The New York Times food critic weighs in on the top ten new restaurants in New York—he probably means Manhattan—and a sushi restaurant tops the list. There’s an Asian-Japanese-sushi restaurant (what, tuna roll shabu-shabu dipped in tom yum goong soup?)—in sixth place. There are four French restaurants (including one French-New American), two New American (one of them the French-American), and three Italian. No Chinese, no Indian, no Russian, no Arabic, and nothing from the rest of Europe. Is Japanese cuisine one of the Big Three as far as gustatory civilization is concerned? Or is it that you can simply charge more for Japanese food? I would love to have Frank Bruni’s expense account—I mean, see it.
As if to prove my point, NYT’s list of “some of the best inexpensive places reviewed in the Dining section [last] year” includes Spanish, Mexican, Druse, and even a couple of American restaurants without the obscurant adjective New, although Japanese fast food—a couple of soba shops and even a ramen diner—also made the list. And yes, four out of the fourteen listed in the report are located in Brooklyn.
Note though, that the Japanese menu is heavily weighted towards sushi and soba (read the individual listings and it’ll be even more obvious) two fast food genres (yes, sushi is essentially an expensive fast food) that vie with a myriad of likeminded competitors for our attention in Japan. Moreover, although there are regional differences, the udon, originally a Chinese import (but then, what isn’t?) has a larger national following than the soba, and the ramen noodle (a more recent variation on Chinese cuisine) easily eclipses both in the popular mind and media attention. Japanese food has been branded as health food, and America—Manhattan at least—has chosen accordingly.