Eating Asian in Europe

I’ve been to a number of Asian restaurants while I’ve been in Europe, I can’t help it, I crave rice accompanied by saucy meat and vegetable combinations and tasty noodle soups. I think something inside me lets out a long, drawn-out sigh and settles down into a cosy nook when I tuck into a good Asian meal.

Right after I ordered my meal in the restaurant in Granada the family who owned it all sat down to lunch together, around a round table with plates heaped with rice set at each place. Watching them triggered off a big round of nostalgia.

  • The casual and deft hand motion when using chopsticks, the quick jab forward and swoop back and the food was already in their mouths.
  • How they talked with their mouths full “Ah choof chug choo guou wao si” (note: this is not an uneducated transcription of chinese. this is a transcription of the sound of cantonese spoken with one’s mouth full). And no, it’s not delicate nor charming, but it is accurate, so it still counts as one component of a nostalgic scene.
  • The large bowls with soups, with or without noodles, dishes with meat and vegetables, fish stretching across the length of the plate. Reaching around each other, or what’s even more Chinese is to get the food for someone else and always give them a large portion, because it’s important that they eat enough.
  • Forearms crossing, people watching as you select your morsel from a main plate – so that they can make a joke, ask you if you need help or more of it, or just so that they tell when they are allowed to make their move for the same plate.
  • The sound of plastic chopstick tips and metal spoons scraping against the porcelain plates as they try to get at the remains of the sauce and the tiniest piece of their favourite dish.
  • The sound of satisfaction – the sound of inhalation slurps, which are different to the Japanese lip smacking “I’m cleaning the noodle as I vaccuum-suck it into my mouth” slurps.

Now for the specifics on eating Asian in Europe. Here of course you generally get bread with your meals. So what happens in an Asian restaurant? You get keropok on a side dish! I find this hilarious, but am not complaining one bit. They’re generally yummy keropok, not excessively flavoured which in my opinion kills a keropok.

Okay I have no other general notes for now, so let’s get to the recounting of each individual experience so far.

Japanese restaurant near metro station <<République>> in Paris

My first and most horrific experience of Asian food in Europe. I spent a while hawwing and humming over the pictorial menu posted up to cover most of the windows, it looked like mainly variants of yakitori (or to be technically correct, kushiyaki) and rice and sushi and rice. I was quite desperate for something Asian at that time however, and not having had any up until then thought that I’d give it a shot. I pushed open the door and stared at the small family group who clearly ran the business sitting just a little further in front of me. Hmmmmmm… something seemed kind of off. But I couldn’t pinpoint it, and I’d already closed the door behind me, so I stayed to let the woman seat me and order my food. It was after I ordered my food that I picked up what had caused the disturbance on my radar, it was only then that they started speaking to each other loudly in mandarin. Uh-oh…. cue the arrival of foreboding. `Give it a chance, give it a chance,` I tried to convince myself. She brought the tea, and then the miso by itself first. `Miso is not an entrée,` I thought disapprovingly. A short while later she brought the rice by itself. And then 20 minutes later than that she brought the yakitori. I was so hungry I had to eat some of the rice by itself first 😦 Lamentable. The yakitori consisted of quite oily grilled chicken, lamb, and pork on a skewer. Not particularly Japanese, and only the pork skewer tasted and appeared like it was cooked all the way through. But this is not the horreur. The horreur, is that one of the skewers was sustaining an oblong hunk of fried cheese. As I sat there and stared at it, beads of oil were moving about and gathering atop the creasy mid-brown skin coating the cheese.

Shock. Disbelief. I could rationalise that this was some sort of concession to the fact that we were all in France but… fried cheese on a skewer????? How Japanese is that? How edible is that?? How complementary is that to rice and miso???

I did try it, on the off chance that once I was able to dig out the melted cheese from the absolutely foul outer layer it actually would be tasty cheese. No. The cheese wasn’t melty, it was rubbery and had next to no taste. No no, it actually had no taste.

I tried to leave as soon as I could (after getting what was edible down into my stomach), which of course wasn’t very soon because of the French habit of avoiding you once you want to pay.

Chinese & Japanese food restaurant on a main street in Granada

The good: Tasty har kau, which was served with chilli and soy sauce for dipping. However points lost for the fact that the chilli sauce was sweet and not regular chilli sauce.

The bad: It was not yakisoba!! The noodles looked like they came out of an instant noodles packet, and the sauce was some generic light asian-tasting concoction with some thinly sliced carrots and courgettes spread through. Edible and pleasant, but not the thorough tastiness I have come to know of yakisoba and not worth more than 3 euros. An additional but comparatively minor fault: I had asked for green tea and got jasmine tea instead.

Yumihana – Korean & Japanese food restaurantette and shop near the train station in Zurich

Yummy, authentic tasting food. Authentic tasting for both Korean and Japanese dishes. One has already learnt from New Zealand that Koreans are perfectly capable of producing good Japanese food as well as good Korean food, so I had no concerns about the “incongruence” here as I did at the place of horreur in Paris.

The shop is also good, I got some udon, packet miso and mirin there, and was tempted to buy chocolate-centered koalas and frozen edamame as well but managed to hold myself back.

Chinese, Vietnamese & Thai restaurant in Biarritz beside RipCurl shop (avenue de la reine Victoria)

A good place, though I didn’t sample all three of Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai dishes to check for authenticity 😉 It’s pretty classy and at first I was surprised at how cheap-ish the food was considering it obviously believes in maintaining a certain reputation. Then I saw a dish arrive at the next table. Portions are small. Not miniscule in that arty “presentation is key” way, but small enough to indicate that one is supposed to order a selection of dishes. Oh well. I had some Pho and it was really good, and they kept coming by to check my teapot and refill it with hot water when it was running low.

I would go back but probably with company, so that I feel justified in ordering an array of food.

Asian food supermarket in Anglet: France-Asia (83 avenue d’Adour)

This place is THE BOMB. I died and was reborn as 7 year old Susan back in Kuching…… All the good old snacks like crunchy, partly battered green peas, haw flakes, chinese new year peanut snacks, those black seed things, little jelly cups. In the freezers dozens of varieties of dumplings, spring rolls and a number of yum char goodies I don’t know the names of. A good range of sauces and canned items, and the only way I know that the range is good is that I’m seeing a lot of inexplicable ingredients. If I understand everything that’s on the shelves of an Asian food store, it’s not a comprehensive Asian food store. Beautiful frozen filets of fish and prawns and fish balls. And bao!! Yummy yummy addictive bao… In the produce area, mango and ginger and bok choy. Packaged tofu and canned lychees. My mind knows not how to organise words now, I can only print the names of what I saw and drooled over. Over and over again… sigh. Plus other implements such as steamers, oval plastic dishes, handle-less cups for tea, chopsticks, porcelain tea pots. Sigh.

In summary, it seems like good Japanese is hard to find in Europe, more so than good food of other Asian countries. Specifically speaking for France, to be sure that you will get good food the best one to go for is Vietnamese, followed by Chinese. You also have a better chance of finding non-exorbitant prices in Vietnamese restaurants. Obviously Japanese food has some special kind of value here though, which is why there are Chinese people deviously trying to pass off their half-hearted attempts as Japanese cuisine… If you get anything at all from this post get this message (that took me far too long to learn, after all I still went to the place in Granada and ordered Japanese there even though they had Chinese options): Never eat Japanese in a Chinese-run restaurant. At least in Europe, though I would bet it applies to other places in the world too.

Hopefully I respect this rule as I continue in my efforts to appease the noodle-desiring monster in me.

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