An insight into foreign pots and pans. A comparison of German and Japanese cuisines.
Sascha Barby, chef and product manager at Rational in Landsberg am Lech (Germany) and his Japanese colleague Okada Hirokazu, also a chef and National Corporate Chef at Rational in Tokyo, have known each other for years and regularly exchange experiences. It is Okada-san’s know-how that has been elemental in every SelfCookingCenter containing special cooking programs for the Japanese market, which cover the typically Japanese cooking habits.
Sascha, you have just come back from Japan. What was the purpose of your trip?
We wanted to learn more about the changes in Japanese society, Japanese food and of course in the professional Japanese kitchen and the cooking methods. The isakayas, Japanese pubs, and casual dining options in particular were of interest to us. From Germany it is difficult to understand how the hospitality industry works in a different country, so it is always better to see it for yourself.
Did you visit other restaurants?
We looked at many other kitchens, such as in industry catering, in hospitals and in catering. In food production, the differences between Japan and Germany are not that big. The workflows are similar, especially in hospitals we saw some very well-planned cook&chill systems. Overall, the demand in terms of quality of food is different.
What are the differences?
In Japan, there is more emphasis on freshness and how dishes are plated. For fish and seafood especially. Japanese chefs define good food by the raw ingredients and the sophisticated presentation of dishes. Even in the lower price segment. Many dishes also have multiple components, such as fermented vegetables, raw and cooked fish, tofu variations. This makes the dishes quite complex. In short, the Japanese are very careful, if not respectful, with their food. When cooking too of course.
Okada-san, what has been your experience of German eating habits?
I don’t know many different dishes, but I get the impression that meat and sides is very important to the Germans.
So what are your favourite foods from the respective other country?
Other than seafood in all variants, definitely Tosui Tofu. It’s fresh tofu in soy milk, which can then be refined with dashi made from Bonito flakes. Japanese tofu has many different variations and a refined flavour, and is very far from what we usually get in Germany. Especially because the dish is so simple, the flavour was really impressive.
In Japan, you can eat many German products, such as bacon and sausages. But in Bavaria, I learned to love the traditional Weißwurst. A suprisingly fresh sausage and I was surprised that you can only eat it in the morning.
And what do you think, what would a German order first in Japan? Or a Japanese in Germany?
A German would definitely first go looking for raw seafood such as sashimi or sushi. And he would be surprised that there is a lot more to Japanese cuisine. Delicious soups such as ramen or soba for example. Or okonomiyaki, a type of Japanese pizza. And of course yakitori, grilled meat or vegetable skewers. These are served in isakayas and also prepared in the SelfCookingCenter XS. A food lover would not know where to begin in Japan.
For me, Germany is still about sausage and beer (laughs). Another dish is boiled potato with Quark. Just as delicious. For breakfast, there are several types of bacon, sausage and cheese, and the famous German bread. I think I have eaten too much.
Is this what you would have thought?
We also have meat dishes such as sukiyaki (stew), shabu shabu (fondue with broth), roast, grilled steak. There are also many noodle dishes such as ramen, soba or okonomiyaki. And of course grilled meat, yakitori (meat skewers), eel etc.
I fall within the stereotype of schnitzel and pork knuckle.
What did you generally like about the restaurants in the other country?
In service, the Japanese are much more digitized that we are in Germany. So for example, customers in many casual dining restaurants will order digitally, and you will only see service staff when the food is served. This reduces waiting times significantly, especially for drinks where bar robots are sometimes used. Even the food is served quickly, the Japanese do not like waiting. Another reason for the digitization is that it is increasingly difficult to find staff in Japan. The situation has gotten worse due to the development of society. So digital ordering systems for restaurants provide some relief. A trend that is also continued in the kitchen: Due to the skills shortage, cooking has to be rethought, including digitally.
I don’t think that our kitchen processes are much better. I found that equipment and the structure of German kitchens to be very efficient. As such, the operation is good and the productivity is extremely efficient even with few staff.
Are there challenges that you think are the same in both countries?
For me, as already mentioned before, it is the skills shortage. Few want to work in the kitchen or in service. So Japanese restaurateurs are coming up with ideas such as the digital ordering system. In some kitchens, the cooking method also changes. Small combi-steamers such as the SelfCookingCenter XS are becoming more popular.
That’s exactly right. The solution in Germany is not digitization in service, as we still attach too much importance to the personal aspect. In Germany, I also see the starting point in digitization, but rather in the kitchen. We have found that more and more customers are looking into the matter and using ConnectedCooking, the cloud-based network solution by Rational. Digital monitoring of cooking processes can be a great help with hygiene, i.e. HACCP, for example. Hygiene management will become an important issue in Japan in the next few years due to upcoming legislation.
And where do you see differences?
The takeaway market in Japan is much more important than in Germany. When I look at the supermarkets with their wide variety of ready-made dishes, I find a lot of ideas that could be of interest in a German supermarket. In Japan, many working people use lunch or bento boxes. These are a composition of different foods such as fish, tofu or vegetables. And in order to meet the needs of an ageing society, it is all also available in smaller packages. But the different product range is certainly also because there are many single households in Japan and the society is ageing. They therefore cook less and like to have more convenient solutions.
I also see some major differences in the takeaway market and in lunch boxes, which are a flexible response to various needs and meals. It is clearly a trend in Japan, since the sales figures are steadily growing.
One final question: What do you bring from your experiences to your day-to-day work?
We can better support our customers in becoming even better in many areas.
The love of detail and the freshness of the food. And as concerns the mentality, definitely the politeness and the friendliness, although in cities like Tokyo you are in a confined space with many people. And that we are on track as concerns digitization, it will be an exciting topic in the next few years.
Thank you for your time!