has pressed on undaunted. The current guide doles out a whopping 266 stars to Tokyo restaurants, more than Paris and London combined. Included among them are 30 sushi counters, seven soba spots, five yakitori grills, a couple of Japanese-style pubs and an oden restaurant.

Let’s take a moment to digest that: yes, an oden restaurant now boasts a Michelin star.

To get a sense of how outrageous it is to equate these kinds of places with grand Paris restaurants like Taillevent and La Tour d’Argent, here’s a thought experiment: imagine if a classically trained French chef took a couple of months to learn how to grill chicken or make buckwheat noodles. (Or rather, imagine if such a chef trained in the Japanese way of doing these things; any French culinary professional worth her salt already knows how to skewer poultry or work with flour.) Is there any doubt that this chef would then be able to prepare yakitori or soba every bit as satisfyingly as the locals? Now reverse the scheme and give the Japanese cooks a couple of months to master French cuisine. Something tells me that, even after their stint in boot camp, they still wouldn’t be allowed anywhere near the soufflé.

Don’t get me wrong—dining in Tokyo is a joy, and anyone who loves food feels lucky to be here. The sheer number of restaurants in the city guarantees endless discovery, and Tsukiji market keeps local kitchens stocked with matchless produce. Count me among those who believe that "kaiseki ryori," with its attention to seasonal nuance and its interplay of cooking styles, flavors and presentation, merits consideration as one of the world’s great cuisines.

But food is a statement of culture, and there’s just no way that Japan’s culinary heritage—which emphasizes raw dishes, salt-based seasonings and a gentle approach to immersion methods like boiling and simmering—can compare with French gastronomy. Restaurants that specialize in sushi or oden may be admirable in their simplicity or impressive in their devotion to a signature style, but they’re still essentially one-trick ponies.

And that’s the real problem with the Tokyo Michelin guide. By creating a false equivalency between dissimilar food cultures, the publisher is gaming a system of values that it itself has created. Michelin’s newfound infatuation with Gross National Stardom may guarantee splashy headlines and robust book sales, but it does little to educate serious diners about the relative merits of Japanese cuisine and its overseas cousins.

Tokyo’s chefs deserve praise for their artistry and skill. But if approval from Michelin is to have any meaning, Japanese restaurants don’t deserve to see stars.

This commentary originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (

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sour grapes.

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But if approval from Michelin is to have any meaning

See, there's the flaw in this argument. It doesn't.

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Isn't this obviously a case of comparing apples and oranges? Comparing French restaurants in France to French restaurants in Japan, maybe, but I assume we're COMPARING JAPANESE RESTAURANTS who present Japanese cousine.

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I still don't understand how anyone could think Japan is the top place on the planet to eat. What are these people comparing to?

I find most Italian food in Japan does not in any way resemble true Italian food beyond the menu name. Most other forms of food are watered down or made bland to survive here.

I don't mean to be rude to my adopted home city Tokyo, but Seattle runs circles around you in terms of unique and wonderful restaurants. And with regards to ethnic food, there is simply no competition with Seattle, San Francisco or New York. Unless you vote based upon the quantity of specific restaurant types rather than the quality.

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I got a feeling the author of that article has no knowledge of food preparation beyond eating out and reading about it.

And I agree Sour Grapes.

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tkoind2, you're proving my point. Are there great Italian or French restaurants in Tokyo? Maybe a few. But not many people look to Tokyo for that type of cuisine. Criticize the ratings within Japan, but not across national borders.

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tkoind2 -- agree. IMO the author is spot on. Comparing boiling some noodles or slicing some raw fish, or grilling chicken and vegtables with French cuisine is ludicrous. Sure, Japanese presentation is wonderful, but the culinary expertise involved is not even in the same league. Like comparing chicken tenders to cornish game hen.

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I don't know why everyone uses the French Cuisine as the yard-stick. Not even the best cuisine available out there, Belgium, etc is much better.

Good Italian Restaurants are rare. Lets face it a Pizzeria is the Italian equivalent to McD, Pizzahut and you won't good Italian cuisine there.

