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Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Why Is Japanese Food So Expensive?

The best way to answer my headline thought about why Japanese food is so expensive, is—How The Fug Should I Know?

I think there's a scam involved, and it's mostly about preserving the mystery that Japanese food is expensive because it's rare and special.

Let's see why I even think that.

I’m sure I have mentioned more than once here that I really like Chinese food, and that not only could I eat it three meals a day, every day, but I do eat it at least once a week.

Despite this being a blog that revolves around all things Japanese, I do not eat Japanese food very often.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy the food—I do—but rather I find it cost prohibitive.

That means it costs too much.

Here in Toronto, along with it home to more than a few Japanese restaurants where I can dine in or order for take-out, I can purchase various Japanese meals at Asian grocery stores that have a fairly wide range of food choices, or I can go to the more Canadian grocery stores where they offer ready-made sushi, or I can go to fast food chains and order soups or sushi trays… plenty of options.

What they all have in common, however, is its cost. X-pen-Sif.

Maybe it’s because the girls at the Japanese fast food shops recognize my face, but they look at me, and just pile on the choices into a my reclosable tray. Piled on. It’s like under $10.

meanwhile, for 12 pieces of BBQ eel sushi, I pay over $14… and because I’m not eight-years-old, I’m still hungry after eating my weasely 12 pieces of rice and eel. Just absolutely un-sated.

So I have to buy some an additional tray of Japanese food, which after taxes takes me over $20… oh, and I gotta have a drink… so then there’s the cold green-tea drink because apparently Coca-Cola Zero isn’t Japanese enough for them. So I’m around $23. For lunch.

That’s two Chinese food meals.

Goods help me, but I always still feel hungry after eating a Japanese meal, as opposed to the "OMG, I can’t believe I ate everything meal", where I am slurping up the tasty sauce my mushroom beef was swimming in.

So why is Japanese food so expensive?

There are all these claims about how a Japanese chef has to train for three years just to learn how to hold an effing knife properly, three years to learn just how to make sushi rice perfectly, and so on and so on, so the claim here is that our high cost of Japanese food is to pay for the chef’s education.

Okay… maybe in Japan… but here in Canada, most of the Japanese restaurants I have dined in are run by Chinese or Korean folk, not Japanese… and while I don’t doubt their skill in recreating Japanese cuisine, there ain’t no way they studied for six years just to learn how to use a knife and steam some bloody rice.

Try again.

Okay… so Japanese cuisine uses only fresh ingredients.

Yes, that’s right, and the rest of the world prefers NOT to use fresh ingredients.

Okay, you know what we mean, Andrew. Yes… Japanese restaurants use seafood plucked a day or two from the deepest parts of the ocean… just mangled squid and octopus, just raped salmon and tuna.

I didn’t mean to write “rape”… spellcheck turned it into “rape”, and for the life of me I can’t recall just what the hell I was trying to write! And this is 30 seconds later!

But even in Toronto, where we might get fresh salmon, we sure as heck aren't getting fresh (not frozen) tuna or squid or octopus.

So we aren't paying for fresh ingredients... unless they are getting it flown in daily... and I hardly believe that every restaurant or fast food restaurant in Toronto is getting it flown in. Maybe the higher-end ones... maybe.

So... is it because the seafood ingredients are so expensive?

It sure ain't the krab spelled with a K. It's not real crab meat... it's fish meats squished together and flavored with something to make it taste crab-like, before it is extruded into the krab-form that is sliced and placed into our sushi.

I know, because I've been in a food processing plant that manufactures such krab products.

Sure... the cost of tuna and salmon et al is more expensive... certainly more than the pork, beef or chicken that is the standard fare of Chinese food cuisine.

But is that a reason for my Japanese meal for three (take-out) to cost $70?

My Chinese meal for three (take-out) costs half that, plus I get to eat seconds and thirds... and still have enough left over for a three-person lunch the next day.

