“Being Japanese isn't just about the language – it is the service, the attitude.” Alvin Gani, Manager Ippudo Melbourne CBD
Yesterday we went to Doncaster - mostly to swap a birthday gift cookbook, but also to buy some more Grano from Colonial Stores. Whilst there I took this photograph of the very striking piece of Japanese - or maybe pseudo Japanese art, advertising the coming of a new Ippudo store to Doncaster. I took the photograph in the hope that it might fit this week's photo shoot topic of Renewal. (Very difficult Monika!) Anyway I thought I must be able to do something with this, even if I have written about Ramen itself before. And having just reread that post I don't think there is much more I can say about ramen itself.
Initially I thought that poster was very appropriate because it looked as if the new behemoth - and it is a behemoth - would be located next to a ramen competitor - Hakata gensuke - but then I realised that this store was no more and that the next door competition is actually Chinese/Vietnamese - Dumpling Alley, which is very popular. There were queues there even during lockdown. I just checked their website whose Home page is simply stunning - see below - so tranquil and not at all like the busy fast food place that it actually is. They do dumplings - not ramen. I think the truffle dumplings are their speciality. Although of course there are noodles and other things too.
So I sort of changed my mind about what I would write and thought that as well as checking out Ippudo itself I would see what else Doncaster shopping town has to offer in the way of Japanese food.
Well heaps as it happens. I am ignoring (for today) the other Asian options of which there are many because Doncaster is heavily Chinese. I believe part of the reason is because Doncaster is high on a hill - the views are magnificent - and Feng shui is heavily into being up high. Which might be why there are massive skyscrapers in downtown Box Hill at the bottom of the Doncaster Hill and a large Chinese population. The Chinese element also means that Doncaster shops are becoming increasingly upmarket. Truffle dumplings in a fast food outlet?
Of course it's an ever-changing world in the hospitality scene whether it be Doncaster or far north and west Australia, but on the current count, according to the Westfield Doncaster website there are currently seven Japanese food outlets there, with Ippudo soon to join them. And I have now only just realised that there are fourteen restaurants on the roof. I had no idea, which shows how completely out of the dining out scene I am, and how little I go out generally really. We have become true homebodies in recent years and hardly ever venture out. So much for my new year's resolution of eating out locally once a month!
Of course the Doncaster scene is of no interest to any of you my loyal readers, however, I shall continue to list them because I think it shows how cosmopolitan we have become, and also so everywhere the same, because I'm guessing that your own local large shopping centre has several of these stores - and if not them, then similar ones. Globalisation, thanks to McDonalds has led to franchising and I suspect that virtually all of these places are franchises.
So far I have only checked out a couple of the seven on the current list but have rapidly realised that every one of these places has a story to tell, so I think I shall merely list them and show their shopfronts and put them on a mental to do list for later. But I will 'do' Ippudo - mostly because of that wonderful poster.
Ok so first of all the sushi group. There are four of these. There's always sushi. An incredibly bland kind of food it seems to me - but I'll save that for another day. At Doncaster there are Itamae Sushi, Sushi Hub, Sushi Jiro and Sushi Sushi - which has two locations. Some are just stands and some more substantial, and they are possibly all franchises. I shall investigate - and also sushi. I don't think I have ever done sushi.
Then we have two Izakaya kind of places. Izakayas according to Gyoza Gyoza - one the Doncaster two are:
"very popular in Japan; they are similar to pubs, with a menu of small-sized dishes, great drinks and a warm atmosphere all of equal importance."
Here you will get those pancake things I wrote about - Okonomiyaki, teppanyaki, gyoza and all manner of other things. So Doncaster has Gyoza Gyoza and also Dohtonbori - one of those on the roof.
Finally there is one outlier Yeosin which is described as Fusion Asian BBQ and actually I think probably more Korean than Japanese. But Japanese was definitely one of the cuisines mentioned.
