TOKYO (Kyodo) – Restaurants serving local food from different parts of China have been popping up around many of Japan’s major metropolitan areas, bringing authentic flavors to people who are lost or wanderlust.
Although the restaurants do not cater specifically to Japanese tastes and instead target residents from the Greater China region, they have become a draw for Japanese customers who want an “authentic” Chinese food experience. Many ingredients are unfamiliar to them, such as some chili peppers, crayfish and catfish.
Sa Jiao Xiao Jiu Guan near East Japan Railway Okubo Station in Tokyo is one such restaurant that serves Chongqing dishes known for their fiery, spicy flavors.
On a recent Sunday evening, shallow iron pans were brought to a restaurant full of customers enjoying “kao yu” – a butterfly catfish about 30 centimeters long, grilled and then surrounded by thinly sliced potatoes and lotus roots simmered with chili pepper. The dish is popular among people from the Chongqing region.
Sa Jiao has adopted the glittering decor that has become popular in China recently — brightly lit, richly illustrated walls and gold-plated figurines.
“When you come here, you not only get to know the flavors that are favored in China but the trends in the restaurant industry, such as popular menus and store designs,” said Masato Nakamura, 59, editor and writer, while enjoying a sumptuous service. oh kao you
Nakamura has been involved in publishing travel guides for a long time and visited China many times. Last year when demand for his work dried up amid the COVID-19 pandemic, he founded the “Tokyo Deep China Study Group.” He introduced “gachi” Chinese restaurants to group members on websites and social media.
Gachi is a Japanese word used by young people to mean “real,” “serious” or “legit.”
With the information attracting a lot of attention, Nakamura published books about such Chinese restaurants in Tokyo. Recently, he has been organizing baking dinner parties in various locations.
According to the study group, baking Chinese restaurants began to appear in Shin-Okubo, which is near Okubo and has a large number of foreign and especially Korean residents, in the 1990s. After that, the center moved to nearby Ikebukuro, and from around 2015, the number increased rapidly in the surrounding area. The group recently compiled a count of some 150 restaurants, including those around the Takadanobaba neighborhood.
The restaurants, which include those that use Chinese for advertising displays and communication with restaurants, have also increased in the precincts of Chiba and Saitama as well as the Kansai region with Osaka at its center. “We can’t calculate their total number,” Nakamura said.
Each gachi restaurant serves dishes unique to a particular region of China, such as Sichuan cuisine, known for its spicy mala seasoning, and rare local dishes with various characteristics from Hunan, Fujian and Xinjiang.
Many restaurants have adopted a service method widely practiced in China: customers select their favorite ingredients from refrigerated shelves to create an individual-sized hot pot. Some delivery service apps only support the Chinese language.
A craving for the taste of home among Chinese residents is behind the surge in such restaurants. According to Japan’s Immigration Services Agency, there were about 720,000 Chinese residents in the country at the end of 2021, down about 100,000 from 2019, before the pandemic began.
Such a large Chinese presence, including students who often eat out, means that the restaurants can operate profitably without relying on Japanese customers. But Japanese and other nationalities who wish to experience the feeling of traveling to China also flock to the restaurants.
Fuku Egami, a 22-year-old senior at Rikkyo University and a member of the study group, said, “Many women of my generation are posting pictures of the bright red hot pots on Instagram these days.” Gachi Chinese dishes are also glamorous because they are featured on TV shows and by YouTubers.
While there may not be much support for ordering food in Japanese or other languages at many of the restaurants, operators say there’s no reason to hesitate to try them. “Rare dishes are worth challenging,” said Guo Fengping, 38, manager of Sa Jiao.