Also how much does most American Pizza have in common with proper Italian one? The list goes on for all foreign cuisine(European, Asian, etc).

Now people are saying french cuisine is properly licensed and controlled but not too long ago everyone was ranting about japan wanting to do the same. Huh?

And I would like to compare some soba, yakitori and sushi made by posters here vs good and established shops here.

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tkoind2: I understand where you are coming from. Certainly it’s mostly true that the Italian food you find in Japan doesn’t entirely resemble the ’real’ Italian version.

But I’m not sure it’s intended to. Rather, it’s a Japanese version of Italian cuisine, and this tends to be true for the Japanese version of Spanish, Mexican and other cuisines.

This often leads to some amusing instances of foodie cross-pollination, such as the fact that many restaurants in Japan now serve the California roll, a version of sushi invented by Ichiro Mashita in Los Angeles!

Certainly this fits perfectly with the Japanese tradition of adopting and adapting elements of foreign cultures, from Buddhism to school uniforms to rock ‘n’ roll.

This perceived lack of authenticity is, to be sure, often a great disappointment to the western diner who is accustomed to the hearty and flavorful version of real Italian cuisine. We've all, I'm sure, had more than our share of the bland Japanese-Italian lunch, an underwhelming 'pasta with tomato sauce' accompanied by one solitary slice of flavorless bread and a drab little 'salad'.

Having said that, I have seen an improvement in Japan's Italian food scene in recent years. For instance it's now not that hard to track down decent pizza, and when you go up one ot two price levels you are going to find quite satisfying European food.

I can well remember - in my first year in Japan - an Italian set dinner in which the first course was sushi, followed by pasta and salad, and the final course nabe! To my Japanese friends I’m sure this didn’t seem the slightest bit incongruous. Authenticity is generally not the goal in foreign restaurants in Japan.

Mind you, the same could be said of any country which offers versions of foreign food. Most Japanese would I'm sure be horrified by the versions of Japanese food available in any British city outside London! That's why a couple of years ago the Japanese instituted a corps of 'food police' whose job was to check Japanese restaurants abroad in an effort to enforce authenticity. Clearly the Japanese felt they alone had the right to decide what counted as 'Japanese food', even though they twist and adapt foreign cuisine themselves as a matter of course.

This has its upside and downside. Certainly it encourages the more adventurous and exciting aspects of fusion cuisine. But on the downside it makes it virtually impossible to find authentic Indian food in Japan, where one generally finds a generic - though edible - version of Indian food which is designed to satisfy the blander Japanese palate. The same goes for the Mexican food I’ve tasted in Japan.

I’ve had some truly wonderful Japanese food here, of course, the presentation alone qualifies Japanese cuisine as an art form. But on the other hand I can sympathize with those who claim that Japanese cuisine is one of the most over-rated on the planet. One is tempted to equate this with the blandness of Japan's national character, though one should be careful not to overgeneralize. However, I've noticed that when I've been abroad, after the explosion of flavors one experiences in places like Thailand or India, it takes a while to readjust to Japanese food. What to some people seems delicate and finely nuanced is to others insipid and plain flavorless.

For me, they key is to indulge in and appreciate Japan's stupendous native cuisine while accepting that its versions of foreign food, while often plain and characterless, can also occasionally surprise and delight the discriminating diner.

Moderator: All readers back on topic please. Posts that do not focus on the Michelin guide will be removed.

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Zenny11: And also valid to compare, let's say, sushi in Japan to sushi in France. But to compare the preparation and presentation of Japanese food with French food or Italian food or Chinese food etc. is totally illogical to me.

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Each cuisine has their own ways of doing things. but there are always common characteristics.

I would compare French cuisine to stuff like the Buddhist vegetarian cuisine and similar places that serve traditional food in shitamachi, etc.

Unfortunately like with most french cuisine the price will be over what the average Joe Schmoe can afford.

Where I find the logic fails when they take a high-class restaurant from place X and compare it to a local mid-level restaurant from place Y.

