Japan’s B-Class Gourmets and the Food that Inspires Them

B-Class Gourmet (or B-kyu) is the Japanese term for someone who just can’t get enough good, cheap, Japanese food. Their appreciation for cheap eats knows no bounds. They’re the people who are willing to stand in long lines or travel far and wide for that perfect bowl of ramen. They’re a nifty bunch of people, and while I myself do appreciate good cheap foods, I don’t think I’m as intense about it as these guys are. But which foods are these so called B-Class Gourmets so passionate about? What does it take to be a B-kyu? Let’s find out.

The B-Class Gourmet Effect

long-linesEvery restaurant in Japan wants to be recognized by B-Class Gourmets. All it takes is one good review and out of nowhere comes a flock of B-Class Gourmets. Soon there is a long line wrapped around the building and the small, previously unnoticed restaurant is suddenly the talk of the town. Restaurant owners love this.

If the good reviews keep coming, the restaurant will continue to stay busy like this. Very few actually become so popular that they remain trendy for years to come, but they still enjoy the spike in business. Many of these B-Class Gourmet hot spots quickly fizzle out and the restaurant goes back to its previous amount of patrons.

Restaurants are a multi-trillion yen industry that is super competitive. Every cheap restaurant in Japan wants to be the next B-Class Gourmet sensation, but very few will actually enjoy long term B-Class success.

i-dont-get-itI just don’t get why they stand in that line, man.

Foreigners, however, rarely understand this phenomenon. Some even remark that Japanese people seem to actually enjoy waiting in line. Very often you’ll see two ramen shops right next to each other, one with a line wrapped around the building, and the other with no customers at all.

It’s not surprising that foreigners would not understand this. I’m sure it sucks pretty hard for the unpopular shops around the B-Class sensation as well. Locals and B-Class Gourmets say that if you truly appreciate the B-Class foods then you’ll know that it’s all worth the wait.

Japan is known for a lot of foods, but not all of them really qualify as the stuff of a B-Class legend. However, many of these should be relatively familiar to you, and a good restaurant that serves them is definitely worth the hunt.

Ramen

RamenEverybody knows ramen. Not everyone loves ramen. I really like ramen, but unfortunately I couldn’t tell a huge difference in quality by getting ramen at a supposedly “nice place” in Japan. These nice places will make their own noodles and broth, which is certainly a step up from instant ramen. I’m sure if I had more ramen, I’d develop my palette and be able to appreciate it more like a B-Class Gourmet would.

And for those B-Class Gourmet’s in training, Hashi here has written the definitive Ramen Survival Guide which will be indispensable in your quest for ramen enlightenment. Give it a read.

Okonomiyaki

its-goodOkonomiyaki… It’s good!

Ah, okonomiyaki. This is more like it. I love okonomiyaki. This is the kind of food I would be more willing to go on a quest for. While good okonomiyaki wasn’t all that difficult for me to find in Japan, it was a bit more difficult to find over here in America. I did find a good spot for it (see above), but it wasn’t quite as cheap as I would have liked it to be. Too bad for me.

And since I’m quite confident all of you will love okonomiyaki just as much as I do, you should probably check out my full post on okonomiyaki and why it’s so awesome. Then you can go on your very own B-Class Gourmet quest for it.

Yakisoba

Fujinomiya-yakisobaYakisoba is another one of my favorite B-Class Gourmet foods. The dish itself is kind of similar to chow mein. Yakisoba is flavored with a sort of Worcestershire sauce and despite the name, yakisoba noodles are more akin to ramen than soba. Yakisoba is a popular festival food, and while I did have some at a festival, I wouldn’t say it was the best I had.

Embarrassingly, the best yakisoba I had was a kind of instant yakisoba. It came with a packet of some variety of horseradish sauce, and I’m a sucker for horseradish. Therefore, that was my favorite yakisoba. Now all I need to do is go to a restaurant that has good yakisoba and some horseradish sauce and I’ll be all set.

Gyoza

gyozaGyoza are ground meat and/or vegetable dumplings that are pretty much always served fried. They’re extremely popular in Japan and for good reason too. Gyoza are super tasty. I love them. One of my greatest joys in Japan was finding fresh gyoza at the local market in Kobe. Just thinking about them now is making me hungry.

Gyoza, like ramen, is another Chinese food that made it into Japan and was adapted to the Japanese tastes. I’m glad it was, because I like Japanese dumplings way more than Chinese ones. Sorry China!

Curry

curryAnd who could forget about curry? Fiona even wrote a full post about curry not too long ago. While I’m not so sure I would call it better than ramen, curry still is pretty darn tasty.

I live not too far away from the largest Japanese market in the state, and they have a Japanese restaurant attached to it that serves up some mighty tasty curry. I haven’t been there in a while, but now I kinda want to go. I shouldn’t be writing this post on an empty stomach.

Sushi

cheap-sushiLike you weren’t expecting sushi to be on this list – c’mon, everybody knows sushi, and if you don’t love it then I feel bad for you. Sushi is great, comes in so many different varieties, and can either be super cheap, or way too expensive. I prefer the super cheap variety, but that’s just me.

Unfortunately, America has all but ruined sushi. My favorite kinds of sushi are the simpler varieties though. I just really love tuna. And wasabi. And ginger. Give me some plain tuna rolls with soy sauce, wasabi, and a pile of ginger, and I’ll be a happy boy.

Sushi is another area where I feel my palette isn’t developed enough to appreciate higher end stuff. I mean, I can tell when sushi is bad, but I don’t think my mouth really notices much difference between medium grade and high grade sushi. Oh well, I’m fine with my relatively cheap tuna rolls.

