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Jan 13, 2013 04:49 AM

Cuisines with a vibrant restaurant culture - and those without one

I think that Arab/Lebanese/Palestinian food from that region in the Middle East is excellent and very diverse. I also believe that this is a food culture that has a very limited crossover to restaurant culture. Most local restaurants represent a very narrow range of local cuisine (mezze + grilled meats) - and it doesn't matter if the place caters to mainly local customers or tourists.

Automatically, I associate France with having a very dynamic restaurant culture in representing French cuisine - but I'm curious, what are other cuisines that are either very well represented or not in local restaurants. No need to make this a thread about talking about how a cuisine is misrepresented in restaurants abroad - but basically is it a cuisine is most diverse in home cooking or if it has a well cultivated restaurant tradition.

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  1. In the US, Russian cuisine is practically nonexistent, which is slightly surprising, because it is an interesting, noble and delicious cuisine. But unless you live in a huge metropolitan area, you're unlikely to find a Russian restaurant.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Perilagu Khan

      To clarify my question - I was more referring to Lebanese restaurant culture in Lebanon (or Russian restaurant culture in Russia). I totally understand that some food cultures simply don't translate in restaurants through migration/diaspora - but I'm more curious about whether or not local cultures support restaurants of their own cuisine or not.

    2. I've seen estimates that there are close to 90,000 restaurants in Tokyo. Although Tabelog, the massive Japanese online restaurant review site, lists upwards of 115,000 restaurants. Even at the 90,000 mark, that is more than New York City, Paris, London, and Rome combined.

      By the late 1700's and throughout the 1800's, there were already dining guides put together by frequent travelers to Edo, the previous name of Tokyo. Japanese cuisine has been primarily forwarded by restaurant, and to much extant banquet, cultures.

      6 Replies
      1. re: Silverjay

        Do you know why or have as guess as to why Japanese cuisine in general or Tokyo specifically has such a strong restaurant history?

        1. re: cresyd

          I can explain a some of the reason on an historical level, but can only speculate on the cultural reasons.

          For more than 250 years before Japan opened up in 1868, the country was controlled by the Tokugawa shogunate. They moved the capital from Kyoto to Edo, the former name of Tokyo. The regime had consolidated power throughout the country and required all of the fiefdoms to patronize them through a system that required regular domestic travel. Well, basically, the regime held the families of the fiefdom leaders hostage. Then, they required the fiefdom leaders and parts of their militias, to alternate between time in Edo serving the shogun and time back in their local fiefdom. This led to several things. First, he creation of major highways leading to Edo that were well-protected and well-maintained. Second, on those roads constant domestic traffic throughout the country passed as various processions moved back and forth between local domains and the capital. The roads also allowed merchants and pilgrims to easily travel into the capital as well. And third, once peace sort of settled throughout, a lot of people in Edo, who weren't from Edo, needed to eat. This all fostered a culture of guest houses, restaurants, and street eating. This is the historical explanation.

          Culturally, I can speculate that while family relationships and family dining are very important in Japanese culture, it is also a culture with a high level of commerce and business relationships. These are often maintained and grown through informal interaction such as restaurant meals. Dining out kind of greases the wheels of the economy. Also, well, people there just love to eat and drink and try different foods.

          1. re: Silverjay

            Thank you, I have to admit that I find the history of food-ways fascinating - and the relationship between restaurants and business (both high end and low end) is definitely common.

            The classic New York Jewish deli basically emerged during a period where the Ashkenazi Jewish population from central/Eastern Europe was migrating - but at that point the migration numbers were heavily weighted towards men. So you had lots of young Jewish men that kept kosher(esque) living alone. And thus the Jewish deli was born to meet their 3 meal a day needs.

            1. re: cresyd

              Yeah I think the same phenomenon is still at play these days as there are a lot of cheap places in the NYC Chinatowns to serve the single men from Fujian Province who have made their way over.

              1. re: Silverjay

                Your use of the word "service" (as a verb) made me smile. Actually, those places *serve* these single men. In this context, service (used as a verb) is a different concept, tho there may be places that handle that as well!

      2. Unfortunately, outuside of Croatia that cuisine is not exactly vibrant. It is one of my favourites (especially Istrian). I have heard of the odd place here and there but personally have not seen one. However, I also do not live in an urban centre so would be curious to hear of those in your neighbourhoods.

        1. I very much have the same impression of Levantine cuisine and also other regional Arab cuisines as cresyd. I wonder if this is true for the western situated North African countries as well.

          5 Replies
            1. re: luckyfatima

              From my experience, Egypt fits that generalization - but moving further west I would only be guessing.

              On the one hand it's forced me to become a better cook as the restaurant experience is highly repetitive - but there are definitely dishes that it would be lovely to see in a restaurant. And not have to commit the time required to make them at home.

              1. re: cresyd

                Same here, I have been to Egypt a couple of times and actually studied Arabic there. They have good seafood restaurants in some cities, mediocre Lebanese restos and Lebanese snack-sandwich shops, grills, Western fastfood, loads of koshary, and fool and ta3mayya places. But in terms of the diversity that one finds in homes when it comes to traditional Egyptian cuisine, it is very limited and what is available in restos is quite mediocre.

                I have never travelled to any other Arab country in N. Africa but from what I have seen on TV Morocco looks like it would be a fun place to eat out in certain cities. Have no idea about Tunisia, Libya, Algeria, and know even less about places like Mauritania, Sudan, or Djibouti.

                1. re: luckyfatima

                  I found the Moroccan restaurant scene to be quite fun and varied in larger cities. Most restaurants serve only Moroccan food, but you can commonly good food from the middle east. Gyro shops were common place, and French food was easy to find. But, I traveled as part of a tour group and on occasion, we were dumped off at restaurants in smaller towns that served "western food for the tourisits". Pizzas, chesseburgers and the like were generally horrible. My friend and I were bad girls several times and wandered away looking for Moroccan when everybody was instucted to eat places like that :P

                  1. re: luckyfatima

                    I agree that I've heard great things about Morocco food-wise beyond "get someone to invite you over for lunch (which will eventually turn into dinner)".

                    Sami Tamimi (from the Jerusalem cookbook fame) said in a recent interview that the food he grew up with and is traditional in Palestinian food is largely very time consuming as women generally stayed home all day and could watch something that was cooking for hours. And that particularly variety of time consuming homecooking shows up so rarely in restaurants. And if you find a place that serves makloubeh, musakahn, or molokhia - most of the time it's just not that good

              2. I loved eating in Singapore and Malaysia. Both places have a vibrant resto culture that serves diverse local cuisines and more.

                I have never been to Vietnam or Hong Kong, but I have seen/read/heard that in urban VN there is a very vibrant eat-out culture, and of course HK is famous for one.

                I also have a lot of Korean friends or friends who were expats in Korea and they all highly praise the eat-out culture in Korea.

                In India I have found inconsistency in the eat-out culture when it comes to local cuisines. You can go to places where local food is only taken in homes and the restos are all either snack shops (chaat or dosas) or Punjabi-Mughlai food. And then there are other cities where local cuisine is very much well represented in restaurant establishments or small stalls that serve iconic regional specialties around the city. So it really depends on where you are.