It has been a decade since the first big tastes of Vietnamese cuisine were enjoyed in Japan. Vietnamese cuisine was embraced by Japanese food lovers after popular women’s’ magazines and travel magazines introduced “fresh spring rolls” and “rice noodle (Pho)” as a new, healthy alternative meal. The settled flavors of the Vietnamese cuisine with its subtle use of spices and unique tastes made it a suitable cuisine for Japanese people. Although recognized as an Asian cuisine, the health conscious Japanese appreciated the low calorie rice noodles (Pho) and did not regard Vietnamese cuisine as the “same” as other Asian dishes.
Vietnamese cuisine is now going through its second cycle of popularity. The numbers of Vietnamese restaurants have reached up to 300. Major coffee chains have started to serve Vietnamese style sandwiches and Vietnamese coffees. Japanese people are becoming familiar with the flavor of Vietnam more and more.
In 2011, one of the biggest restaurant chains specializing in Pho (Pho 24) tapped into the Japanese market. Following Pho 24’s success, a number of fast-food style Pho restaurants have opened up and they are becoming the spot of choice for business men. Pho has certainly changed from something “special” to something “common”.
Of all the many Pho restaurants around today, “Pho Hanoi” is definitely 1 restaurant
that should be mentioned here. “Pho Hanoi” focuses on “health and beauty” and produces Hanoi style authentic pho. "Pho Hanoi" is proud of their soup that is rich in collagen and simmers for hours. Their most popular dish is “Pho ga” (pho with chicken). The soup made from Abe-Dori, is a scrumptious, yet light dish that is low in fat. There are eight kinds of health conscious pho including the vegetarian’s best choice, “Pho dau phu” (pho with tofu, fresh vegetables and herbs).)”. “Bun bo Hue” (Hue Style Spicy Noodle)” is also a popular original dish you can find here.
Many Vietnamese restaurants in Japan have not been able to use fresh noodles because of the high cost and difficulty in producing pho noodle in Japan. Recently, more restaurants are using fresh pho noodle. “Chopsticks” was the first Vietnamese restaurant to produce fresh pho noodle using Japanese rice. Even for pho experts, their noodles are worth trying because of the irresistible chewy bite and rich aroma from the rice. “Chopsticks” is now producing bun noodle and their bun noodle dishes like “Bun Cha” (rice noodle with grilled pork patties), “Bun bo Hue” (spicy beef noodle soup), “Bun rieu Cua” (rice vermicelli soup with crab) are encouraging more people to explore Vietnamese cuisine.
Although the dishes are authentic, most restaurants in Japan serve Vietnamese food slightly modified to suite Japanese taste. For
Japanese people who are not keen on herbs, herbs are served separately and in some cases people can request to go without herbs. It is the characteristic of Vietnamese restaurants in Japan, the nation of food lovers, that there are many restaurants serving creative original dishes based on the unique Vietnamese style.
The “Banh Xeo Roll” （Banh Xeo Cuon） from “Banh Xeo Saigon” is one of the unique dishes you can find. It was created after one of their staff members had an idea of wrapping banh xeo with rice paper to eat with one hand. The handy “Banh Xeo Roll” became one of the favorites for their customers. “Banh Xeo Saigon” also serves other unique banh xeo like “Banh xeo pho mai” (Banh Xeo with potato, bacon and Camenbert cheese)
80% of Vietnamese restaurants are owned by individuals and 20% are large restaurant chains. Each restaurant is unique. Some restaurants focus on producing authentic Vietnamese cuisine, some use different ingredients, some create new Vietnamese style dishes and others create food that satisfies the tastes of Vietnamese people living in Japan. There is no doubt that the interest in Vietnamese food in Japan is growing at a similar rate to that of the economic and social development of Vietnam itself!
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