Soba

sobaSoba are Japanese buckwheat noodles. They’re served hot in a light broth or cold with a dipping sauce. As with ramen, restaurants often make their own noodles from scratch. Unfortunately for me, I’ve never really cared for soba all that much. I’ve always held ramen noodles as the superior Japanese noodle. All the other noodles seem inferior in comparison.

But regardless of what I think, soba are still a very popular B-Class Gourmet food. Lots of people love soba. Just not me.

Yakitori

yakitoriYakitori is grilled skewers of chicken and vegetables. They’re great. Some of the best ones I had were at a fair in Osaka, just from one of the little food stands. It wasn’t a restaurant, but they were super fresh and super tasty. If you like grilled chicken, yakitori is definitely the way to go.

Hanbaagu

hanbaaguNo, hanbaagu is not the same as hamburger. At least not in the way you’d expect. When I first heard the phrase, I thought it was a hamburger. Actually, hanbaagu is served without the bun that you’d expect and is most often served with rice and plain sides with light seasoning. The main focus is on the hanbaagu, which can be topped with anything from egg to pineapple to Mark Zuckerberg himself.

We actually had hanbaagu quite a few times in Kobe at a place called Bikkuri Donkey which here translates to “Amazing Donkey”. Hilarious name. It’s the only place I’ve ever had hanbaagu, but I think it was pretty good there.

Udon

udonUdon is thick Japanese wheat-flour noodles. While I’m not really a big fan of these heavier thick noodles, Koichi absolutely loves udon. And bukkake.

I much prefer ramen to udon, but hey, that’s me. If you’d rather have bukkake sliding down your throat and into your stomach, then whatever – more power to you. It’s just not my thing.


Those are just some of the most popular B-Class Gourmet foods though, there are many others. The above ones are definitely the most popular however. If I had to pick one standout favorite, I think I’d have to go with okonomiyaki. It just can’t be beat.

And if you do decide to go on your very own B-Class Gourmet excursion in your home country, or any country that isn’t Japan, make sure you’re going to the right places. How do I know the right place from the wrong place you ask? Well, just check out Koichi’s post on The 7 Immutable Laws Of Identifying A “Real” Japanese Restaurant and you’ll be all set. I guarantee it.

So tell me, what’s your favorite B-Class Gourmet food from Japan? Have any spectacular restaurants to recommend to the gang when they make it over to Japan next month? Let us know in the comments!

  • DAVIDPD

    No Somen?! LOL. It’s not as well known here in the States, but it’s popular in Japan. Mentsuyu, cold Somen noodles, and an Orion, nothing better in the Summer months. // John, you could write an article about “Nagashi Somen”. It’s a really cool experience.

  • http://twitter.com/Kyze Héctor

    Oh, I’m so hungry after reading this…

  • Zyoudan

    Aaah, hanbaagu. The internation dorm I stayed at for a few months had a great western-style restaurant that served a wonderful hanbaagu – with corn! I ate there all the time with the other people from Nebraska. As for gyoza, my homestay mother made the best gyoza I’ve ever had from scratch. I’ve been tempted to try to make them for myself but they seriously took her a few hours – I don’t have that kind of time or patience.

  • http://twitter.com/sukixrose Rose

    Those bukkake innuendos john – you oughta be ashamed of yo self XD

  • gogogotchi

    omurice!

  • Paul

    Are you talking about Tensuke supermarket for the curry? I went there for some ramen a few weeks ago and I enjoyed it. If so, I’ll have to try the curry out next time.

    Also where did you find okonomiyaki? Googling and seeing you holding a teacup I’m guessing Zencha?

  • CorrBlimey

    What about Katsu? I think you’ve sold all the readers a tad short if you haven’t mentioned delicious, delicious katsu! :)

  • John

    Yeah, Tensuke! I haven’t had the ramen there. I’ve actually only had the curry but I really like it so that’s all I get, haha. And yeah, the picture of me is at ZenCha. It’s more fluffy pancake there, but the okonomiyaki at ZenCha was better than it was at one other place around here that I tried it. I forget the name, but it was lousy :(

  • John

    I always forget about katsu on its own because when I get curry, it’s usually katsu curry, haha. My bad!

  • Lionrence

    I can’t pick a favorite, I would easily order a meal of each one of them and eat them all at once. it’s not that hard to find where I live, but a bit over priced, so I learned to cook all these at home ^.^

  • http://twitter.com/SactoMan81 Raymond Chuang

    A couple of comments:

    1. There’s more than one type of okonomiyaki–in western Japan, there’s also the Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki, which is cooked with the ingredients layered, not mixed together. It’s also a way more filling meal than Kansai-style okonomiyaki, too.

    2. Pity people can’t stretch out their budget to around ¥950 for a single meal, because that makes it possible to include take-out bento boxes, especially the famous “ekiben” found at major train stations. You can get some excellent “ekiben” in the ¥700 to ¥800 range.

  • John

    Yeah I wrote about both styles in my full okonomiyaki post. I still like Kansai style better!

  • besterthenyou

    How can you not love udon? The thick noodles are great. I mean, ramen is really good, but I’d rather take a good bowl of udon any day.

  • 肉人

    Could one translate “Bikkuri donkey” as “AmazED donkey”?
    BTW great article, made me real hungry :D

  • rachid kandal

    sushi live et chef a domicile service traiteur asiatique +212 0669839992
    facebook / rachid kandal

  • Yuume

    Mmmm…I love yakitori! The sauce is my favorite part n_n

    This little Japanese place near us makes some pretty amazing karaage as well.

  • http://lenssniper.tumblr.com/ Lens Sniper

    Dude! Your cardinal sin is always forgetting that college food friend. . . DONBURI!!! lol! ~Peace! ^^~V