TOKYO, Japan — A year after Michelin launched its Tokyo guide in 2007, it awarded the city 227 stars — more than Paris, New York and London combined. Many in those rival capitals grumbled that the high mark was merely a marketing ploy to sell more Michelin guides in Japan as the company expanded into Asia.
But for Tokyoites, it confirmed what we already knew: The city’s 160,000 restaurants serve some of the world's best food.
Michelin stars aside, it’s not the high-end restaurants that set Tokyo apart, but the lower-to-middle end eateries. From the corner noodle shop to the local sushi bar, the food is prepared and served with the kind of care that would demand top dollar in the rest of the world.
In most of Asia, cooks use heavy amounts of seasoning and sauce to enhance the flavor of the food. But the essence of Japanese cuisine, called washoku by the natives, is stripping ingredients down to their basic elements to allow individual favors to shine through.
Even Japan’s most famous spice, wasabi, isn’t that hot if you eat the real thing. Ground fresh from the stem at your table, it has an almost sweet aftertaste very different from the sting of the green, Chinese mustard-packed paste that passes for wasabi abroad.
While sushi remains Japan’s most famous culinary export, noodle restaurants are everywhere in Tokyo, serving quick and inexpensive fare with a bewildering assortment of accompaniments. In a city known as one of the world’s most expensive, you can get a bowl of noodles for under $5 in even the priciest districts.
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