This platter of sushi and sashimi tastes every bit as good as it looks! Oishii desu ne!
Meaning "Welcome!", that ubiquitous greeting at Japanese restaurants everywhere immediately sets the tone for a unique gastronomic experience. You know that you're all set for an enjoyable encounter, and more often than not, you walk away satisfied and happy.
Food in Japan is big business. Just look at the number of F&B outlets, concessionaires, bento box retailers and snack outlets across the country. They surround the labyrinthine rail network in Japanese cities, and are a major export factor for the country.
Visit any major city around the world. Chances are that you'll find numerous Japanese restaurants sprinkled across the region.
What exactly makes Japanese dining so special? I believe there are several lessons here that we can learn from:
Few cuisines around the world are as beautifully presented as Japanese food. Presentation and packaging takes on major importance here, as seen from how beautifully laid out dishes such as sashimi, sushi, udons, ramens, and rice dishes are made.
A case in point are the ornate bento boxes that are presented so lovingly that you feel bad for "destroying" the artwork!
Takeaway bento boxes are laid out like displays of art
Even breakfast at our homestay in Kameoka is presented so lovingly. Aren't these sausages and hash browns kawaii?
Naturally, this is a no-brainer. In Japan, practically all restaurants and cafes offer great service regardless of their sizes. They can be as tiny as 20 seater sushi bars or noodle joints to huge sprawling restaurants. Other than the enthusiastic greeting which welcomes you when you enter, waiters and waitresses are generally attentive to your needs. Many a sushi chef will also cater specifically to diner's request, subject of course to meeting their quality standards.
Kana Kana restaurant in Nara served great food with excellent service (with Yosuke and his lovely wife)
Theatricality and Drama
Japanese dining isn't just about taste but food theatre. In most of the Japanese F&B outlets that we patronised, the kitchen is always placed upfront in plain view of diners. This applies not only to Michelin starred restaurants but equally to small snack outlets. Food is prepared with much flair and aplomb by trained chefs, wowing diners with their culinary prowess.
Okonomiyaki chefs "performing" at a food court outlet in Odaiba
The streets of Dotonbori in Osaka is like entering a theme park for food!
Attention to Quality
Who hasn't heard the story of sushi chefs who wake at 4 am to purchase the freshest fish at Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo. Or apprentices who had to slave away for years before being allowed to create a dish for diners.
In Japan, the quality of food, the way its presented, as well as its packaging is of utmost importance. Sadly, such qualities aren't necessarily translated into Japanese restaurants overseas.
Only the freshest ingredients are used for takopachi in Osaka's Dotonbori area
From conveyor belt sushi to food manufacturing, design and packaging, few countries in the world can beat Japan in the use of technology. Having said that, technology is used only for the dimensions of food where a human hand isn't needed to ensure taste or quality. Notice in the case of sushi restaurants that the slicing of the fish, cooking of the rice, and making of each sushi is still done by hand.
Our host family's kids using the touch display in a 110 yen sushi restaurant
A Japanese pancake manufacturing machine in a small snack shop in Asakusa
Packaging and Shop Design
The final dimension of Japanese food which makes it stand out from many others can be seen in the way it is packaged. Artificial "samples" of their food can be found in the glass display cases in many restaurants, while the packaging of snack foods are often exquisite and elegant. Special care is taken to ensure that shapes, colours and designs fit perfectly in a symphony of tastes and textures.
Sushi outlets often have enticing displays like this
Snacks are delicately presented in displays and packages like the ones here in Daimaru