Meet The Guy Who Runs The Best Ramen-Ya In Germany
There is no way around it. The success story of Ramen outside of Japan can’t be stopped anymore. At the moment, no other Asian export is filling more hyped stomachs and emptying more bowls in Western cities than this lovely, amazing, and heart-warming Japanese noodle soup.
Now, even though the success story can’t be stopped, there are still many things that can be – and actually are – done wrong. A lot of people are trying to sell you the (Ramen) dream but, in the end, all you get is another cooked down, European-Asian-Instagram-ready version of an essentially authentic Asian dish.
Franchise chains run by smart (non-Asian) start-ups, corny “Asian” interior design monsters, and restaurants that cover anything from Sushi and Ramen to Pho and Curry are trying to water down the real power of a strong and nice broth.
But then there are businesses like Takumi, aka “The broth is strong with this one.” Their plan and realisation to bring authentic, Japanese cuisine to Germany started out in Düsseldorf’s “Little Japan” and is now taking over Munich and Berlin, too.
Honestly, Takumi is the shit. A present to any town it hits. Dreams of steaming bowls full of char siu, shoyu, shio, or miso are finally being realized in our hometowns. You know how serious I am about my Ramen and Takumi’s bowls are so good they could actually make me cry.
There are a couple of important but actually quite basic secrets behind the taste and quality of Takumi. As in life, it’s the simple things that lead to big stories. When we talk about Ramen, we talk about noodles, which make up a great dish. For Takumi, this means Nishiyama Seimen – THE Japanese noodle manufacturer that is putting the Ramen game on a whole new level since 1953. If you see their logo outside of a Ramen shop you can expect the highest quality in noodles ever. They are so good (and expensive) that even for Japanese Ramen shops it’s quite special to serve them in their bowls. So we are in Germany, thousands of miles away from the Seimen factories in Hokkaido, and the Takumi crew is still providing us with this greatness of a noodle. That’s just a little but pretty important hint to show you how serious those guys actually take their Ramen game.
In order to find out even more about what it needs to make an authentic (and good) bowl of Ramen, I’ve met with Yoshi, the bossman of Takumi Munich to have a chat on Ramen business, the story of these great restaurants and what’s next for him.
Read it! Open Google Maps! Go there! Eat!
Hey Yoshi, first of all thank you a lot for bringing the real deal Ramen to Munich.
It’s a pleasure.
So Munich for you and your team is…
München is my hometown. Never had this feeling outside of Japan. And my team is like brothers and sisters. We discuss a lot and we move forward together.
Can you please tell us a little bit about the story behind Takumi and your first moves in Germany?
First of all, Takumi means “Meister” in German.
Takumi is the name of an authentic Japanese Ramen brand, which established on January 2007 in Düsseldorf. Mr. Haruhiko Saeki, who’s a founder of Brickny Europe GmbH, had a plan to build up a real Ramen restaurant in Germany and our present partner Nishiyama Seimen in Sapporo were looking for a foreign business partner who could store and cook their very fine but delicate materials properly.
Later the Takumi GmbH was established on December 2010, which was founded by Mr.Saeki and his very best friend Mr. Kenjiro Komatsubara. Mr. Komatsubara had his own Ramen restaurant in Tokyo but he accept the offer from Mr. Saeki and came to Germany.
On February 2011, the authentic Japanese Ramen restaurant Takumi München started as a second restaurant of Takumi brand in Germany. And then on November 2012, I, Yoshihiko Yuki, became a member of Takumi Munich,
I worked for a German company in München and Mr. Komatsubara and I sometimes were going out as friends.I always loved the Takumi brand and all ideas of Mr. Komatsubara, so joining the Takumi GmbH wasn’t a difficult decision for me, because I was 100% consent to his proposal.
I started as a waiter, then assistant cook, cook, store manager etc. all experienced in 2 years. Mr. Komatsubara wanted me to be a manager of the store from beginning, but actually I never wanted to be a manager from the start who has no knowledges and skills but still acts very haughty because of the title. I guess it a kind of rare case that I finished all these steps in just two years, but anyway since September 2015 I officially became a president of Takumi GmbH after all.
So what's the secret behind your Ramen ?
