A well-prepared meal is such a pleasure not because it’s a luxury, but because it’s a rare treat that lives up to expectations. That’s the enjoyment of luxury foods. If the entire point of fine dining was to enjoy something merely expensive, then hedge fund managers would be lining up outside exclusive restaurants to somehow eat original van Gogh paintings – which they aren’t.
So if you want to enjoy food at its most exclusive, it is worth bearing in mind that quality matters, and that some meals are highly-priced for a reason.
What is often not known, or poorly understood, is how certain foods came to cost more than others, and what this means for the food served up in high-grade restaurants. Even if you were to cut out the middleman and buy these foods for cooking and eating at home, you’d still pay a premium for them. And for some of the most exclusive foods, there are interesting stories behind how they came to be such a luxury. A few examples can be found below.
Oysters were once a regular street food
If people from London in the middle of the 19th Century could see how oysters are enjoyed now, they’d be shocked. The popular shellfish was enjoyed by lower-income Londoners thanks to how plentiful they were off the coast of Southern England. Furthermore, they were often gathered and washed using child labor.
Eventually, the popularity of oysters in London – and in New York, to where they were keenly exported – led to overfishing and this, twinned with 19th-Century hygiene standards with regard to dumping sewage at sea, made it harder to find oysters that wouldn’t give you typhoid. The resultant scarcity, twinned with updated labor laws and hygiene standards, made oysters rarer, more special and more expensive.
Luxury foods: Wagyu beef is produced in an extra-special way
The popular Japanese beef is famed for its fuller flavor and is much-favored by the world’s top restaurateurs, which has led to no shortage of write-ups in news media. If you’re considering whether to buy wagyu beef online, you may have heard that these particular cows are spoiled rotten, including being given beer on a regular basis.
While true, this isn’t done to give the cows a bit of a buzz. It’s just that, like any human, a few beers naturally enhance the appetite of the cow. The resultant weight gain – achieved without meat-spoiling hormone injections – gives the beef a tenderer texture and that noted flavor.
There’s a good chance you’ve never had real wasabi
A tasty serving of sushi is rarely complete without the popular green-tinged condiment that gives each bite more of a kick. If you have too much wasabi with your sushi, you’ll be smiling involuntarily for days afterwards – not out of delight, but thanks to its tartness. However, the truth is that real wasabi is both extremely expensive and impossible to keep fresh for long. Most restaurants instead use dyed horseradish augmented with mustard to ape the taste.
Even in Japan, where wasabi is generally produced, 95% of what is sold as wasabi simply isn’t. There’s not much you can do about this – but if a restaurant promises real wasabi, and you don’t get that gritty, just-grated texture, it’s likely not real. You might be well-placed to challenge them for a reduction in your bill. Just don’t expect to find many places that do use the real stuff.