Moderator: Readers, posts that do not refer tot he Tokyo Michelin guide will be removed.

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"But not many people look to Tokyo for that type of cuisine."

The definition of a top place to dine should not be based solely upon the presence of quality local food types. NY for example, is a bastion of cuisine from all over the world. I have had fantastic Italian, Russian, French, Japanese and Thai in NY.

Equally Seattle is a culinary destination for her local seafood and pan-Asian specialties, but is also well known for very high quality French, Italian, Thai, Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese and others.

My issue with calling Tokyo a dining center of the world, is that Japan fails to provide any real global diversity of options. The local food is brilliant at times and the domestic variety of tastes engaging. But Japan categorically fails to provide any meaningful global representation of foods for consumption in Tokyo. Much of what is here is "Japanized" to the point of being unrecognizable as international food.

Thus my belief that NY, San Francisco and Seattle trump Tokyo in terms of overall dining variety and experience.

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Zenny. I have not doubt that there is superb Japanese food. Equally there are excellent restaurants doing other forms of food. But Tokyo outrating other major cities is hard to believe.

Of course mainstream US Italian is adjusted for the US taste as is Japan's. But it is possible to have authentic foods of excellent quality from all over the world in many major cities. I find in Tokyo that it is very hard to find authentic ethnic or international food. And much of what I do find is not great.

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The Michelin guide is a money making scheme first for the guide and then the restaurants. Best food i have had in Japan was a fantastic handmade pizza in a little bar in Osaka for only 900 Yen. Usually the locals know somwhere decent for grub and at a good price. Unless you want to be guided and say "I ate here" for show, then you can easily find places in Japan. may take a while but more fun and cheaper than finding out in a book.

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Agree with stevecpfc.

There are many good and authentic food places tucked away and the locals know about them. Most of those are small and often family run or run by a single person.

I know quiet a few places like that that serve good & authentic overseas food but they tend to be harder to locate and find.

I would never use a Michelin guide or similar publication to find the good food anywhere.

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The Michelin guide is a money making scheme first for the guide and then the restaurants

Yet EVERY chef in the UK who aspires to run their own restaurant wants a Michelin star. You may not believe in it but the people within the industry work their 'ollocks off to try and get one.

I stopped reading the article after this:

They must be schooled in charcuterie

Not because I don't understand the word but because I'm pretty sure that the Michelin judges don't walk around and say we would like to give you a star however as you haven't had the correct training...

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tkoind2: I can't disagree with what you say but that isn't the crux of the article's argument. He argues that Tokyo doesn't deserve it's points simply because of the native cuisine.

"Let’s take a moment to digest that: yes, an oden restaurant now boasts a Michelin star."

"But food is a statement of culture, and there’s just no way that Japan’s culinary heritage—which emphasizes raw dishes, salt-based seasonings and a gentle approach to immersion methods like boiling and simmering—can compare with French gastronomy. Restaurants that specialize in sushi or oden may be admirable in their simplicity or impressive in their devotion to a signature style, but they’re still essentially one-trick ponies."

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how to slap a piece of raw fish on some rice.

Curious to know if the author comes from some place where there is no original cuisine but all borrowed from other cultures? Try telling me about my ethnic cuisine. Anyway, why is this Michelin so worried about giving their stars? Who needs them anyway? Appreciating the delicate tastes of the Japanese cuisine is also an art. Ofcourse, when I crave for some good pizza in Tokyo, it gets tough. None of the nice places have that. The closest I can get is the Saizeriya thin crust pizza, with the right amount of sourness of the bread and the tomatos.

Thanks Zenny for that gem of a comment on how best the French cuisine can be described. True they are masters in wine and cheese, but others.. Prefer the Russian soups anyday, german breads and sausages uncopiable.If I crave for the ramen, or okonomiyaki I will not go to the korean restaurant but to a good Japanese place. I know that I will get exactly what I want.

