High and Low of Japanese Food in Thailand

In Thailand, there are lots of Japanese restaurants, from high to low end.

The high-end Japanese restaurants, especially those in Bangkok, have survived many critical Japanese expats having business meals on their corporate bill and their stay-home-but-eat-out-wives.

They have very high quality dishes, at a price that is almost equal or slightly less than you get in Japan.

Like this grilled mackerel lunch my friend ordered at Aoi in Bangkok:

and miso-nikomi udon I ordered (udon noodles cooked in Nagoya-style miso broth... not miso soup, though!):

Or this lovely dinner set at Kitchen Hush in Chiang Mai:

Since most of those high-end places are beyond reach, at least on every day basis, of locally-salaried people, there are lower-end places where things start to get interesting.

For instance, this saba-misoni (mackerel cooked with miso paste and ginger) set was a complete disaster:

... I wonder what triggered them to put the crushed tofu on top of fish.

Like typical cheap Japanese restaurants in Thailand, they'd open a 10 baht tube of tofu, use some in miso soup, and use the rest in something else.

The menu listed the dinner set would come with a "special side dish of the day", which in this case was a pan-fried piece of pork. Surprise! How would I expect to have a big piece of pork as a side dish of a fish dinner? Sorry, I tried, but couldn't finish.

I do not like it when they give you the fake crab as sashimi:

It's not only typical at cheap Japanese restaurants in Thailand, but happens often in the U.S., even at relatively good restaurants, too.

Those fake crab is reconstituted fish which contains lots of starch and MSGs, not to mention artificial coloring. It's sooooooo different from the real crab.

Q: What's wrong with this?

A: .....soy sauce is not necessary for onigiri (rice balls). Onigiri is not sushi!!! At least they didn't give me wasabi.


    I found this an interesting post. I think few of us would have any idea what is real or not! Is there any place in particular that you thought had all-around good and authentic Japanese?

    I agree w/ you about the imitation crab thing. It's revolting...


    we went to Tokyo Grill the other day across from AOI for lunch with a friend, who paid thank goodness. Was yummy. Great sushi and sashimi, traditional with top grade cuts.

    Also had a bowl of rice green tea soup with wasabi in it, was so yummy I can't stop thinking about it

    The pork looks disgusting BTW

    I wonder though, disgusting porky steak aside, is Japanese food one of those cuisines where a strict traditionalism prevails. There seems to be a lot of experimentation by proper Japanese chefs these days, is it a case of having learnt the traditional way you are then free to experiment or


    ...sorry I forgot to finish....or is it more of a "free for all". Do you know what I mean?


    Hi Austin!
    I think Bangkok is overall a pretty good place to find good Japanese food if you are ready to pay for it at the right place. Bangkok has big enough Japanese clientele to support upscale Japanese restaurants, many of which receive air shipment of fresh ingredients from Japan, including prime seafood from Tsukiji fish market.
    Usually, anywhere under Japanese management with big Japanese clientele tends to maintain authenticity and quality, though some non-Japanese management places could do well.
    I'd think places like California and Sydney are in good positions too, but I haven't been there to testify.


    Hey Maytel,
    I haven't been to Tokyo Grill... so many Japanese restaurants in BKK than I can cover!

    Yes, the pork steak was very disgusting, I'd say borderline nauseating. Although I wasn't poisoned or anything, looking at the picture even makes me feel ill. It may be powerful enough to convert meat lovers to go vegetarian at least for a while.

    Regarding the traditionalism in Japanese cuisine, hmm, I think I know what you mean, and I think you are kind of right. It is a matter of what defines Japanese cuisine, as it is the case with all other cuisines. I guess one definition is the cooking techniques, while the other is the ingredients.

    Some foundational ingredients like high quality soy sauce, miso, sake, and what constitutes the dashi stock, usually dried kelp and katsuobushi (dried and aged bonito), are simply indispensable and good quality ingredients are typically only available in Japan with few exceptions.

    Say, for instance, when I was based in North America, I found that there were several serious American miso manufacturers in New England and California, as well as in Quebec, who’d make genuine miso with traditional slow-fermentation techniques, using non-GMO soybeans. They had far superior quality than mass-produced, fast-fermented and machine-packaged miso shipped from Japan. Besides, so much of soybeans are imported from North America to Japan as well.

    Other than the foundational ingredients, chefs are free to explore. Since the traditional Japanese cuisine is really into the freshness and seasonal variety of ingredients, it is a bit hard to completely replicate the “traditional Japanese cuisine” outside Japan unless you air-ship everything from Japan and makes it such a high-end luxury. At the same time, though, you can extend the idea of using the local ingredients at its peak season and maturity when you use the locally available ingredients overseas. Unless the chef has been properly trained in Japanese cuisine, it could deviate too much that it becomes some new mutant cuisine.

    On the other hand, the big difference between the Japanese restaurants in Japan and overseas is that the Japanese restaurants are so specialized. If they serve tempura, the chef has been frying tempura for twenty+ years and they serve nothing else, things of that nature, while the Japanese restaurants overseas tend to have everything – sushi, tempura, soba noodles, udon noodles, sukiyaki, and so forth in just one restaurant – which in Japan only occurs in lower end outlets like Denny’s.


    Your comments about the freshness and the foundation ingredients are interesting (when I think of the differences in ingredients between similar dishes in my favourite chinese and japanese cookbooks for instance)
    - also your last paragraph. I once went to a restaurant that only served fried chicken gizzards and raw onion (in Jiyugaoka), it had plenty of afficionados! there are izakaya in Japan that serve many different dishes, but even these would not usually serve sushi-tempura-udon ! i guess people abroad identify these dishes as distinctly Japanese ....

    one extra point about experimentalism, i guess one of the strengths of Japanese cuisine is that it has always adopted and sometimes even improved on foreign techniques - tempura was famously developed after Portuguese traders introduced chefs to deep frying.

    one thing i don't understand is coffee. usually japanese gustatory trends seem to select and enshrine the best on offer, but coffee in Japan is usually (and proudly) drip coffee.


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