I often ask participants in my cross-cultural training sessions what symbolises home to them. This acts as an ice breaker and allows them to talk about their diverse cultural backgrounds – their Guyanese mother’s curry or Moroccan grandmother’s tagines, even if their own nationality is New Zealander or French.
At a recent session, the Japanese participant said ramen most reminded him of home. We agreed that although it is possible to buy ramen and make it in the UK, ramen at a yatai – in Japan – was what he really meant.
The ramen you can buy in England is made by Nissin, but manufactured in Hungary. I also checked the udon brands available online at Sainsbury’s – one of the UK’s biggest supermarket chains – three were made in China and one in Thailand.
Japanese food is so popular in the UK, there was a Japanese themed week in the current TV series of Great British Bake Off – where someone made a matcha cake and another chef used soy sauce in their cooking.
This caused a controversy on Twitter because the Department for International Trade used the programme as an opportunity to claim that soy sauce would be cheaper in the UK thanks to the UK-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement. It turned out, however, that Japan-made soy sauce would only be cheaper in the sense that without the UK-Japan deal, the WTO tariff of 6% would have applied. Now that there is a UK-Japan trade deal, there will be a 0% tariff, as there was between the EU and Japan anyway.
In fact, a large proportion of UK imports of soy sauce comes from the Netherlands – Kikkoman has a factory there – or from Poland, where Associated British Foods brand Blue Dragon has a factory. If there is no UK-EU trade deal, these will be 6% more expensive. Soy sauce from other countries such as China and Malaysia will be cheaper even with a 6% tariff, as previously they attracted the 7.7% EU tariff.
There is a manufacturer of soy sauce in the UK too – Shoda Shoyu acquired a British company Speciality Sauces, with a factory in Wales, in 2000, where they also make miso and mirin.
There are plenty of food snobs in Europe who claim that only soy sauce made in Japan tastes truly authentic, but obviously for every day cooking of the hybrid culture kind that British enjoy, cost performance is important too.
Europeans, including the British, are keen to impose “Geographic Indicators” in their trade deals – that Parma ham must come from Parma, Champagne from Champagne, Stilton cheese from Stilton. But for many of these items, like ramen at a yatai, it is not just the location of manufacture, but the location of consumption that makes it a truly authentic, delicious experience – the atmosphere, the climate, the other food. I did not really appreciate the taste of Guinness until I drank it in a pub by the sea in Ireland, with soda bread, butter and mussels.
This article was originally published in Japanese in the Teikoku Databank News on 2nd December 2020
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