Samui Wining & Dining
Turning Japanese

Fuji Restaurants lead the way in Japanese cuisine in Thailand. And there are two of them here on Samui.

19One thing Samui isn't short of is restaurants. And the cuisines of many of the world's nations are represented on the island. In recent years though, the food of one country in particular has raised its profile and popularity by leaps and bounds. And not just on Samui but in Thailand as a whole.

    Japanese restaurants have long been an established part of the Thai dining scene. There's an appreciation here for the exacting preparation techniques, the decorative presentation, the skill of the chefs, the healthy properties of the dishes and increasingly the value for money factor. In 2001 there were more than 300 Japanese restaurants in the kingdom and today that figure is estimated to be at least three times as much. And outside of Japan that places Thailand fifth in the world for Japanese restaurants behind the USA, China, Taiwan and South Korea.

    And leading the way is Fuji Japanese Restaurants. Wholly owned and operated by the Fuji Group their first restaurant in Thailand was opened in 1982. Since then they have grown organically to become Thailand's number one Japanese restaurant chain with nearly 70 restaurants around the country and further growth planned domestically and in neighbouring countries. Two of their restaurants are located on Samui, one in the Tesco Lotus complex in Chaweng and the other at the Tana Boutique Hotel on the southern end of Chaweng beach road. The former is open from 10:00 am until 9:30 pm and the latter from 11:00 am until 11:00 pm.

     Fuji is still very much a family owned enterprise. Japanese businessman Kenji Tanaka and his wife Rasri started the company three decades ago and they and their children are very much involved in the day-to-day operations. Over the years they've also started affiliated companies to ensure that they are fully responsible for everything from purchasing to quality control, delivery of their produce, marketing, IT systems, interior design, product development and human resources. They even set up a training centre and cookery school overseen by Japanese chefs in Bangkok to ensure that every chef is fully trained in the demanding techniques. And it takes years to master the necessary skills.

 

Since then they have grown organically
to become Thailand's number one
Japanese restaurant chain with nearly
70 restaurants around the country

 

      Over 6,000 people are employed in the business. And when you walk into a Fuji restaurant you'll notice several things straight away. The interiors are modern, classy and spotlessly clean. Frosted glass booths surround the walls giving privacy and there're long tables down the centre for larger groups. Their kitchen is open-plan so you can see into it. And there will be 15-20 chefs working away in quiet synchronicity, each with their own responsibilities but acting in conjunction with their colleagues. And the kitchen is just as clean as the restaurant. There's no shouting, banging of pots and pans or temper tantrums that kitchen reality shows love to highlight. These are professional chefs dedicated to providing the very best in Japanese cuisine each and every time.

      Their training facility is built to duplicate the kitchens in Fuji restaurants, and it is where the chef apprentices learn theoretical and practical lessons. Classes are taught by master chefs from Japan with over 30 years of cooking experience each. And there are also section head chefs who supervise each kitchen. Their facility is large enough to train as many as 100 chefs at a time. And training is divided into three specific areas of expertise: the Hot Kitchen, the Sushi Kitchen and the Teppan Kitchen. In the first area there are five sections: Agemono - for fried dishes; Nimono - for boiled, steamed and simmered menu items including sauces and soups; Yakimono - for grilled produce; Tempura - for tempura-fried dishes; and Bento and Salad - for salads, accompaniments and bento sets. In the Teppan Kitchen the chefs are responsible for preparing steaks and meat dishes as well as food that needs to be cooked with a teppan pan, a solid iron griddle. And chefs in the Sushi Kitchen are responsible for preparing sashimi, sushi and maki.

      This latter kitchen is operated by right handed male chefs only, who use specialised knives. Traditionally, a sushi knife is made of incredibly high-quality carbon steel, the same type used in the forging of katana, traditional Japanese swords. The average sushi knife, sometimes called a bento knife, does not use such high-quality materials, instead using top-end stainless steel. The best modern sushi knives still rely on steel though with a high carbon content. A major difference between a sushi knife and an average chef's kitchen knife is the way in which it is sharpened. While nearly all chef's knives are sharpened on both edges of the blade, a professional sushi knife is sharpened on only one edge, a style known as kataba. Having only one edge of the knife sharpened allows for cleaner cuts and more precision, but learning to use only one edge is more difficult and takes some time to master.

      Once you're seated in a Fuji restaurant be prepared to spend a bit of time looking through the menu, there're hundreds of dishes to choose from. If you're not too familiar with Japanese cuisine, each section has beautiful photographs of every dish And throughout the menu they have dozens upon dozens of sushi, sashimi, bento, seafood, tempura, teriyaki, katsu-toji, menchi katsu and tonhatsu 'sets' which are hugely popular. They come with rice, salad, sauces and accompaniments and a complementary miso soup and are around 150-420 baht a set depending on what you have. Plus they have an extensive a la carte sushi menu. Their in-house research and development team regularly work with experienced chefs and food scientists to continually create new and exclusive dishes. And even if you ate in a Fuji restaurant every day for a month you wouldn't have tried the majority of the menu. It's just as much about choice as it is about quality. Fuji restaurants are justifiably famous in Thailand and over the years they've won a number of culinary awards. And they have hundreds of thousands of regular guests who also receive discounts with their 'Fuji Smart Card' which is available in-store and on-line.

      Japanese food is healthy, nutritious and definitely delicious. And Fuji chefs are experts at making every dining experience memorable. One visit won't be enough to satisfy your culinary curiosity, but it should be enough to turn you on to the exciting world of modern Japanese cuisine

 

 

 

 

Johnny Paterson



 


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