Kansai eateries go halal for local delicacies

The Yomiuri Shimbun

A restaurant staff member, right, shows foreign tourists how to cook halal takoyaki in Fukushima Ward, Osaka, in July.

By Hiromi Uechi / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterAmid the surge in foreign tourists, an increasing number of local delicacies in Osaka, including konamon flour-based dishes, are being served as halal food (see below), which is food that Muslims who adhere strictly to Islamic law are allowed to eat.

To serve halal food, it is necessary to take into consideration not only the main ingredients, but also what goes into things like dough and seasonings, requiring a lot of time and energy. People in Osaka are stepping up their omotenashi hospitality so that foreign tourists can enjoy local flavors during their stay.

Authentic taste

At a Japanese restaurant called Matsuri in Fukushima Ward, Osaka, in July, tourists from Turkey enjoyed eating hot takoyaki octopus dumplings. “They’re delicious because the octopus is chewy, ” one of them said.

The restaurant uses plant-derived emulsifying agents and sauces instead of animal-derived ones to avoid the possibility of pork products being mixed into the batter. The ingredients are limited to seafood.

Yoshinori Sano, who had been working as a cook at another Japanese restaurant, opened Matsuri in May last year and is also the manager.

Although takoyaki is available in Southeast Asia and elsewhere, the overseas versions tend to be chunky and firm all the way through.

Sano said that Muslim customers are surprised when they take a bite of soft, runny takoyaki at his restaurant, often saying, “This is the authentic taste!”

There were about 100 customers a month when the restaurant opened, but the number has now risen to nearly 20 times that as its reputation spread through word of mouth.

Sano said: “I began this business as I wanted Muslim people to enjoy the taste of Osaka cuisine. I hope this restaurant will become somewhere they can spend time and relax.”

314,000 visit Osaka

Based on statistics from the Japan National Tourism Organization, the number of foreign tourists coming to Japan reached a record high of 24 million in 2016.

According to the Osaka Convention and Tourism Bureau, the number of tourists from Malaysia and Indonesia, which have large Muslim populations, visiting Osaka in 2016 was 314,000, more than double that of 2014.

As Muslims are not allowed to eat non-halal foods, they had limited choices.

But now there are places like Bulls, a meat restaurant in Naniwa Ward, Osaka, that began serving shabu-shabu hotpot for Muslims about two years ago.

It is believed that this dish was named “shabu-shabu” in 1952 by a restaurant specializing in beef dishes in Osaka’s Kitashinchi district, and the name later spread overseas.

Bulls procures beef processed in the proper halal manner. The cooking utensils used for halal food are also kept separate from those for non-halal food.

Matsuri and Bulls are not certified as halal food restaurants. But they have employees who are Muslims so that Muslim customers can eat meals there with a sense of security.

Ajikitcho, a Japanese restaurant in Nishi Ward, Osaka, will start serving halal kaiseki ryori course meals. The restaurant is listed in the Kyoto and Osaka edition of the Michelin guidebook, which has awarded it a rating of two stars.

The restaurant said that it stopped serving kakuni braised pork belly and other pork dishes, so that non-halal meat will not be present in its kitchen.

Nationwide support

Measures to adapt to halal requirements are progressing in many other places in Japan.

In Tokyo, which is hosting the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, local governments have established subsidies to encourage these measures.

In Taito Ward, where the popular tourist destination Sensoji temple is located, the ward office in 2015 began offering restaurant operators subsidies of up to ¥100,000 to obtain halal restaurant certificates. So far, 22 restaurants have obtained the certificates.

The Bunkyo Ward Office also began a similar system of assisting restaurants last year, with an upper limit of ¥50,000.

The Kyoto city government collaborates with the Kyoto Muslim Association, a religious foundation that also issues halal certificates. The government promotes restaurants certified by the association on the internet.

In Kobe, there is a restaurant that serves sets of dishes using Kobe-brand beef that is halal-certified.

In Oita Prefecture, there is a restaurant serving mizutaki hotpot using local specialty chicken that is certified halal.

■Halal food

In Arabic, the word halal means permitted or lawful. In the case of food, ingredients containing anything prohibited by Islamic law, such as pork and alcohol, must not be used. Chicken and beef need to have been processed in a certain manner. In Japan, some entities, including a nonprofit organization based in Osaka, certify halal foods. According to Halal Media Japan Co., based in Tokyo, which provides information for Muslims, about 770 restaurants in Japan have obtained the certificates or taken other steps. In Osaka, there are about 50 restaurants.

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