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the trouble with food nannies


I thought the Chowhound users would take interest in this editorial about the Japanese government's wrong-headed implementation of food nannies -- a board to judge the authenticity of Japanese food served abroad.

I saw a news report about this recently, in which a Japanese TV reporter made faces while eating at sub-standard ''Japanese'' restaurants in Paris (with NOT ONE Japanese wait staff or chef -- shijirarenai!). While watching this, I had to wonder if this guy would make the same fuss at a chain izakaya in Japan that serves discounted tuna from Spain prepared by an underpaid Chinese cook.

While I see a need for authenticity, and acknowledge that Japan has plenty of great chefs who've trained abroad, this whole food-nanny (nazi) has a bad smell.

Anyway, food for thought.

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    1. how is this different from the french making these michelin guides trashing anything that doesn't conform to their idea of good food?

      1 Reply
      1. re: choctastic

        The Michelin inspectors work for a private company. The "sushi police" work for the Japanese government.


      2. Hey if food nannies were somehow allowed to operate in the U.S. you'd have a million policing everything from chicken fried steak to NY bagels to pizza to you name it...oh wait that would be hardcore regional chow hounds. Never mind.

        Okay I half jest but you can see the sentiment is there. The Japanese just are willing to execute. I do find it mildly odd and don't understand the motives but would like to. Best I can think of is food has a different meaning there...how else could you create something as wacky and great as Iron Chef and the whole country loved it?

        1. I find this especially hilarious as the Japanese have no problem with telling you how some Japanese chef makes French/Italian/whatever better than any native can. I was married to a Japanese woman for seven years, nothing they do surprises me.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Scrapironchef

            I have no opinion on whether they're correct, but I don't think it's so incongruous -- they believe that they take food and authenticity more seriously than we do and that therefore they are more of an authority in general on food.

            I think that belief is based on "lowest common denominator" theory --i.e., most Americans don't take food as seriously as those of us who post on this board, and they're judging us all based on people who would consider fast-food california rolls to be an index of Japanese cuisine.

          2. Why is it hilarious? There ARE plenty of great French and Italian restaurants in Tokyo where Japanese chefs achieve a very high standard in those cuisines, and I'm sure they'd receive high marks from the equivalent French or Italian authentication agencies.

            Nothing in the articles about this says anything about them insisting on Japanese chefs, they just don't want pad thai and egg rolls masquerading as Japanese food.

            1. I can definitely see the reasons for this, but it will have to be handled pretty skillfully, something one doesn't always expect from a government-ministry-run project. One big problem will be deciding how strict to be - judging the very authentic and the very inauthentic should be easy, but there's a big gray area in the middle.

              Even something as simple as "authentic" sushi can be tricky. Personally I'd be sad to see an invention like the California roll lose points simply because it uses a new combination of ingredients, but on the other hand I think all those extra-spicy concoctions completely miss the point of the sushi experience, which is to appreciate the essence of the fish.

              On the other hand it's nice to see a project that provides employment to "food luminaries and intellectuals."

              1. They'l also need to stay very up-to-date when it comes to "Asian fusion." Korean influences are gradually slipping into the mainstream in places like Tokyo and Osaka, so it would be silly for the Sushi Police to take away points for chapche while awarding points for chicken teriyaki.

                1. Sumimasen, but living in New York I am getting a bit tired of walking into some so called "Japanese" place, getting no response to a simple "konichiwa" from the Asian (but not Japanese) staff, and then being served second or third rate Nihon ryori.

                  Can non Japanese make good Nihon ryori? No doubt, just check Momofuko where Korean David Chang can teach the Japanese a thing or two about ramen. And Blue Ribbon Sushi may be one of the best sushi places in NY. (In NY, it would take two Jewish guys to serve some of the best sushi in the City; although the chefs are nihon-jin).

                  But, in my experience, the Japanese chow at true Japanese run establishments does, on balance, blow away most Asian owned, but not Nihon-jin, owned establishments.