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unless you have access to the same ingredients, water etc. as in the home country, of course the italian, french, etc. food is not going to be the same. french lamb and chicken are much more flavorful than here and the sauces are tailored to match so of course they have to be more flavorful themselves. i'm sure if you brought a french chef here and required him to use local ingredients it would not taste like something prepared in france. but is that a bad thing? what the michelin guide does is puts a standard on food quality, service and ambiance to restaurants in japan. it can't really be directly compared with restaurants in france or anywhere else for that matter.

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Paulinusa. Fine grant Japan awards for masters of her native food. But do not label Tokyo a key center of culinary excellence based solely upon that. A global center for fine food should be weighed according to the entirety of dining experiences available there. In this regard Tokyo is hardly a Seattle and most certainly not a NY.

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Agree with tkoind2 insofar as Japanese chefs' lack of ability when it comes to attempting foreign cuisine. Won't pay for anything other than Japanese food here in Tokyo. Michelin's problem in expanding to Japan is that they have compromised their integrity. The truth is that Japanese chef recipients of the much coveted (in France anyway) "Michelin Star" probably don't really appreciate how huge an honor that has been throughout the decades. And that doesn't help the Michelin Guide's gravitas. Of course it is nice to see where the praised eateries are, but Michelin should have a different standard for the Japan market. Maybe award throwing stars rather than traditional stars.

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Usually the locals know somwhere decent for grub and at a good price. Unless you want to be guided and say "I ate here" for show, then you can easily find places in Japan. may take a while but more fun and cheaper than finding out in a book.

Great point, stevecpfc. This approach will ultimately be more enjoyable than going somewhere a book tells you to.

The Michelin guides are much like a higher-class version of the travel guidebooks such as Lonely Planet - travellers use those guide books for recommendations and flock to the shops mentioned while ignoring perfectly good, if not better, options nearby. It's quite likely there is better, cheaper food to be found outside the covers of a Michelin guide but for some the reassuring nature of "experts" telling you what's good and what isn't is too powerful for common sense and their own judgement to overcome...

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Ask Zenny where to find the best Tofu doughnuts in Tokyo? Does Michelin giys know about it? Maybe Michelin should hire foreigners living in Tokyo in their search for candidates to award stars.

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' For starters, they are expected to master grandes sauces such as béchamel, hollandaise, espagnole and veloute, plus dozens of variations of these classic recipes.' - In other words, the author doesn't understand much about French cuisine. Since when are bechamel and velout considered as grand sauces? Now, the Tokyo Michelin Guide would make sense if it were divided in categories like one for sushi, kyoryori, ramen, soba etc. Tokyo has millions of restaurants and in order to be fair, all of them should be tasted just as in France, where it is easy to go to a small town or quartier in Paris.

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béchamel: scald a litre of milk, and add roux. Stir.

roux: 1:1 flour to butter. Cook until flour taste is gone.

That's IT. that's all there is to it. It's not rocket science.

Now you have your béchamel. Let's make a little soufflé.

Separate two eggs. put about a half cup of béchamel in a pan, whisk in the yolks. low temperature. add a bit of cheese, or whatever you want the souflé to taste of. throw the whites into a mixer until they peak, fold that into the sauce. Put into an oven and bake until dry in the centre. use a toothpick to check. serve immediately. Done.

Béchamel is hot milk, flour and butter in the same way that sushi is raw fish on rice, or that soba is noodles in broth. A soufflé is bechamél and egg whites, baked. Gyuudon is beef on rice, served in a bowl.

Any fool can be taught how to cook anything in an afternoon, but it takes a lifetime to perfect a recipe. And that's the point. The Michelin guide recognizes the restaurateurs and chefs that have mastered their recipes. To insinuate that one is inherently more complicated than the other and thus more worthy of praise only shows a staggering ignorance of basic cooking skills.

Now, get out of my kitchen.

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Just slap a piece of raw fish on rice. This ignores the work in seeking out the best ingredients, presentation, and service. Regardless, a Michelin stars do not indicate difficulty. One star: hard, two stars: very hard, three stars: insane?

