- Alex Kerr- ‘Lost Japan’
My daughters sat goggle-eyed as the slim twenty-something girl, who was eating on her own, slurped oyster after oyster from their shells, until she had got through 8 plates-full, that’s 96 in all. Part of the fun of eating out in Japan is seeing what everyone else is getting up to. The Oyster Bar is one of four dozen eating places on the 9th and 10th floors of the new shopping complex above Hakata Station in Fukuoka. This is affordable eating, perfectly suited to a family of five. All the restaurants are Japanese, in that the owners and staff are Japanese, but several call themselves Italian, French, Chinese and Mexican. They are all small and independently owned, each with a different speciality. Of the true Japanese there are the usual suspects, such as sushi, sashimi, tempera, sukiyaki, shabu-shabu, teppenyaki and ramen, and some unusual specialities, such as horse-meat, tripe and one serving what they described as “organ meat dishes”. But you generally knew what you were going to get, because replicas of the dishes are helpfully displayed in the restaurant window and most of the menus have photos alongside the description. The restaurants which call themselves Italian or French, etc. are a refined Japanese version of the original, always as good and sometimes much better than the cuisine on which they’re based.
We are well aware that there’s another world out there, the “high end” restaurants which have earned Japan its reputation as the gastronomic centre of the world, now that it has more Michelin stars than France. They are beyond our reach. There are also hundreds of inexpensive places, such as the ramen and soba bars, where a meal will cost £3 or £4. In our price range, which is £10 a head, the choice is vast and it doesn’t matter whether you’re eating pure Japanese or the Japanese version of another county’s food, you won’t eat better anywhere in the world.