                  This whole thread kinda reminds me of Pizza. My uncle, from Italy, moved from NY to Florida and opened a Pizzeria. At first, he was buying fresh mozarella and San Marzano tomatoes, and making the dough himself, etc etc . But then he found the losers, frequenting his pizza parlor, had no clue anyway, and would eat any old Chef Boyardee junk. He gave up, and ordered frozen this, and processed that, and business never changed.

                  And thats what I see in NY at "Japanese" restaurants; alot of Gaijin with no clue about what they are eating, ordering "Spider Crab" rolls and other abominations that one would never see in Kyoto. I can see the eyes rolling, but hey, I think Chowhounds should be purisits, to some extent. Put down that "Dragon roll" and order Sanma-zushi or something real and pure -- some real Japan.

                  1. "This whole thread kinda reminds me of Pizza. My uncle, from Italy, moved from NY to Florida and opened a Pizzeria. At first, he was buying fresh mozarella and San Marzano tomatoes, and making the dough himself, etc etc . But then he found the losers, frequenting his pizza parlor, had no clue anyway, and would eat any old Chef Boyardee junk. He gave up, and ordered frozen this, and processed that, and business never changed."

                    So sad and so true. Makes me shake my head low.

                    1. If the American government made a similar announcement, can you imagine the outcry and the ugly name-calling? No government should be in the food-policing business.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: pikawicca

                        Yeah and American just love processed and genetically altered food. Seriously, if it was of cultural value (you name the hot button issue) the American government would be all over it one way or another like freedom fries.

                        I do find it odd that the regulations are applied outside of Japan but I can see the logic. I hardly find food certification strange or weird however. Afterall look at German beer, French champagne, Beligum chocolate or any number of important cultural, culilnary and financial elements to any particular culture -- it's all regulated. It's called protectionism and the U.S. does it as well as anyone...you just don't hear about it.

                        1. re: pikawicca

                          EU countires also "police" as mentioned above. San Marzano, parmigiano reggiano, etc etc and that's only Italy - must come from their place of origin as well as meet certain standards. That's why americans are tricked into buying guacomole "product" from Kraft. Heaven forbid we impose the regulations on food that we impose on everything else!

                          1. re: fara

                            The U.S. does have some similar restrictions. Right off the top of my head, Walla Walla Onions must be grown in Benton County, WA. there are other instances of this that seem to be escaping me right now. If I remember right, this was something created by the growers to ensure that a superior product was being sold under their title.

                        2. One more thing - inauthentic food and good fusion cuisine will not stop being produced due to the influence of the food nannies. but at least there could be some standard to look to before walking into a random place.

                          1. Doesn't bother me any -- if the Japanese taxpayers see value in the government creating a list of restaurants abroad that serve what they define as "authentic" Japanese, and that helps some homesick travelers find a kaiseki meal amid the CA rolls, good for them.

                            I don't see how this will have any impact on the U.S. restaurant market though. I don't think anyone will care if a restaurant has a Japanese-government-supplied cherry blossom seal stuck to their window, so I seriously doubt any will change their menu to get one.

                            The author of the article states he hopes it will help rid the world of the Philadelphia Roll. Get real!!

                            If I were Japanese I'd be applying for this job... world travel on the government's dime, can get some good chow in between the mediocre maki rolls... in all seriousness though the fact that they actually visited 80 restaurants in Paris seems pretty silly... having the menu faxed to Japan could immediately eliminate probably 75% of the places with no travel required.

                            Sorry but the new site seems to have broken the editing... tried to correct a single word and am now getting a duplicated message!!

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: Pincho

                              What's in a Philadelphia Roll? Overcooked beef and Cheez Whiz?

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                Smoked salmon and cream cheese (which tastes worse than sushi but better than it sounds... just don't use soy sauce on it!)

                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  That cracked me up Robert!!! I'm actually really surprised not to yet have seen some kind of bbq beef roll spring up though... It's probably out there somewhere...

                                  The Japanese call this whole family of rolls (Philadelphia roll, California roll, Rainbow roll etc.) uramaki - basically inside-out roll - the "story" is that these were created in LA in the early days of sushi's introduction to the US to appeal to Americans who did not like the tatse of nori. The rice on the outside, and this style is uncommon in Japan.