A Taste of Japan in Taman Desa

18 December 2015

From ramen to yakitori, Seiji Fujimoto has conquered the suburbs of Taman Desa, Kuala Lumpur with his establishments that serve up authentic Japanese street food.

To those who live in the Taman Desa area of Kuala Lumpur, you would have come across one of its more popular eateries run by Seiji Fujimoto, Japanese chef and entrepreneur. Located within walking distance from each another, Fujimoto has brought to Malaysia what we are known best internationally for: street food.

Prior to establishing his Japanese restaurants, Fujimoto was a store manager at Isetan, Malaysia but decided that he wanted to bring good and authentic Japanese food to Malaysians everywhere. This is when Fujimoto decided to set up his first udon shop, Sanuki Udon, which has been around for about 7 years to date. He went on to establish a Japanese barbecue joint (which he no longer owns) and shortly after, Lao Jiu Lou, an authentic ramen shop with Chinese flavours, as well as Maruhi Sakaba, his first yakitori-ya, or barbecue shop.

“We need to teach people how to eat, and what to eat. Most people have a limited understanding of how to enjoy the different types of food. Traditional Japanese food is too formal, this is why I wanted to create casual dining food which is affordable in Malaysia; real Japanese food that the locals can enjoy daily,” says Seiji.

He first learned how to perfect his udon and stock-making techniques from Kagawa in Japan, the birthpluce of the Sanuki udon, which is known for its square shape and texture. Sanuki Udon is known for its authentic Original Soup Udon, or if you are looking for something a little more adventurous, the Natto Udon, a fermented bean. Seiji goes on to say, “The key to a great natto udon is that you have to mix it 100 times. This causes the enzymes in the natto to evenly mix which causes bubbles and frothing, giving it a great texture and flavour.”

“I try to make it less oily as many Malaysians do not like to eat too greasy food. Malaysians understand food very well and therefore we cannot easily trick them by serving food that is not authentic. In the past, many Japanese restaurants would just use a Japanese name to confuse people. Nowadays, you can’t get away with that anymore.”

This approach is taken carefully as seen in Lao Jiu Lou, a ramen shop. The ramen is made fresh and springy, with a great soup base that is not overly oily. The traditional tonkotsu, pork bone stock, can be a bit daunting for those who cannot appreciate the strong flavours, and that is why Fujimoto has taken the liberty to Malaysianize the flavours by making them lighter. Some of the dishes that are must-trys at Lao Jiu Lou include their Shoyu Ramen, Dan Dan Ramen and Hiyashi Goma Ramen, a cold ramen in sesame sauce.

Seiji continues: “In Japan, we eat and drink at the same time, Malaysians however would have dinner first and then drinks after. I want to teach Malaysians how to enjoy food and drink together as the same time.”

This is exemplified through Maruhi Sakaba, his yakitori shop. Yakitori are meats on sticks akin to the Malaysian satay, where different meats are cooked on skewers. With yakitori however, there is a more profound cooking method, with some of the best being cooked with only binchotan, a type of white hardwood charcoal made which burns at a lower temperature, producing a more even cooking.

Yakitori is made to appeal to a more mature market, as it is healthier compared to other Japanese cooking such as barbecue. It is more complex in flavour and preparation which mostly use the main ingredient of salt.”

At Maruhi Sakaba, they also serve atypical dishes, as the liver sashimi. This dish is moderately thick slices of raw liver, which is served on a side of shaved ginger and daikon. Like most offal, this dish has a pronounced taste and is definitely for the adventurous. The chicken sashimi is also an interesting take, and no, it does not taste like raw chicken as its seasoned well and slightly seared on its rim.

As for the decision to not just open a Japanese restaurant serving sashimi, Seiji has this to say, “As a 45-year old myself, I stay away from rich food such as fatty fish sashimi because it’s too oily, and I would actually prefer lighter sashimi such as Kohada or Aji, but these are cheap fish. In Japan, we pay for the skill of the chef in cutting fish, not just the fish.”

When asked why he decided to open up Japanese restaurants in Malaysia, he quips, “I love Malaysian food; it is famous for its street food. Malaysians really love and understand food very well, but they don’t know much about the different types of Japanese food. I like this challenge on educating Malaysians, and this is why I introduce uncommon dishes.”

If you want to have an authentic Japanese street food, you should take a gander around Taman Desa to one of his outlets for affordable dining in a casual setting, and don’t be surprised when the udon and soba lives up to your expectations.

By Nicholas Ng

Feast at Seiji Fujimoto’s restaurant’s in Kuala Lumpur.

Sanuki Udon

Address: No. 9, Jalan Bukit Desa 5, Taman Bukit Desa, Kuala Lumpur.

Tel: +603 7980 3704

Opening Hours: Tue-Sun 12pm-3pm and 6pm-9:30pm; closed on Mondays

Lao Jiu Lou

Address: 25, Jalan Bukit Desa 5,

Taman Bukit Desa, Kuala Lumpur.

Tel: +6012 387 4520

Opening Hours: Tue-Sun 11:30am-9:30pm; closed on Mondays

Maruhi Sakaba

Address: 6A, Plaza Faber, Jalan Desa Jaya, Taman Desa, Kuala Lumpur.

Tel: +6012 241 8131

Opening Hours: Tue-Sun 6pm till late; closed on Mondays

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