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Food & Beverage

Ramen rethink: COVID-19 pushes Japan eateries to innovate

Sushi chain creates ingenious broth to draw takeout customers for noodle dishes

A takeout ramen dish offered by Kura Sushi, which has developed a gelatinous broth that turns liquid when warmed up in a microwave.

OSAKA -- Demand for takeout food is growing in Japan due to the spread of the novel coronavirus, but many restaurants have been reluctant to offer ramen as noodles get soft and broth spills in transit.

A 27-year-old company employee, who used to frequent ramen shops more than three days a week before the outbreak, laments that he has been confined these days to ordering donburi-mono, or bowls of rice topped with ingredients such as beef or chicken.

But Kura Sushi, a leading revolving sushi bar chain operator, has found a solution. It has developed a gelatinous broth that turns into a liquid when warmed up in a microwave.

Kura Sushi uses a double-deck container with toppings on the upper portion and noodles and the gelatinous broth below, allowing customers to take the meal home without worrying about any liquid spilling out in transit.

Noodle soups are popular side meals at Kura Sushi restaurants, with sales reaching 20 million dishes per year. It began offering ramen and other noodles for takeaway in late May.

"We didn't have time to develop a takeout version of our noodle offerings but have now found time to do so as fewer people visit our restaurants and prefer to eat at home," a company official said.

Kura is not the only food chain focusing on noodle solutions.

Ohsho Food Service has launched noodle takeout at its "Gyoza no Ohsho" restaurant chain. A customer receives an order at an Ohsho outlet in Osaka.

Ohsho Food Service, operator of the "Gyoza (dumplings) no Ohsho" Chinese restaurant chain, is also promoting a takeout service, offering ramen and other noodle soups in a container that can be reheated in a microwave oven. Although the chain offers other meals for eating off premises, noodle soups, led by ramen, outsell them, a company official said.

Such dishes remain popular with Japanese consumers regardless of their age. According to Sarah, a delivery food app platform based in Tokyo, there were some 60 postings for ramen menus over about three months through June, the fifth largest number among meals offered for takeout.

With an end to the COVID-19 pandemic nowhere in sight, expansion of takeaway services has become crucial for restaurant operators, as has the creation of innovative menus, said one industry observer.

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