Restaurant Reviews Before Culinary Magazine

The restaurant reviews and accounts ofdining out in Culinary Magazine were innovative because they had little historical precedent. Despite hundreds of culinary publications in the early modern period (1600-1868), none of the corpus of books featuring menus, recipes and ritual uses for food included reviews of restaurants.[1] There was no Japanese Grimod de la Reyniere (1758-1837) who published the yearly L’Almanach desgourmands offering reviews of restaurants in Paris from 1803 to 1812. A few Japanese restaurateurs wrote cookbooks. The most prominent example is Kuriyama Zenshiro (d. 1839), the fourth-generation owner of Yaozen, who authored

Edo’s Fashionable Gourmands (Edo ryuko ryoritsu), which featured recipes from his noted establishment, published over the course of four volumes in 1822, 1825, 1829 and 1835.[2] The illustrated text advertised the type of cuisine Yaozen provided, but the book could hardly be called an objective report of dining there. Morisada’s Voluminous Sketches (Morisada manko) by Kitagawa Kiso (Morisada), completed around 1853, provides some comments about the prepared foods for sale in major cities, but the author did not weigh in on the quality of these eateries, and his observations were never published in his lifetime. Nisshinsha ‘Soba Lover’ (Yukyoshi) did pass judgement on the many buckwheat noodle restaurants in Edo in his Encyclopaedia of Soba (Soba zensho), dated 1751, but his work also remained in manuscript form, which limited its dissemination in the early modern period.[3] The names of other eminent restaurants in Edo are known through their listings on topical fight cards (mitake banzuke), inexpensive, anonymous broadsheets that were based on the format of sumo fight cards to cleverly rank people or objects in an imagined contest. Comparison of Restaurants (Oryori kondate kurabe), published in 1853, is a typical example of the genre.[4] The venerable restaurant Yaozen is placed above the fray in the role of a fictional sponsor of the match between eateries, which are listed on two panels on each side of the broadsheet. Following the convention of sumo fight cards used even today, the size of the font and the position on the page delineated a restaurant’s putative ranking. But the reason why the name of one restaurant is printed larger and higher on the broadsheet than another is not explained, since the enjoyment in reading any topical fight cards was to puzzle out how the comparisons were determined.[5]

When the first daily newspapers appeared in Japan in 1871, restaurant owners quickly grasped the potential of modern advertising. Advertisements for the restaurant Kyokaen, which offered customers a meal that included sake for 70 sen, appear in January 1875 in the Yomiuri Shimbun, a little over 2 months after that newspaper began printing. A few months later, the Western-style restaurant Nagasaki-tei appealed for business in the same daily.[6] [7] The Kyoto restaurant Hiranoya-tei advertised in the Asahi Shimbun in the year of the newspaper’s establishment in Osaka in 1879.11

But the same dailies rarely commented on restaurants except when something extraordinary or notorious happened.[8] The closest article to a review appears in the morning edition of the Asahi Shimbun on 27 December 1883, describing the popularity of a newly opened restaurant Koi-tei, which combined elegant food and serving ware with inexpensive prices that caused a continual line of customers.[9] But such notices are rare, indicating that restaurants might pay to advertise in papers, but that did not translate into coverage about dining out.

  • [1] A few travellers commented on the food during their journeys. Yamazaki Eizan wrote Soba RoadDiary (Soba ddchuki, circa 1830), a narrative of his visits to soba shops along the Tokkaido andNakasendo roads. With only a brief description of each establishment that included a poem,Yamazaki’s unpublished manuscript was more a testimony to the author’s love of soba than areview of the quality of noodle restaurants. Yamazaki, Soba ddchuki.
  • [2] Yaozen is arguably one of Japan’s most famous and exclusive, traditional restaurants. It openedaround 1763 in Asakusa in the Edo period and remains in operation to this day.
  • [3] Regarding the discussion of restaurants in Soba Encyclopedia, see Rath, ‘Food Fights, But It’sAlways for Fun in Early Modern Japan .
  • [4] Oryori kondate kurabe.
  • [5] For a discussion of culinary versions of parody fight cards and an image of one, see Rath, ‘ TheTastiest Dish in Edo .
  • [6] 10One hundred sen was equivalent to one yen. Yomiuri Shimbun, 14 January 1875, morningedition, 2 and 19 June 1875, morning edition, 2. The cost of a 70 sen meal was quite highcompared to a serving of sukiyaki advertised for four sen at a restaurant in Shiba Hamamatsucho inTokyo in the same year. A steak at the same establishment cost five sen. See Ehara andHigashiyotsuyanagi, Nihon no shokubunkashi nenpyd, 157—158.
  • [7] Asahi Shimbun, 12 November 1879, morning edition, 4.
  • [8] Restaurants made the news for the events that took place there, rather than their dailyoperations, which were not considered newsworthy. Since these incidents varied, it is hard tofind typical examples, but some stories from Yomiuri Shimbun include how a restaurant in Uenospecializing in bird dishes decided to close for the day after a crow flew inside and died, which wasconsidered an ill omen (18 May 1875, 1); in 1883, a woman was arrested in a restaurant in Shibain Tokyo for running away after failing to pay her bill at a grilled eel restaurant (15 September1883, morning edition, 2); on 24 February 1894, four British sailors ate and drank their fill at arestaurant in Yokohama, caused a disruption and then fled, injuring six policemen who tried toapprehend them (26 February 1894, morning edition, 3); in another incident someone sustainedlight injuries during a fight at a restaurant in Asakusa when they were struck on the head with asake flask (17 March 1901, morning edition, 4).
  • [9] Asahi Shimbun, 27 December 1883, morning edition, 3.
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