To many travellers the gastronomic experiences that form part of any journey are the stars in the firmament, and it is easy to believe that standards are universal for the various restaurant guides that abound. Take the overrated Michelin Guide for a start. The Japanese version has almost nothing in common with any European equivalent. Against the 70 Michelin-starred establishments in Paris and the 20 in Madrid, Tokyo has 234. Does this signify there are more good chefs in Tokyo than in Paris? Hardly. Or is it that the inspectors have different agendas?
And what part do prices pay? Or the time it takes to achieve a Michelin star? Last week we learnt that Frantzén, the first Stockholm eatery to ever achieve three stars, took only six months to earn them, although an investment of seven and a half million euros may have helped to impress the little red guide's anonymous inspectors. The set menu costs 460 euros with wine included (390 if you choose fruit juices) and the star dessert is a Rubik cube consisting of 27 petit fours. The Michelin people have gone public with their denial of the common belief that the more stars a place has the more it costs to eat there, but however much they protest, certainly in Europe such restaurants are not only expensive, but in many cases over the top.
The Far East is of course different. In Singapore the street food stall of Chef Chan Hong Meng was awarded a star in 2016, mainly thanks to its legendary chicken with rice and soya sauce at 2.20 euros, or with spare ribs at three euros. Customers have to queue, often for hours, and the chairs are uncomfortable. Chan could not grow his business for years in the absence of a financial partner, but when he got the star, offers rained in. He now has three more restaurants in Singapore and one each in Taiwan, the Philippines and Thailand. Average spend per customer is around five euros, a very far cry from even the cheapest Michelin-starred European restaurant.