2011 trends: B-kyu here to stay

December 29th, 2011 by Felicity Hughes

Cheap, filling and locally produced, B-kyu gourmet food has been trending for awhile now in Japan, so much so that rather than being a passing fad, it’s now become an integral part of Japan’s foodie culture. Driven at a grass-roots level by local chefs and fans, simple and satisfying B-kyu dishes are now also available in convenience stores and increasingly in metropolitan restaurants.

Mikihiro Ishiga, from the Hiruzen Yakisoba Fan Association accepts the B-kyu Grand Prix top prize this year. (Kyodo photo)

Though B-kyu dishes can now be sampled at food festivals throughout Japan, the nexus event for B-kyu gourmet is the B-1 Grand Prix. Established in 2008, the event pits teams of chefs from all over Japan against each other. Interest in the event is rapidly growing. At this year’s event last month in Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture, ticket sales reached a record high, totaling  ¥200,006,000, while a record number of 63 groups took part.

At this very democratic event, visitors get to pick the winners for themselves, by depositing their used chopsticks in a tin at the stall offering the dish they like the best. A win can boost local economies bringing foodie tourists to that area, and it can also get consumers interested in trying out local ingredients used in a dish.

Winning dishes can often get picked up by convenience stores, who then offer a version for sale in their stores. For example, Atami B-kyu Yaki Udon (fried noodles), which came fifth place in last year’s Hokkaido Grand Prix, was on sale for a limited period in Circle K and Sunkus this year. The ingredients for the dish’s trademark sour sauce, which included apples, shitake mushrooms and onions, were locally sourced in Iwate. Another B-kyu dish on sale in convenience stores was Tsuyama Hormone Udon (noodles), which went on sale in Poplar convenience stores.

Restaurants are also getting in on the act. Nakano B-kyu Izakaya has a menu based around the B-1 Grand Prix, allowing citizens in Japan’s capital city to get a taste of local dishes without having to travel. Filling, reasonably priced, and unpretentious, B-kyu dishes are perfectly suited to be served in izakaya (Japanese inns); other similar establishments, such as B-kyu Gourmet Village in Shibuya, also seem to be thriving.

Last month “Tokyo B-kyu Gourmet Chronicles,” Tokyo’s B-kyu version of the insanely popular Michelin Guide, was published. A guide to well-established local neighborhood eateries, which might have been passed over by the more elitist diner, the book’s emphasis is on eating well for under ¥1,000. With the economic downturn set to continue, it’s no wonder that this trend for homely cooking has taken root in Japan’s food culture.

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