Coriander boom taking root in Japan
The Japan News/Yomiuri
OSAKA, Japan — Coriander, known for its distinctive strong flavor and smell, is enjoying a boom in Japan.
The herb is known as “pakuchi” in Japan, derived from its name in Thai. Some people find coriander’s strong smell unpleasant, but enthusiastic fans describe it as refreshing.
More and more specialty restaurants are serving dishes focused on coriander – an annual herb native to the Mediterranean coast – particularly in Tokyo and Osaka. Many products featuring the herb have also been hitting the shelves, including instant noodles and snacks.
Among restaurants serving coriander in an all-you-can-eat style is GoGo Paxi, which opened in Osaka, in October 2014. Available on its menu are about 50 dishes – including tempura and fried rice – that use generous amounts of the herb, which is shipped from domestic farmers.
Customers can eat as much coriander as they want with each dish. The restaurant often finds all 50 of its seats reserved, mainly by female patrons.
Two female customers, aged 33 and 39, recently said they found it fascinating the way coriander’s distinctive smell runs through the nose. They also said they liked the fact that the restaurant allows them to eat as much of the herb as they like.
For GoGo Paxi representative Masayoshi Tabuchi, 32, whose mother is from Taiwan, coriander has been a familiar herb since his childhood.
“My aim is to make pakuchi, which is a symbol of different cultures, a major herb,” Tabuchi said.
At Pannya Cafe Curry in Osaka, rice fried with keema curry is a popular dish, with a coriander topping covering the whole serving.
Atsushi Noshiroya, a 34-year-old chef at the restaurant, buys domestically produced coriander at the market every day.
“People who don’t like pakuchi will be able to understand how delicious the herb can be when they try it when it’s really fresh,” he said.
Coriander’s growing popularity has made it easier to buy it at supermarkets, and more and more farmers are producing it.
Among the nation’s main production areas is the city of Okayama, where coriander production started around 2000. Today 12 farms, many of which are run by younger farmers, cultivate the herb. The city ships about 30 tons a year, according to the JA Okayama agricultural cooperative.
To promote its milder flavor, the locally produced coriander has been given the brand name “Okapaku” — an abbreviation of “Okayama pakuchi.”
Kaldi Coffee Farm, a chain store that imports food products, started sales of a coriander-flavored instant noodles from Vietnam named Ngon Lam Vietnam Rau mui in June 2014. Two million packages have been sold so far.
Employees of the Kaldi chain, which is operated by Tokyo-based Camel Coffee Co., have also developed coriander-flavored Pakuchi Potato Chips, which has proved a hit since its release in November last year. Some Kaldi shops sell all their packages of the product almost as soon as they hit the shelves.
“It’s proved to be more popular than we expected,” a Camel Coffee official said.
The firm offers nine products using coriander, which are also available on its online shop (http://kaldi-online.com).
According to Hiroko Matsuda, a senior vegetable sommelier certified by the Japan Vegetable Sommelier Association, coriander has become popular because Japanese prefer a wider variety of flavors than before.
“As more of the herb is shipped to the market, it’s more likely to be featured on Japanese dining tables,” she said.
Fresh coriander also can go well with dashi used in Japanese cuisine, Matsuda said. “Putting just a little portion [of the herb] in udon, for example, gives the dish a new flavor,” she said. “I hope people will give it a try.”
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