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Take note of what the guide is to understand why Japan is a focus point; Michelin is a tire company that developed a restaurant guide to help its brand. Japan is a large tire market hence the large number of stars. China will be next.

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kudos to hokkaidoguy, he pretty much explained everything. And if you were to make the bechamel sauce like he explains it in a basic manner, you would never get a star.

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Seems the judges have no idea what tastes good when it comes to Japanese food.

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narrow minded commentary lets all just eat french food then?

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Seems the judges have no idea what tastes good when it comes to Japanese food.

I used to work at a big hotel here and make reservations etc for restaurants. One of the 3 star sushi places (won't mention the name) has a rule that foreigners have to go accompanied by a Japanese. A "no foreigners only" rule. Not because the staff don't speak any English, because they do, but because the owner says that "foreigners don't know anything about sushi".

This attitude sums up a lot of Japanese restaurants.

Japanese food isn't some mysterious art form only understoon by pure-blood Japanese. Good food is good food.

The Michelin guide is a sham.

"Good food is good food", but as the author says: oden???

It's like something you'd see in a Lonely Planet guide.

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"foreigners don't know anything about sushi".

Maybe the Sushi-Chef does have a point, look at the posters here that think Sushi is just a slice of raw fish on a bit of Rice and anyone can prepare it. ;)

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Hahaha. I know, pizza is just cheese and tomato on bread too.

He does have a point, but I don't like the elitist attitude. The French have it with their cuisine too.

I'm not a fan of Japanese food but I don't think it's all rubbish. But still, oden??? That must be some REALLY good oden.

Michelin have gone too far and just seem to be pasting stars like it's going out of fashion.

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I can see why Oden as most of the ingredients are mostly made by hand, etc. Oden shops don't buy those Ingredients and soups ready-made at the super.

And as was said Michelin doesn't just look at the food but the place, atmosphere, etc too.

Not sure how the Michelin guide decides which places to evaluate, etc but I would guess it is by application or recommendation. Otherwise to would need an army to cover every eatery in Tokyo.

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Its about time someone said it straight. I agree 100%

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But still, oden??? That must be some REALLY good oden.

Ever tried making it?

Easy to do, difficult to do well.

Got to say, tough - thanks to this article I'll be buying a copy of the Michelin guide and stopping by that oden place on my next trip to Tokyo. Probably not the reaction the author wanted from his piece, but there it is...

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Ever tried making it? Easy to do, difficult to do well.

Not as difficult as making a good bouillabaisse well, but I have to go and have some of that oden too ;)

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I stopped reading the article first at the mention of "slapping raw fish on rice"-such ignorance, the writer must be French! Remembering dozens of different kinds of fish and other sea creatures with their different tasting parts, taste according to season, slice with or against the grain etc; sorry it ain't that easy to learn - and the French have no original style either, most was copied from the Italian, which is far older. And lets not forget, the single-plate style of nowadays course-menu was copied from the Japanese!

MrDog: that sushi place got at least 1 star for their "French attitude",lol!

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The French do not have nori, now Kikkoman, the heck are they supposed to tell us where the best yakitori is? Yakiniku? Shabu Shabu? Non Merci monsiuer!

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porter at 02:21 PM JST - 19th January Take note of what the guide is to understand why Japan is a focus point;

Michelin is a tire company that developed a restaurant guide to help its brand. Japan is a large tire market hence the large number of stars. China will be next

100 Internet points for Porter. It's all about expanding the market of Michelin.

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porter got it right.

Also, take a moment to consider who the guide is targeting - average Japanese people??? Europeans and Americans, most likely.

Food is culture??? I thought it was just food... I like good food, try to avoid bad food...

Is there going to be a test later???

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Regarding the stars:

The guide awards one to three stars to a small number of restaurants of outstanding quality. One star indicates a "very good cuisine in its category", a two-star ranking represents "excellent cuisine, worth a detour," and three stars are awarded to restaurants offering "exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey".

Based on this I can easily see one or two Udon eateries getting awarded a star because of their quality IN THEIR CATEGORY.

