Growing appetite for coriander in Japan
CORIANDER, known for its distinctively strong flavour and smell, is taking root in Japan.
More speciality restaurants are serving dishes focused on coriander - an annual herb native to the Mediterranean - particularly in Tokyo and Osaka.
Packaged food products featuring the herb, known as "pakuchi" in Japan, have also been hitting the shelves, such as instant noodles and snacks.
Among restaurants serving coriander in an all-you-can-eat style is GoGo Paxi, which opened in Chuo Ward, Osaka, in 2014.
Its menu features dishes such as fried rice at 1,080 yen (S$13.30) that use generous amounts of the herb, procured from domestic farmers.
Customers can eat as much coriander as they want with each dish.
Two women, aged 33 and 39, said they are fascinated by the way coriander's distinctive smell runs through the nose.
For GoGo Paxi representative Masayoshi Tabuchi, 32, whose mother is from Taiwan, coriander has been a familiar ingredient since his childhood.
"My aim is to make pakuchi, which is a symbol of different cultures, a major herb," he said.
At Pannya Cafe Curry in Fukushima Ward, Osaka, rice fried with keema curry (830 yen) is a popular dish, and it is topped with a lot of coriander.
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 if they try it when it's really fresh," he said.
Coriander's growing popularity has made it more easily available at supermarkets, as more farmers are producing it.
Among the nation's main production areas is the city of Okayama, where coriander production started in 2000. Today, 12 farms cultivate the herb. The city ships about 30 tonnes a year, according to the JA Okayama agricultural cooperative.
Kaldi Coffee Farm, a chain store that imports food products, started selling coriander-flavoured instant noodles from Vietnam named Ngon Lam Vietnam Rau Mui (95 yen) in June 2014. Two million packages have been sold so far.
The Kaldi chain's coriander-flavoured Pakuchi Potato Chips (192 yen) has also proved a hit since its release last November. The product is sold out almost as soon as it hits the shelves at some shops.
Hiroko Matsuda, a senior vegetable sommelier certified by the Japan Vegetable Sommelier Association, said coriander has become popular because Japanese prefer a wider variety of flavours than before.
"As more of the herb is shipped to the market, it's more likely to be featured on Japanese dining tables," she noted.
THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK