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Nov 21, 2007 06:29 AM

Tokyo the best food city in the world?


Michelin has awarded Tokyo restaurants a total of 191 stars, nearly twice the total of Paris -- including eight three-stars (vs. 10 for Paris).


Maybe the original Iron Chef WAS real? ;^)

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  1. I think a lot of this has to do with supply/demand of restaurants and in this case fine dining restaurants. Paris has a population of about 2.2 million while Tokyo has a mind-numbing 12 million people - I don't have restaurant counts but I'd expect Tokyo to have higher numbers of pretty much everything across the board just because of the population difference.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Bunson

      I think this is missleading. The 2.2 million figure for Paris refers to the central 20 arrondisements (the Ville de Paris) at the very center of the city, an area of about 80 square kilometers. To give Tokyo a population of 12 million you have to go out to the 'Special Wards of Tokyo', which has an area of over 2000 square kilometers, believe it or not.

      Certainly the center of Tokyo is denser (is that a word?) than Paris but most of that 12 million reside in a never ending sprawl that stretches up to 100km (and more) away from the city center. Paris has a similar sprawl into the 'Isle de France' which would swell its population towards the 10 million mark if you counted it.

      1. re: lankyFool

        Population of the metropolitan area is probably a more useful comparison, since people who commute into the city from the suburbs often eat there too. And Tokyo really is huge by that measure - 36 million in Metro Tokyo.

        1. re: Robb S

          Not sure what you mean by 'municipal area'. However most people when they think of Tokyo would probably think of the region within, say, a 15 mile radius of Shinjinku. It's obviously a VERY densely populated area but there's no way 36 million people commute into it - that's over 1/4 the population of Japan!

          1. re: lankyFool

            Metropolitan area is a pretty well-established (although loosely defined) concept referring to a core city and its connected suburbs. If you do a little googling on paris metropolitan area you'll find figures of 9-11 million; for Tokyo you'll find 31-36 million. For the city proper you'd probably compare Paris's 20 arrondisements (and 2 million people) to Tokyo's 23 central wards, which have a population of about 8 million.

            I'm not saying population numbers are the whole story, but Tokyo does have a certain critical mass of population size, disposable income, sophisticated, well-traveled residents and long-established culinary tradition that lay the groundwork for making it a great restaurant city.

    2. Michelin's credibility is getting on a par with Wine Spectator's.
      And that's most evident when they incursion in the foodlands outside of France.
      Lately wherever I travel I tend to look for local guides, just use the Michelin reds for their very convenient maps.

      1. I've been to Tokyo once, about five years ago for two weeks have also lived in Paris. I have to say, when I visited Tokyo I had some of the best food I've ever eaten. Not just occasional stand-out excellent meals, but consistently fantastic food everywhere I ate. Obviously the local stuff was great and I remember fantastic Isakaya taverns, great noodle shops for dealing with the hangovers caused by drinking at the Isakaya taverns, a specialty Tempura restaurant with fantastic eel which supposedly came from a lake in Ireland where I'm from, cheap but excellent conveyor-belt sushi bars and one or two more upmarket Japanese restaurants.

        However, I also had one of the best Italian meals of my life in Tokyo and the best Thai food I've had outside of Thailand. Plus, most of these joints were regular, mid-range restaurants, not expense-account destination places.

        Paris has fantastic food too obviously. The thing I like most about Paris is that you can go out and have a great two course lunch of proper food in a simple bistro with wine for around twelve euros. Eating isn't a special occasion event there, it's considered your natural right to expect good food every day and to be given the time to eat it by your employers. (Contrast that with London, the supposed new culinary supercity where it's diffficult to find a mediocre lunch with wine for less than twenty five pounds per person, and you'll want to have a day off work to enjoy it).

        Where Paris falls down in comparison to Tokyo is the lack of a wide variety of genuinely good international/ethnic restaurants. There are some exceptions such as the many excellent Moroccan and Vietnamese restaurants but you'd be hard pressed to find a decent taco or even a fair slice of pizza in the city. Gotta love those crepes though.

        3 Replies
        1. re: lankyFool

          I have to agree with you. I've only been to Tokyo once, on a three week business trip about ten years ago now. I have lived in both France and Italy - both for periods of about two years each.

          When I was in Tokyo I was so impressed with the food at every level. From the high end to the sushi bars to the Isayaka taverns to the yakitori bars...even the quick "grab and go" bento boxes we'd get from the place down the street from the office we worked at. In three weeks I didn't eat one bite of food that didn't impress me. As you mentioned even the Italian food blew me away....just like being in Italy again. The quality, the freshness, the food culture....everything was just so impressive.

          Don't get me wrong, I certainly didn't eat poorly in France or Italy or anywhere else I've been fortunate to live and travel but when people ask me about Tokyo the first thing that always come to my mind is how really wonderful the eating experience there was. Someday I really hope to get back to enjoy it more.

          1. re: ziggylu

            No quibble about the fact that there's great food in Tokyo, but I have to mention one little thing. For strictly practical reasons, I found myself eating lunch at two different Indian restaurants there, and was dismayed to be served Japanese rice with the meal rather than anything resembling the Indian version. The fact is, I love Japanese rice and eat a lot of it, but it's totally out of whack with Indian food. When I told a Japanese friend about this, she replied, "Well, we're very picky about our rice." I hadn't the heart to say, "If you were picky about your rice, you'd choose the one that goes with the food you're eating." I chip in this story only as a reminder that calling a place "the best food city in the world" nowadays has a lot to do with the foreign cuisines available there as well as the native one.

            1. re: Barry Foy

              Thanks for mentioning that. It's true that some foreign-cuisine restaurants adapt their food to perceived local tastes, and some don't. (My local Indian delivery restaurant serves proper Indian rice, for example.) But one of the key ingredients for making a great restaurant city that Tokyo is somewhat weak in is that there aren't very big populations of various immigrant groups, as you'd find someplace like New York, creating a demand for restaurants with authentic cuisine.

              Instead you'll often find Japanese chefs who have lived abroad opening a restaurant to recreate the cuisine of where they used to live. For example there was a fantastic Sri Lankan restaurant in Tokyo run by a couple who lived in Sri Lanka twenty years, and there's a nice Dutch restaurant in Osaka run by someone who was a professional chef in Amsterdam. And of course countless Japanese chefs train for years in France or Italy before returning to Japan.

              Probably none of this matters to the opinion of the Michelin Guide though - their criteria for determining the best food city in the world seem to focus on one foreign cuisine in particular.