The certification program of Japanese Food and Ingredient Supporter Stores Overseas
Interview of Suppoter Stores Nagiya
Taishu-Izakaya Operating in Japan and Thailand
Spreading Japanese Food Trends in Thailand
Bangkok / Thailand）
Visiting the Producing Districts Themselves to Find Ingredients
Among the 1,700 or so Japanese restaurants in Bangkok, Nagiya’s reputation is particularly high. It originally started as a “taishu-sakaba,” which literally means drinking place for the masses, in Tokyo’s Honancho area. To say nothing of the quality of the ingredients, the menus prepared by careful and skilled handwork of the chef spread word of mouth, and now the group has grown to operate eight restaurants in Tokyo and seven in Thailand.
The interview took place in the Phra Khanong store, slightly outside the area where Japanese residents are concentrated. According to restaurant manager Mr. Issei Kotsugi, “We mainly source our Japanese ingredients from Hokkaido and Tsukiji Fish Market. There are two ways in which we purchase our ingredients from Japan. Since we have an import license, we are able to purchase meat and seafood on our own accord. Other smaller orders are placed through an agent company. We, including myself, take turns to go to Japan to visit the area where the products are sourced from, check the prices and conditions of the products, and occasionally purchase directly from the seafood traders. We check every single fresh seafood in Hokkaido, Odawara, Kanazawa, and other regions, visit culture farms, and even fishing ports where oysters are landed. When none of us can go, we have the staff at the Japanese restaurants go instead. We do this because every time there is a new discovery.”
Actively Taking Advantage of Food Trends in Both Japan and Thailand
They are always on the lookout for new food trends. “When we go to Japan, we make sure to check out the thriving restaurants and find out about what’s popular, such as maguro dammen-sashi (tuna sashimi cut in cross-section) or meat sushi, and we take these trends back to Thailand and put them on our menu. We try and respond timely to these current trends in the food and beverage world so that Japanese and Thai people can enjoy them without any time lag,” explains Mr. Kotsugi. At the same time, they are also keeping a watchful eye on food trends in Thailand. “One of our staff members who used to work in a sushi restaurant owned by a Thai person occasionally gives ideas for fusion dishes and creating colorful presentations in ways that we Japanese would never think of. We try to arrange these ideas to suit the taste of Japanese people, and we would like the final dishes to be well received by our Thai customers, of course, as well as Japanese children. In a sense what we are creating is a fusion of Thai and Japanese tastes. I have seen some young Thai business people who frequently go to Japan open Japanese restaurants in Thailand. This means that the Japanese food is not a temporary trend in Thailand, it’s already part of the food culture. So this type of business is going to become a more common thing, and that is why we are always trying to be conscious of how we can get closer to the Thai palate while maintaining the flavors of Japanese food.”
High-Grade Seafood from Japan is Popular
Although it depends on each restaurant, customers of the Phra Khanong store are predominantly Thai, comprising 70 percent of the clientele. They seem to appreciate salmon, engagwa (flesh found around the base of the fins of a flounder or flatfish), kani miso (crab innards), and “Gokai nokke sushi,” the selling point of which is rich umami. Only the zuwai-gani (snow crab) is from Sakaiminato in Tottori Prefecture, and the rest are all from Hokkaido. “Yaki-gaki,” or grilled oysters, from Hiroshima Prefecture and the daily fresh fish have remained hugely popular among both Japanese residents and Thai customers. Kinmedai (splendid alfonsino), which is a meaty fish containing high-quality fat, is of the finest quality landed at Hachijo-jima Island. The salmon and mackerel come from Norway, and parts of the tuna are purchased from Phuket in Thailand, but most of the seafood are either from or processed in Japan. According to Mr. Kotsugi, “For example, the taste of squid from Thailand is not bad, but they are processed differently to how they are done in Japan. That is why it’s difficult to get hold of a product that meets our requirements. What we seek in Japanese products is consistency in taste and in quality. Also for dried fish, we can make detailed requests to Japanese processors like specifying the size of the fish or the quantity of salt used, and each time we are guaranteed a product that we are happy with.”
The Next Challenge is Keeping the Prices Low
Twice a year, Nagiya reviews the alcohol menu by taking into consideration the trends and liquor tax. The current lineup comprises ten types of Japanese sake, including the refreshing Dassai and Masumi and eight types of shochu. To this is added the recommended drinks of that time to give more variety. Mr. Kotsugi says enthusiastically, “I would like to increase our offering of seasonal alcohol more, for example, hiyaoroshi (autumn seasonal sake) in autumn or hatsu-shibori (first pressed sake) in winter so that customers can learn more about Japan through different sakes in each season and the food that goes well with them. I am sad that Japanese people are drinking less sake, and because I want more Thai people to know that there are so many tasty sakes in Japan, we try to keep the prices as low as possible.
We also want the oysters and crabs to be more affordable and accessible, so our next aim is to decrease the price gap between Japan and Thailand.” Nagiya—a restaurant that is making great strides in Thailand while setting the goals to become a “restaurant that customers want to return to everyday” and a “restaurant that customers can enjoy authentic Japanese food.” Even with so many changes in trends, keeping the soul of Japan that is continuously flowing is proving to be a big driving force to further look forward.