Japan and France: Food Fellows?

The spectacular French food in Hokkaido made us wonder whether there was a longstanding connection between French and Japanese cuisine.

During Spring Break, my family and I dined at a small French bistro in Hokkaido, Japan. We chanced upon an unassuming restaurant in a quiet Niseko neighborhood. There was a small sign carved in a wooden plaque. It read, “Restaurant.” There was an even smaller sign printed on paper near the front door. It read: “J’ai la patate.”

My husband, Noel, who studied French in college, said it meant “I am the potato.” My two daughters and I found that funny. We laughed even harder after we checked Google Translate. J’ai la palate actually meantt: “I’m fired up.”

The menu was straightforward with a 4-course meal. There was a choice of 3 main courses and 3 desserts. The hostess said the kids could order pasta even though it wasn’t on the menu. However, our girls — 9 year old Jasmine and 11 year old Sienna — opted for regular entrees.

Before the main course, we each received our own pair of appetizers: The first was called Mousse of Carrot from “Sasaki Farm,” Toya-lake and Flesh of Hokkaido Kegani Crab with Consommé Jelly.

The second appetizer was Pan-fried Hokkaido Scallop with Roasted Lily Bulb from Niseko.

For the main course, Jasmine and I chose Steamed Red Sea Bream and Deep-Fried Angel Prawn in “Kadaif” Bouillabaisse Cream Sauce.

Noel and Sienna ordered Duck Confit with Fried Kutchan Potato.

We shared 3 different desserts:

Orange “Dekopon” and Milk Ice Cream with Jelly of Mt. Yōtei Spring Water

Tea-flavored Creme Brûlée with Sherbet of Fromage Blanc from ‘Takara’ Farm

Fondant Chocolate with Vanilla Ice Cream

We savored every bite. We also remarked that every time we had French Food in Japan, the food was always delicious.(We had been to Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Hokkaido a few times before.) This had us thinking: Why were there so many good French restaurants in Japan? Was it because Japanese and French chefs traditionally have high culinary standards? Or was it because both cultures put a premium on fresh ingredients?

When I visited Paris with my parents and siblings in the 1990s, we ate at a Japanese fine dining restaurant near the Champs Elysees. It was my first time having premium sashimi and sushi. My U.S.-based family came to visit me in Europe. I was a backpacker back then, striving to spend only about $20 USD per day. Before my parents came and treated me out, my French meals consisted of a fresh baguette, camembert cheese, and tomato slices. It was not fancy, but, in my memory, it was one of the best meals ever.

I haven’t been back to the City of Love since then, but I hear from friends that the Japanese options continue to be plentiful and delectable. Maybe one day, Noel, the girls, and I could go for a Parisian visit and sample the Japanese fare ourselves. One day. One for our bucket list!

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