Japanese food... rice... vinegared rice to make sushi... that can't be the cost.

The seaweed wrap? Nope... that's pretty cheap too... as I can buy those sheets at Asian grocery stores for snacks, and I know it's inexpensive.

Panko crumbs for tempura? How much can that cost? Not that much... especially when the selection of tempura ranges from multiple vegetable bits coated and deep-fried to maybe one or two jumbo shrimp. I suppose the cost is for the latter... but that's usually part of an appetizer.

I pay a lot because I have a barbecued eel on rice meal usually. But we've bought eel (frozen) at stores.... and the cost of it isn't much... and considering we could easily derive 200 sushi toppings from just one eel, I don't see the excessive cost bearing out.

And there's rice... plain steamed rice. I know it's Japanese rice, but I would bet it's not coming from Japan... and even if it is, big whoop. The unit cost per bag of Japanese sticky rice is not that much.

I understand that in any Japanese restaurant you are paying for the ambiance... but this is Toronto... and while the high-end restaurants can charge for ambiance, the average to low-level restaurants have an ambiance similar to any restaurant... IE, it's lacking in amenities that scream "Japanesness".

So what are we paying for?

Do Japanese restaurants have to pay for noodles? Do the proprietors create their own noodles on premises? High-end... maybe... The rest are buying noodles en masse in bulk form from a supplier.

Noodles don't cost much to purchase... I can get a Cup Noodles or Ichiban Noodle pack for $1.40.

Again, I know high-end Japanese restaurants can and should charge more... but not everyone else.

Sure you have to have a wide range of ingredients... expensive ingredients... but I've been to Chinese restaurants where they have a menu - one written in English, with a Chinese-written one on the reverse... and if you look at the Chinese-written one, there are MORE menu items than are available to the English speaker.

I once went in, and while the English menu only went up to 60 items offered, the Chinese menu offered 148... so I ordered a 98.

"How you know about that?" I was asked.

I just smiled.

I ate my spicy squid guts even though it tasted like, well... squid guts just to make a point.

But how many ingredients are available at a Japanese restaurant... I would say there are fewer than at a Chinese restaurant... I'm just talking ingredients.

Is it enough to warrant double the cost and half the eating experience?


If Japanese restaurants outside of Japan want to increase traffic to their establishments even in a cosmopolitan city like Toronto or Boston or Philadelphia, for example... they need to streamline the menu, and stop charging such high prices.

Again, I'm not talking high-end places.

I'm sure as heck not getting the authentic Japanese experience... no one is yelling a welcome to me. I'm not having someone come over and fill up my cup of green tea repeatedly. I can't be getting fresh, never frozen seafood, and more often than not, I don't even have my meal served by or prepared by Japanese staff and chefs.

I don't mind that I don't have Japanese people making my food. Everyone's gotta make a living.

But how is the high cost for Japanese food justified... especially when it's being packed up in Styrofoam and bagged for take-out? I know you can't have prices for take out and stay in being different, but some people claim that Japanese restaurants justify the high costs because of the ambiance offered.


If anyone can offer any insight or commentary as to why Japanese food costs Soooooo much, I will listen.

I just wonder if it was initially set up as an elite "foreign" food when it first started out... and now it seems difficult for even a low-level restaurant or fast food place to sell things on the cheap the way Chinese places do.

I like Japanese food, as does my family... none of whom share my love for the country and its culture.

I want to eat it more often, but can't justify the expense, whereas Chinese food is tasty and inexpensive, and I get multiple meals from it.

I want Japanese food to become an often for people looking for a meal in the same way that Chinese food has become.

Anyone have any suggestions?

Should there be noodle shops and soup shops catering to those items as separate meals? Should a sushi shop ONLY offer sushi?

I didn't even talk about sashimi - the thin cuts of supposedly fresh (not frozen) sea food critters. That's expensive. And it should be, but not if it's not fresh (and is frozen).

Andrew Joseph

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