Wow! What an experience. As I write this, I have just finished a three week stint in Japan cooking fish and chips for visitors to the Hankyu department store as part of its annual British Fair in Fukuoka and Osaka.
We were the third winner of the Independent Takeaway Award to be invited to this amazing country, following in the footsteps of Calum Richardson from The Bay in Stonehaven two years ago and Raymond Fusco from Quayside in Whitby last year.
In fact, having blazed the trail, Calum accompanied me as he had done Raymond, which made the trip slightly less daunting!
When we arrived in Fukuoka the first thing we did was check that the fish and potatoes that had been shipped out to Japan in a freezer container had arrived. Thankfully all was present and correct.
Then, as a large swathe of the eighth floor of the Hankyu Hakata store was cleared to make way for a range of pop-up shops – everything from a bakery to a whisky shop – we spent the whole day prepping for the fair opening and the arrival of our first customers the next day.
The Japanese are really enthusiastic, so we got a great reception as people started coming into the store. I guess the nearest thing to fish and chips most of them would have tasted would be tempura, the very light batter.
That said, at least two of our visitors on the first day said they were returning after having enjoyed the Quayside’s fish and chips the year before!
While we were busy in Fukuoka, it was nothing compared to the situation in Osaka.
The Umeda store in Osaka is the home of Hankyu, which is the equivalent of Harvey Nichols or Harrods in this country, and is the chain’s biggest store.
As soon as we arrived, whipped up the country by bullet train in no time, I could sense that this was a much busier city. We enjoyed the official opening ceremony before settling down to work and when the doors opened the queues started forming right away.
On one of the days in Osaka, the queues were up to 100 deep and we sold more than 1,200 portions of fish and chips. It was incredibly busy. I don’t think I really appreciated how popular fish and chips are here in Japan until we got to Osaka.
The people were very enthusiastic and our fish and chips were very well received. It’s hard to believe that people in the land of sushi and sashimi have embraced fish and chips so strongly!
It has been a fantastic experience, and I’m really grateful to Calum and to Shoko Shimohara, Michiko Kuniyoshi and Shunji Nishimura for all their hard work with us in the pop-up shop.
Representatives from the store, led by UK-based Keiji Hayashi, twice visited Frankie’s to help us prepare for the visit.
According to Mr Keiji more than 120 UK brands were represented at the fair, which was expected to attract more than 500,000 people overall.
We got to know many of the representatives of those brands and have formed new friendships at what was also a very social fair.
And of course, while we promoted UK fish and chips, we got to savour the fantastic Japanese food, everything from teppanyaki to sushi. It was a culinary exchange from which we will all benefit.