Tokyo’s 90,000 restaurants (compared to NYC’s 24,000 or Paris’ 40,000) and 160,000 total eating establishments garners no less than 216 Michelin starred places to dine in (down from 226 in 2015 and 267 the year before that), but still head and shoulders above second place Paris, with merely 105. It was also named as the World’s Best Food city by Saveur Magazine last year, harking on not just about the quality of local food but also its French and Italian offerings (plus the whiskey, omg the whiskey), and the vast array of global cuisine in general from Belarusian to Senegalese.
However on closer inspection Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto and Nara are geographically one city, though Michelin divides them into three distinct guides, so really that entity beats the lot. On Michelin stars per person (taking away those small villages like Baiersbronn, Germany, Bray, UK, Yountsville, California and er Knokke-Heist, Belgium) Paris beats Tokyo, not just on per capita, but equal on the almost impossible 3 star rated restaurants (they each have ten) – though the Osaka-Kyoto-Kobe metropolis beats both with 14 triple starred restaurants.
These cities may not have the range over Tokyo but pack well above their weight in stars awarded, as do Barcelona (29 stars for 4.6 million), or Hong Kong-Macau ( 92 stars for 7.3 million), both in turn bettered by little old Brussels (30 stars for 1.2 million). But eminent above them all, by quite a margin would be Kyoto with 100 Michelin starred places for 1.5 million inhabitants– the world’s undeclared epicenter of exceptional places to eat. Meanwhile London toots the horn of most different types of cuisine awarded in one place, serving up British, Basque, Chinese, French, Indian, Italian, Japanese, pan-Mediterranean, Peruvian, Spanish, and Nordic cuisine with the appropriate(d) stars.
Anyhoo this is the way it looks for the top selected cities, by number of starred restaurants as of 2016. Lift those trumpets:
- Osaka metropolis: (includes Kobe-Kyoto-Nara this is one contiguous city that merged together decades ago, not to be confused with a megalopolis, metro or CSA) 258 restaurants 353 stars
- Tokyo: 217 restaurants 294 stars
- Paris: 105 restaurants 135 stars
- Kyoto: 100 restaurants 139 stars
- Osaka: 89 restaurants 117 stars
- New York City: 75 restaurants 97 stars
- Hong Kong-Macau: 65 restaurants 92 stars
- London area: 70 restaurants 87 stars (London boundaries 65 restaurants 80 stars)
- Kobe-Hanshin : 53 restaurants 76 stars
- San Francisco: (Bay area) 31 restaurants 41 stars
- Brussels: 25 restaurants 30 stars
- Barcelona area: 25 restaurants 29 stars
Inhabitants per restaurant / star looks markedly different. As counted by the contiguous city (not metro), it looks like this. These are the single best places to land your chopper for foraging, provided your PA team did their homework:
- Kyoto (1.5 million) 15,000 per restaurant 10,791 per star
- Brussels (1.2 million) 48,000 per restaurant 40,000 per star
- Kobe –Hanshin (3.1million) 58,490 per restaurant, 40,790 per star
- Osaka metropolis (14.2 million) 55,039 per restaurant 40,227 per star
- Osaka (8.8 million) 98,876 per restaurant, 75,213 per star
- Paris (10.55 million): 100,476 per restaurant 78,148 per star
- Hong Kong- Macau (7.3 million): 112,308 per restaurant, 79,347 per star
- Tokyo (29 million) 133,640 per restaurant, 98,639 per star
- London (10.4 million): 148,571 per restaurant 119,540 per star
- Barcelona (4.64 million) 185,600, 160,000 per star
- New York (17.5 million) 233,333 per restaurant 180,412 per star
- San Francisco -Bay Area (7.65 million) 246,774 per restaurant 186,585 per star
It’s notable how the Michelin people rate restaurants extensively in Europe, covering small towns, villages and hovels across France, UK and Spain but sees a notable drop once upstate a few miles from NYC or Tokyo for example (or was this coverage merely due to well-known celeb chefs opening in small retreats?). Likewise the large gap of unrated Chinese mainland between HK and Macau, which would prove rich findings I’m sure due to the beating heart – now bypassed- of Cantonese cuisine in Guangzhou. The Osaka metropolis however gets European level coverage due to its slew of city centres and different gastronomic regions within the city (Kobe beef a good example). Nevertheless it did get its annual share of doubts for some restaurants that went unrated (did someone drop a fork and not pick it up?).
Michelin gets further complaints that they are biased toward French cuisine, and over-awed literally by Japanese, with some coughing abruptly and mentioning how the guide is opening up a new market there that coincides with its generous ratings. –Still, opposing camps complain they don’t rate Japanese cuisine high enough, with its complexities of flavor and form, plus subtleties of acquired taste, and the fact a few thousand stellar restaurants go unrated each year.
Even then there are so many countries of gastronomic greatness not even rated by Michelin (Tokyo only got rated in 2007), with cities such as Bangkok, Beijing, Beirut, Buenos Aires, Cape Town, Casablanca, Chengdu, Chennai, Chongqing, George Town, Guangzhou, Delhi, Dubai, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Istanbul, Kuala Lumpur, Lima, Melbourne, Mexico City, Moscow, Mumbai, Rio, Santiago, Seoul, Shanghai, Singapore, Sydney, Taipei, Tbilisi, Tehran, and Tel Aviv world famous yet still trembling in the wings for the ‘ultimate’ accolade to visit. Shanghai, with 120,000 places to eat is drumming her fingers, and Bangkok, busily tidying away its global capital of street food is especially impatient as vendors disappear.
Michelin, let me remind you, is a tyre manufacturer that publishes road guides (and thus got delving into the foodie scene by awarding stars to rest stops back in 1926), so does not have road guides as yet that would cover for example, the whole of China, or the backroads of Morocco, which in turn would warrant the accompanying restaurant booklet.
The final nail in the hickory coffin is frankly, well not everyone dines out in Michelin starred establishments. It’s not like the 15,000 per capita Kyotoites are funneling into its chichi places to dine each day, let alone year. Edible flowers and gold leaf is not necessarily reflective of the average Parisian dinner, as cool minimalism and outrageous art is not the table at which Hong Kongers usually eat. What’s worse is the galling fact one can have amazing restaurants but terrible cuisine at large – just visit Moscow, or dare I say it, Berlin whose wonderful places to eat – and the extensive waiting lists that reflect that – are like diamonds sold in naff catalogues for Argos. After 50 years of communist austerity.
But of course Michelin has its Bibs Gourmands, nods of approval to places that cost below $40 a head. Though even then, the vibrant street food of Shanghai, market stalls of Fez, food vans of LA, or hole-in-the-walls of Hong Kong –although lightly covered- would still sorely miss out, some of the best tasting options on the planet, but heavily penalized on their non-existent, obsolete ‘ambience’ and ‘service’ ratings.
If a fork falls and a Michelin critic is not there to hear it, does it make a sound?
Okay enough of this kitkat break. Next up: