The certification program of Japanese Food and Ingredient Supporter Stores Overseas
Interview of Suppoter Stores Suikin
Authentic Japanese food paying particular attention to the dashi broth
A go-to place for business meals
Bangkok / Thailand
Eighty Percent of the Ingredients Are from Japan
Suikin, which opened in 2005, is an authentic Japanese restaurant serving homemade tofu and soba buckwheat noodles. The restaurant is set against elegant Japanese surroundings and is popular among Japanese people, with 80 percent of the clientele being Japanese and 20 percent Thai. There are 11 private rooms and 70 percent of the meals eaten are conducted for business purposes. Mr. Kiyotaka Nakamura, who has extensive experience working in Japanese restaurants overseas such as in the UK and Singapore, supervises the food at Suikin.
The grand menu comprises 126 dishes, and a specials menu of around 30 dishes is updated once every fortnight. Japanese ingredients are used for 70-80 percent of the dishes. There are 30 brands of Japanese sake, 14 brands of shochu, and 11 brands of fruit liquor, such as umeshu plum wine. Kurokirishima shochu from Miyazaki (Kirishima Shuzo) and Kokuryu sake from Fukui (Kokuryu Sake Brewing Corporation) are ordered frequently by Japanese customers. Not many Thai customers order alcohol, but Ringo no Osake from Yoichi in Hokkaido has proven to be popular.
Wagyu Beef Varieties Include Saga-gyu and Hitachi-gyu
The representative Japanese ingredients of Suikin are the bonito flakes and Saga-gyu. For the bonito flakes, hongare honbushi jukusei ninenmono (dried bonito ripened for two years) from Makurazaki in Kagoshima Prefecture is used. Every month, 50 kilograms is bought from a long-established wholesaler, Marusaya, via a Japanese supplier. “We use the bonito flakes to make dashi broth, which we use generously in many of our dishes, including oden and soba. It has a slightly acidic tone but our customers appreciate the flavor. It seems that once people taste our dashi broth, they get hooked on it.” Dishes using A5 grade Saga-gyu, which is an intensely marbled beef with a refined sweetness, is also very popular. Both Japanese and Thai customers are fans of the “Saga-gyu hoba miso-yaki,” where the miso and aroma of the hoba magnolia leaves complement the Saga-gyu, as well as the Saga-gyu steak and shabu-shabu hot pot using Saga-gyu and dashi broth taken from hongare honbushi jukusei ninenmono. Thai people seem to particularly enjoy shabu-shabu. From September 2017, Suikin will start serving A4 grade Hitachi-gyu. This is because some of the older Japanese customers have started to request a leaner type of beef that is not too heavy on the stomach. “People are more conscious about their health these days, and the impression I get is that both Japanese and Thai people are leaning less towards marbled beef,” says Mr. Nakamura.
Plans to Serve Japanese Fruits and Vegetables and Set Itself Apart from Other Restaurants
Suikin buys from around 20 different suppliers who provide Japanese ingredients, including alcohol. Seventy percent of the suppliers are Thai companies with Japanese employees. Saga-gyu is bought from an officially certified Japanese supplier. This also goes for Hitachi-gyu. Going forward, Suikin would like to enhance its offerings of Japanese fruits and vegetables. According to Mr. Nakamura, “Our Thai customers like products that have brand recognition and require not too much explanation. They also seem to like ingredients that have a strong impact. From around a year ago, we started to use kujo-negi scallion from Kyoto in our udon noodles and courses, and it has been received very well. As there are a lot of Japanese restaurants that are focused on serving Japanese meat and seafood, enhancing our Japanese fruit and vegetable lineup should set us apart from those restaurants and satisfy our customers at the same time.” Suikin has its eyes on koshin-daikon radish, which has pink flesh, black and white tomatoes, shogoin-kabu turnips from Kyoto, and seasonal fruits such as peach and melon. Produce that is not grown in Thailand and is aesthetically pleasing should start adorning Suikin’s menu in the future.
The Next Challenge Is Explaining and Offering Serving Suggestions to Thai Customers
Thai staff explain the Japanese ingredients and dishes to their Thai customers. In the past, in addition to the Japanese menu, Suikin had an English and Thai menu. However, the Thai menu was discarded on purpose, because it discouraged the staff from explaining the dishes to the customers. Mr. Nakamura comments, “We created an environment in which the staff are forced to explain the menu when the customers look at it and ask them questions. But in general, I feel that more can be done.” The goal is to train all the staff members to properly explain the distinct characteristics of each Japanese ingredient and dish. Another challenge Mr. Nakamura addresses is regarding the sales of alcohol: “When I was working in the UK and Singapore, we were able to attract more customers when we offered alcohol suggestions to match the food. I hope to do the same in Bangkok by offering partnering suggestions with the meal so that the food comes alive. For example, suggesting Chiyomusubi from Tottori with the steak.”