Posts Tagged ‘shochu’

Trends in Japan 2010: food and drink

Friday, December 31st, 2010

This year’s hottest product, quite literally, was taberu rayu, a spicy sauce that made it into the top keywords of the year and even beat smart phones to the top spot of Nikkei Trendy’s hit product list for 2010. Back in July we reported on how the chili-infused condiment, which contains minced onion and garlic, had gone from a foodie novelty to one of the Japan’s hottest new sauces in just under a year. Figuring out that it tasted delicious on burgers, big-name brands like Mos Burger picked up the trend and ran with it. The chain’s crunchy rayu burger, designed by Terry Ito, was a huge hit this summer.

Sales of All-Free were suspended in August due to high demand

Japan’s unusually hot summer was cited as part of the reason behind the taberu rayu craze (spicy food is said to be cooling in hot weather), and other brands profited from the sweltering temperatures as well. Stocks of Japan’s favorite retro ice lolly Garigari-kun were dangerously low at one point during the summer, causing makers to officially apologize to disappointed customers. Suntory also found it hard to keep up with demand for their new All-Free non alcoholic low calorie beer, and in August, according to Daily Yomiuri, were forced to temporarily suspend sales until September.

One of the more unusual food trends to break over the summer was the new Tokyo-based fad for chowing down on a big bowl of ramen noodle broth for breakfast. The idea is for busy workers to stock up on calories ahead of a grueling day, enabling them to either skip lunch or grab a small snack on the fly during the day. While the number of restaurants serving ramen has increased in recent years, the trend hasn’t quite reached epidemic proportions yet. The idea of morning mochi provided an attractive alternative to those seeking a seeking a hearty breakfast at home: Marushin’s Good Morning Breakfast Mochi, launched in April this year, proved much more popular than the company initially expected with sales figures 180 percent higher than the company’s typical mochi sales.

On the marketing end of things, dozens of companies tried to cash in the Ryoma Sakamoto boom, spurred by the popularity of the yearlong NHK taiga drama “Ryomanden.” Be it associated with burgers, soft drinks, ramen chips, curry, or beer — the face of the legendary samurai was everywhere.

Dining out continued to get cheaper during 2010 as izakaya scrambled to outdo each other with cut-price deals. The biggest gimmick of 2010 was offering free drinks of shochu to get customers through the doors. Another gimmick, which isn’t so new but was in full effect during 2010, was the use of cute young girls to entice male custom. We’re not only talking about Hooters’ arrival in Japan, which opened its doors for the first time this year in Japan but other establishments such as Katsuyama Dojo Style Pub and Nadeshico Sushi, which also entered the restaurant market: Both establishments hired bevies of cute girls to serve food to, mostly likely, an exclusively male clientele.

Drinks on the house . . . all around

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

Recession hit restaurants and bars all over Japan are actually giving away free drinks and food, in a desperate effort to attract new customers. In the new penny-pinching climate, normal discounts just don’t cut it with many and customers are now looking out for free offers, half-price discounts or bars that charge only ¥300 per drink or dish.

Watami are offering 50% cash back this month

Izakaya chain Watami are offering 50% cash back this month

The free drink offer is becoming increasingly popular in izakaya’s (Japanese pubs) where a free glass of shochu can get evening rolling. Shochu is a clear liquor made from rice, sweet potato or barley; cheap for the establishment to supply, it’s fairly potent (around 25% alcohol) and is a good way to get customers to loosen their purse strings. However, there are places that offer other drinks. Wall Bar Dining are giving away free glasses of beer and Izakaya Kakumei in Ginza, which opened June 4, offers not only free shochu but sake and umeshu (plum wine) as well.

Unlimited free snacks are also a good way to attract new business. Standing bar Q in Ebisu is offering free tabehodai (eat all you can) homemade smoked bacon. As soon as you enter the store you’re given a large platter of the stuff and invited to pig out – pun intended. Steak Burger and Salad Bar Ken, which opened in May this year, offer limitless servings of curry for customers who order steak.

Half-price menus have also been popping up, with popular izakaya Watami offering 50% cash back for a limited period. We also recommend Il Chianti in Kichijoji, who give an amazing 50% discount on pizza and beer every Monday night.

Back in October last year we reported on the rise of the ¥300 standing bar, since then prices have been slashed even further. Kechi yasui izakaya, loosely translated as “pubs for misers,” which price any dish or drink at only ¥300, have been popping up all over the place. Nikkei Trendy reports that in April, izakaya chain Watami went one better by starting up a chain of ¥250 izakaya – amazingly this price includes sales tax.

Last month I went to a slightly more upmarket, ahem, ¥270 izakaya in Shibuya. Though the clientele were mostly in their 20s, my Japanese friend and I noticed that nobody had brought a date. She commented that anyone who tried to bring a girl here would definitely be dumped for being stingy. While the dishes were a bit on the slim side, the beer servings were a decent size and the atmosphere was cheap but definitely cheerful. We say, bring on the bargains!

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