There are a lot of secrets. But one big thing I can tell you is the partnership with Sapporo Nishiyama Europe GmbH. Without them, we could not provide this high level. I mean, all Nishiyama Seimen’s materials are so much high quality. Obviously these materials are all very expensive, but the necessary choice to embody and live up to Takumi’s ideals.
Can you tell us a little bit about the challenge bringing authentic Japanese cuisine into another country, what needs to be done to have a real bowl of Ramen somewhere out of Japan?
Our biggest challenge of this project was to push the real Ramen up as well known Japanese food just like Sushi. People surely have seen Ramen before on TV, magazines or comics... and pretty much sure all these people were curious about what was that, and tried to search it by internet. There are so many sushi places that selling some kind of Ramen, but that is just some kind of Ramen, no more than that.
We were afraid of people making the wrong decision about real Ramen because of the Ramen taste which you can get at these Sushi places.
So the always most important thing we needed for real Ramen were the noodles. If the noodles are bad, the taste of them often has a bad influence of the first impression of Ramen. But if the noodles are good...
Let's just say that again, Nishiyama Seimen is one of a highest and finest Ramen noodles manufacture companies in Japan. So if I might say something like what we needed to be done is, to get a contract of distribution with Nishiyama Seimen, and to do customs procedure for EU.
How do you control the quality or better said, when did you know you actually doing things right (making a great bowl of Ramen)?
As I said, Ramen noodles themselves will always be very important to keep our Ramen quality higher and the other thing which equality important with Ramen noodles, is a stock of soup from pig bones. Those two things must be checked every single day.
So for a great bowl of Ramen all you need is…
Of course we need the best materials. But what I personally want to say is, a strong affection for Ramen and an inquiring mind. If you focus on this all other things you need are likely to appear later.
There are quite a lot Japanese people living in Munich as well right? So how did they react when you came to this town?
Never had the exact numbers but approximately 3,500 Japanese people are living in Munich right now.. So some time before we actually opened up here, people already started to discuss about us and were saying, "Takumi is coming!!”. When we officially open the restaurant in München, all the Japanese people were happy and were saying, “This is a matter of joy!!”. At least that’s what I have heard.
And do you know why I know that?? Because on that time, I was one of them.
So since the Takumi gang is spread over Germany, how do the single restaurants differ from each other. From my perspective I would not see you as a typical chain, it’s more like every shop has its very own character, right?
Yes the Takumi gangs are all over Germany now, and there gonna be more and more, sooner or later. Every single town in which a Takumi exist has a chief operating officer who’s in charge of every single matter. Mr. Saeki in Düsseldorf is trusting everyone, so he lets us do what we believe in and give us the creative freedom we need. Of course there are still traditional methods you may not ignore, but if you are not deviating from the original method, you can still add your own character! That’s why you can feel influences of each CEO if you visit all Takumi restaurants across Germany.
Yoshi, how can you explain the recent Ramen boom and what still needs to be done to bring more Ramen magic to Germany and the rest of the world?
At the present day, we have kind of borderless culture. For this generation, Ramen can be easily accepted as “a overseas culture". But let’s say, how was that about 15years ago?? We obviously already had a great Ramen culture in Japan, but back then some kind of food like Ramen didn’t fit for a generation that was grown into and educated with "Don’t slurp your soup!”.
I guess a lot of Japanese people expected this Ramen boom, and also a lot of people tried to create their very own Ramen. I understand that everybody has its own taste. But even so, there are too many things (soups) that look like Ramen, but they still far behind und no chance close to reach the real deal. So what we need to do for more Ramen magic around Germany is to invite all Ramen lovers to Takumi, and eat real Ramen together.
Everybody should eat a real bowl of Ramen, otherwise you will feel like running through a foggy night without a torch.
Besides Ramen Japan is full of wonderful things, from Shabu Shabu to Tonkatsu and Yakitori, what do you think could be the next big thing making a leap into other food markets?
That’s a good question and I think, Takoyaki will be the one! They taste good, they're not that expensive, easily to take away, edible while you walk and they don't make you so full -they're just wow!!
One last question Yoshi, what is your favourite type of Ramen?
Obviously Takumi München’s Tonkotsu(pig bones) soup based Ramen. And I believe my Special Miso Ramen and Tan Tan Men will be one of the top of the world soon!! By the way, I like fish based Ramen too.
Thank you a lot for your time and work!!
Very welcome, Bianco ;))