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What? Michelin didn't award Royal Host a star for the complex cheese in hamburg dish. I am furious.

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I need to check out this guide. Every restaurant I've been to in Tokyo is at least decent, whereas I can't say the same for most other cities I've been to.

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Aww diddums, did Japan take the French bookie wookie and make them cry?

Seriously though, who the hell cares (except the French)? The author of this article is clearly missing the point by focusing on how easy/difficult food is to prepare - THAT IS NOT THE POINT OF FOOD! If it tastes good, it deserves recognition. As far as I (and, I would hope, any other non-snob) am concerned, if food tastes good and is prepared in a hygienic environment, then I am happy to eat it!

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I agree with Frungy.

The cookings of my home-country are well known but are still the same basic recipes as from long ago. Granted I had a few cooks in my family and also learned to make my own sausages, croissant, etc.

Don't take much skill to prepare our dishes, cakes, etc but to prepare them well .... And I found the same with any cuisine as I enjoy cooking and collecting recipes.

Granted there are often little hints or tips left out of recipes that would make it truly authentic.

Many times I have been told by japanese that I should open a restaurant after tasting my cooking. BUT there is a difference to cook for 6 and for 20+ having the same quality, excellence, etc every day.

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Talk about shams, what about the "Monde Selection"? Every can coffee, bottled water or cup ramen gets a gold award from the "Monde Selection". What is this "award"?

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@ Paeceful Man

Hey mate, ever notice this "Monde Selection" and medal are only in Japan? Hmmmmmmmm ... wonder why.

That is why canned coffee is selected and even 1000 yen per litre shochu is as well.

Oh well, if lemmings give faith in subjective ratings and medals, so be it.

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How wrong could you be? It may not make sense to compare French and Japanese cuisine, but in terms of having a great restaurant, a great ambiance, a great meal... obviously, Tokyo comes up with the goods, time and time again. Also, aside from the person preparing the food, there is the whole infrastructure of sourcing ingredients, the living tradition of making things as purely as humanly possible. Maybe there aren't so many restaurants deserving (or earning) the three star status, but attitudes of perfectionism may well raise simple dishes to a level of greatness, something I've encountered here time and time again.

So just to be clear- restaurants here are generally better than other places I've been. Getting star rewards for that where appropriate makes a lot of sense. I don't think it's taking anything away from the classic French restaurants for this to be happening. To see foul play, search for publicity and so on... it just sounds like closed-mindedness.

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French "cuisine", particularly at the so-called top restaurants is a massive waste of time and money. I've had better food at small mountain bistros in the south of France than I've had in the top restaurants. The top restaurants seem to view their stars as an excuse to quarter portion sizes, quadruple the prices, and reduce the quality because people without decent palates will eat any sort of muck and think it's great because they're paying a fortune for half a mouthful. Not to mention the snotty waiters... at some of them I felt I was paying them to insult me. That may be some people's kinky fantasy, but it's not mine.

On the other hand even when I go to top Japanese restaurants I might feel they're expensive, but I never feel that the portion sizes are ridiculouly small or the food is sub-standard. Well, except for fugu, which is not really about the food at all.

So in short, the author needs to actually GO to some of the top French restaurants, then GO to some of the top Japanese restaurants, and compare the experience. The food, portions, ambiance and service levels in Japan far exceed those in France, and frankly they should remove all French restuarants' stars until they come up to Japanese standards.

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Talk about shams, what about the "Monde Selection"? Every can coffee, bottled water or cup ramen gets a gold award from the "Monde Selection". What is this "award"?

Yep, you're right. It's not an award; it's something that food companies can pay to put on their label. I work for a food company that gets requests from companies like "Monde Selection" all the time. They will give the award to anyone who pays them, but in their literature they try to make it sound like it's very exclusive and only offered to makers of the best products. It's not very expensive, though, so I can see why smaller companies might think it was worthwhile if it sold a few more products.

The Michelin guide is kind of the same thing, though. Why should I eat where a tire company tells me to?

