Monday, March 24, 2014


Notorious Welsh-baiter AA Gill took aim again at one of his perennial targets in this weekend's Sunday Times magazine: Japanese food. In this he has quite a lot of previous - as the excerpts from his Table Talk column below seem to attest - and perhaps one can also detect some early inspiration for those infamous remarks made on Top Gear about Mexican food by his pals Jeremy Clarkson and co...

“How can you call yourself a food critic if you don’t like Japanese?” Well, I just don’t feel it. I admire its dexterity and the commitment and obsession of its production. I can follow it, I know what it’s meant to be like; but food has to come with an emotion, a history, a sense of a people or place. It has to have a story, and this one doesn’t translate. I don’t get it from Japanese dinner, it’s a no-play of posing. I’ve noticed the Westerners who want to eat Japanese are generally those who don’t like or trust food — women who think nothing tastes as good as thin feels, and a plate of sashimi and a bowl of miso is indeed what thin tastes of. (Yesterday) 

Although I admire Japanese food, I can't warm to it. I rarely yearn for it, and can barely raise an eyebrow over particularly fatty belly tuna. It's never going to be my soul food. I know that my experience is not of the same order as that of the Japanese man next to me. Every time I watch a sushi chef in a chic western bar, I think: "Pearls before swine." But Japanese food has become the Lego of urban eating out, and as the maki rolls grow fatter and sloppier and more like seaweed wraps, and the sushi gets additional mayo and bacon, I respect it less and less. (2006)

The staff are Japanese and speak very, very softly in English that might have been crossed with birdsong or wind chimes. Every time I bawled “I can’t hear what you’re saying,” they ran off with their hands over their mouths in horror, possibly imagining that I’d said I was going to eat them all with chopsticks. (2013) 

You know Japanese food: bits of very rare, very expensive indefensible fish, rice, green horseradish, seaweed and uncomfortable chairs. Well, haven’t you ever wondered where they keep the real stuff? (2013)

There is a Japanese version — isn’t there always? It’s the thing with the Japanese. You ask them to explain their culture and they say: “You yoghurt-smelly, clumsy round-eyes with sens-ibility of meat, you wouldn’t understand illegible calligraphy, or one-flower arranging, or a musical instrument that’s a single-string tennis racket, or how anyone could possibly cheat at sumo wrestling.” (2013) 

Japan's is a fish- and rice-based cuisine. A Japanese person may go for months without eating meat. There are plenty of communities that survive on staple fish, but I can't think of one as numerous, advanced or ravenous. The Japanese gastronomy is more at risk from collapsing stocks than any other. Overfishing will have a dramatic effect on the culture, so sticking a Japanese restaurant next to a meat market might look like being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or it might be missionary work. (2006) 

Brazilian food is large, generous and sloppy, with masses of meat, chilli beans and palm oil, and Japanese, well, Japanese is like neurotic fish origami. (2009) 

Japan is the only country I've ever been to that wants tourists not to understand what they are looking at. It thinks people who aren't born Japanese are psychologically, intellectually, spiritually and aesthetically incapable of understanding their culture. (2006) 

Because of the Fukushima meltdown, all ingredients from Japan have to be guaranteed radiation-free. That’s tough with fish because they don’t live where they’re landed, and meaty, predatory fish eat other fish. Then take something like hon dashi, a stock made with dry tuna flakes. Where did they come from? The bureaucratic fag of getting certificates isn’t worth it for some Japanese exporters. So they’re passing the stuff through Korea. Korea is fine, no problem with Korea. Unless you’re Korean, of course, when you’ll be eating mud and hair. (2011)

Take Japanese food...the most neurotic, lonely and unhappy stuff - it's like eating obsessive-compulsive disorder. (2003) 

One of the best things about writing about food is that it cures you of any gastro-xenophobia, except, of course, for Mexican food, which is just nappies, and Korean food, which tastes the way their presidents look. (2012) 

This being the southwest, I had to eat Mexican food. As usual, my pitiful pleading was brushed aside with the argument that I had never had good Mexican. As usual, I countered that the only good Mexican is a regurgitated Mexican. (2005)

Virtually the only exception to the "never eat Spanish" rule is restaurants outside Spain - unless they're in Mexico, in which case they're twice as bad. (2006)

If you’ve ever eaten in Sacramento, Guatemala or St Barts, you’ll know it’s not to be recommended. Neither is eating any­thing in the rainforest or the demi-edens of central Asia or Anatolia. You wouldn’t invite friends for a gastro weekend to Madagascar, or the Great Karoo in South Africa. In fact, I would offer Uzbekistan and Madagascar as two of the worst places to eat in the world (2012) 

Here's a book recommendation for anyone who tends to agree with him. 

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