Considering the large Chinese population of the Doncaster area, and considering the equally large number of Chinese offerings at Westfield, I wonder who are the people that patronise the Japanese establishments. Japanese, as you know by now, is not one of my favourite cuisines, but it seems to be loved by a very large number of Anglo Australians. I wonder if there is a way to find that out.
And so to Ippudo. Ippudo is famous for its ramen and the Shiromaru Motoaji Tonkotsu bowl in particular.
"This is one of IPPUDO’s signature bowls, recommended for all first-timers. Picture a creamy tonkotsu broth, a secret dashi, thin, straight noodles, tender slices of pork loin chashu, bean sprouts, black fungus and spring onions. The adjective ‘porky’ gets thrown around a lot in ramen circles, and this bowl is ‘porky plus’." Urban List
The company has won countless awards and competitions with its fame being such that at one point cup noodles were made in conjunction with 7/11.
The company was founded way back in 1985 by this man - Shigemi Kawahara. He was born in Fukuoka in 1952. In his twenties he worked in bars, finishing in the small hours of the morning with a bowl of ramen in a local ramen bar. He wondered why these bars were not populated by the young like the bars in which he worked. After thinking about it he realised it was because they were often old and dirty unfriendly places, and so he resolved to change the world of ramen - to open it up to the young. It took him a year of experimentation to find the perfect recipes and in 1985 he opened his first Ippudo restaurant in his hometown. That desire to shake up the world has remained with him down the years. On the official website you will find the phrases:
"To constantly change so as to never change.
Keep changing to remain unchanged.”
He is now in his 70s but the passion to innovate remains.
“I get ideas from books, music and movies. I am always thinking of what is new and interesting, what is innovative and if it will make people happy. What motivates me is passion.” Shigemi Kawahara
I was struck by an opening comment - I think on their American website - which said that in 2035 they would be celebrating 50 years of operations, and in 2085 - 100. What optimism and hope I thought, and it all seems to come from him. At first I could find nothing about the man but then I found an interview by Tan Pin Yen in the Michelin Guide - yes Michelin - it's not often you see franchise companies in the Michelin Guide. The interview was called Telling a story through Ramen and I have to say it endeared me to the founder and CEO of the company.
The interview must have taken place in one of the restaurants, because the interviewer observed this scene before Shigemi Kawahara ate his meal.
"Ask him about those moments when he has his eyes closed and the 70-year-old chef replies: “In Japan, before eating, we address those who have guided us, so my father, mother and those before them, like my grandparents. Then there’s my wife’s parents, my siblings, my children, my fellow colleagues working with me. I say thank you to them, then I start eating. This has been my routine.” Tan Pin Yen/Michelin Guide
The name Ippudo apparently means 'one wind hall' and Wikipedia seems to think this is because:
"at the time, there were dark clouds over the Kyushu ramen industry, and the founder and CEO intended to "blow wind and revolutionise the era".
In the Michelin Guide interview Shigemi Kawahara says it was the name of a band he liked at the time.
The design of the restaurants is based on the old original local ramen places:
"underlying the design is the theory of the five elements: wood, fire, earth, metal, and water"
There is even a dedicated pottery in the town of Arita in Japan which produces the bowls for the restaurants.
A year after the first restaurant he formed the Chikaranomoto Group which manages the now around 175 restaurants around the world. There are 80 in Japan alone. America was the first of course, followed by Singapore, Hong Kong, the Phillipines, Paris, Britain - and on it goes, with a future focus on South-East Asia it seems. The Urban List article announcing Melbourne's first - in the CBD - said:
"Sydney has been smugly slurping IPPUDO ramen for ages. In fact there’s even an IPPUDO restaurant in Perth. For years, Melbourne watched on, envious, quietly fuming."
So now it seems we are to have two. Interesting that the second should be in an outer north eastern suburb and a shopping centre, rather than in some trendy inner Melbourne suburb. It will be at the end of one of the two parallel corridors at the centre, near the food shops and Coles. A humble location for a massively successful global company. Maybe it's a reminder of it's humble origins. And that poster is definitely a reminder of 'old Japan'.