DIY is tops in Tokyo

If you want to eat the best food in Tokyo, cook it yourself.

by: Isabel Reynolds | 20 Dec 2007

That's the verdict of this year's Zagat guide to Tokyo, based on a survey which voted Jambo, a Japanese "yakiniku" restaurant where customers barbeque their own meat, as the best in the food category.

"I don't think we're a restaurant that belongs here," said Norimitsu Nanbara, who runs the modest eatery opened by his grandmother, as he accepted a plaque from the guidebook's founders, Tim and Nina Zagat at a luxury hotel recently. "Perhaps there's some mistake?"

The long-haired 30-year-old Nanbara was among a handful of restaurateurs honoured by the Zagats, who launched their food guide in New York in 1979, and are now celebrating 10 years of publication in Japan.

They are also riding a new wave of interest in restaurant guides, after Tokyo was awarded more stars for culinary excellence than any other city in the world by France's Michelin guide.

Jambo, a 30-seat establishment in a working class neighbourhood, appears nowhere in the French tire-maker's guide. But the Zagats stand by the views of their 5,000 Tokyo reviewers, who rate a broader range of restaurants than Michelin inspectors, particularly in terms of price.

Outspoken eaters

The publicity surrounding the Michelin guide will likely encourage more foreign tourists to visit Japan in search of gourmet experiences.

A survey published by the Japan National Tourist Organisation this month found that 71 percent of overseas visitors listed food as one of their main reasons for visiting Japan.

Tokyo diners eat out 3.7 times a week, more than their counterparts in Paris, London or New York, and will travel hours for a good meal, but they are also harsh critics of their local eateries, according to the Zagat.

"Nobody coming in from the United States or any other part of the world is particularly in a good position to tell local people who eat out every day of the year what's good and what's bad," said Zagat. "I wouldn't dare do that."

"We are going through a revolution in food and travel," Zagat said. "Tokyo is in many ways typical of the revolution that's occurring, it's the globalisation of people's tastes."

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