Now, let's get the bleeding obvious out of the way. Of course, a posh Japanese sashimi set will always be more expensive than an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet. That's not what I'm driving at. The point I'm making is that, in London, a decent Chinese joint will invariably be better value than its Japanese counterpart. Not convinced? Well, let's look at a real life example.
|Udon @ Koya|
|Dim sum @ Princess Garden|
Now some might think that I'm equating value to how full I was, but that's only half the story. The thing is Koya is a casual noodle bar, and it doesn't seem right to me that a quick lunch there should cost a wee bit more than a lengthy dim sum session at a proper restaurant like Princess Garden. By proper restaurant, I mean that Princess Garden has a cocktail bar, the management wear suits and there's table linen i.e. these are overheads it has to cover that Koya don't.
I appreciate that this is just one example, but there's plenty more instances that I can cite. So why is Japanese food more expensive than Chinese in London? Many theories were posited on twitter – and here's a summary of some of them.
Some believe there is a price premium for Japanese food because it's considered trendier than Chinese. I'm not so sure, after all, Vietnamese cuisine is very trendy, and that's cheap as chips. Some of you are of the opinion that Japanese food is better. That's subjective, and although it's not a view I share, it is one that many believe. Mind you, that isn't really a reason why Japanese food should be pricier.
After some further twitter exchanges, some pointed out that there is a perception amongst the Great British public that Japanese food is classier than Chinese. This is a theory that I can subscribe to, but why? After all, both cuisines have a long and proud history, so why should Japanese cuisine be considered posher? To answer that question, we need to consider the respective histories of Chinese and Japanese cuisines in Britain.
Although, there has been a Chinese presence in the UK for well over a century, significant migration only occurred post-World War Two. This generation, of which my parents are part of, came to these shores to better themselves and their families. And through their self-reliant industrious enterprise, many opened take-away shops and simple restaurants all across the land. These places served a hybrid cuisine that can be characterised as 'half chips-half rice', and as such a 'cheap and cheerful' image became associated with Chinese food. An image that persists to this day.
However, not all Chinese restaurants were cheap westernised joints. At the same time as Chinese food reached the mainstream, authentic restaurants sprung up, sometimes in Chinatowns, serving the Chinese community. Some dishes on the menu, such as abalone and lobster, could be expensive but prices, in the main, were reasonable. In particular, dim sum was especially good value.
By contrast, the Japanese first came in numbers to the UK in the latter part of the 20th century. Most were business executives, and Japanese restaurants soon sprung up to cater to this crowd. As the clientele were well remunerated, these restaurants could charge a little more for a reminder of home. Moreover, these were places where Japanese executives did their business entertainment. On expenses.
Nowadays, the divisions are less clear-cut. There are high-end restaurants that serve Chinese food and there are cheaper Japanese eateries, but by and large, Chinese restaurants remain better value. Anyway, that's my theory, but I'd love to hear your opinions on this matter. Especially, as I'm thinking of having more debate-based posts on my blog.