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There are really two types of French food. Restaurant food and home-cooked food. Restaurant food is sophiticated and often quite rich, with many dishes containing cream, butter, and sugar. This food is for special occasions. On the other hand French family food is usually lighter and certainly healthier as it is based on grains such as bread, pasta and vegetables, small amounts of meat, fresh fruits and dairy products. French cuisine offers a wide variety with many light and many rich dishes. It is a question of choice, occasion and moderation. Hands down my choice is mochiron Japanese food any day. I can eat it everyday and is generally healthier. It's in my blood. Then comes probably Chinese, Korean, Italian, Mexican food. Sorry but French food is at the bottom of my list. Don't depend on Michelin ratings for restaurants, Word of mouth is the best. Ask someone you know. The odds are better if they know your taste.

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Steve Trautlein, you have obviously never eaten soba at Towada in Asakusa. After that experience I have never eaten cheap soba again.

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Steve Trautlein should also try the Gyoza and Asari Cha-Han at MinMin in Kichijoji.

They are famous for their gyoza but the Cha-han is way better.

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Most modern French Restaurants nowadays rely a lot on technic; Steam-convection ofen, PacoJet, hot-water controller; all together combined with vacuum-cooking to deliver the perfect, controlled food. Than you have those small crammed kitchens in a Japanese Restaurant where everything is based on experience from a long apprenticeship, of course the food will be different.

Novenachan:Most countries have two kinds of food, originating from the common peoples kitchen and the aristocratic style food. IMHO, the Japanese haven't mixed it that much, whereas esp French Restaurants try to raise common food to an unnaturally sofisticated level

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I'm with hokkaidoguy. Japan has the most amazing variety of restaurants with the most amazing variety of dishes. For each type of food, whether it be oden, tempura, eel, soba, udon, tofu, beef, kaiseki, chicken or sushi, there are places that take it all to new levels. It is very difficult to make superb oden. The convenience store stuff actually doesn't taste bad, but there are some oden restaurants (like the one that got a Michelin star) that really reset the bar. Paris has around 60,000 restaurants and Tokyo has 160,000 so I guess it isn't surprising that Tokyo has more stars than Paris and London combined. But I am glad the Michelin people admit it! There is an art to making beautiful soba or sushi or tofu or oden and even though it may look simple, it takes many years of work to perfect the art. Like wine you have to try a lot of the stuff to realize the difference between crappy, average, good and amazing. I heard the Michelin Guide only has twelve employees so I do wonder how their book will survive. Surely they need to have all the info online...

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Would Paris like a little cheese with their whine?

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Some of the things you guys are saying utterly preposterous. Michelin stars CANNOT simply be a measure if greatness within the border of a country or a type of cuisine. Think of how ridiculous that is? So should michelin start rating taco booths in mexico or doner kebab places in turkey? What's the difference between doing that and giving a star to a yakitori place. I mean, within its culture, a particular taco booth might be the pinnacle of cultural culinary excellence. But comparing it to per se or French laundry?

Many of you have omitted a key piece of the calculus. Those of us who have been in Europe a lot in the recent years can attest to the European fascination with Japanese food. Its like the US and Canada in the 80s. Its weird. To Americans raw fish is about as interesting as a bowl of spaghetti, but to Europeans, its like some magical culinary orgasm. Sure, it took 30 years for Japanese food to filter across north america and cross the pond into Europe, but does that mean sushi some how got better than it was in the 80s? There were excellent Japanese restaurants across the US and Canada. How many have michelin stars?? All of a sudden, the fascination with Japanese food is the flavor du jour and people worship going to the mothership to see his the sausage is really made. Its like Americas fascination with French food in the 60s through 80s.

This over representation of Japanese restaurants in the michelin guide is basically a product of French ignorance. FULL STOP.

If you would like to see how worthy these places really are, go to tripadvisor. Some of these places have 1.5 stars based in people who live in Japan actually eating there! What does that tell you. Good grief.

Basically michelin is completely unreliable for japan. That is the ugly truth.

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Another angry white guy/Westerner in Japan/Asia? I'm SO surprised.

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