‘Sanuki udon’ restaurants head overseas in bid to be next hit Japanese-style food



Sanuki udon noodle restaurant chains based in Kagawa Prefecture are starting to take their specialty overseas, especially to Asian markets, in hopes of winning local consumers over to a new category of Japanese food.

Sanuki udon are thick noodles from Kagawa — Sanuki is the former name of the prefecture. They are usually served cold with a dipping sauce or in a hot broth with toppings such as tempura fried seafood or vegetables.

The Tamoya chain, which runs 11 restaurants in various parts of Japan, opened its first overseas outlet in Singapore in 2013 and has been operating in Indonesia and Taiwan since last August.

The overseas restaurants “have proved more popular than expected as they are filled with customers during lunch time and on weekends,” said Akihiko Koga, 44, president of Japan Food Culture Pte., a Singapore-based venture in charge of Tamoya’s Asian operations.

Sanuki udon have attracted Asian consumers because they can pick the tempura of their choice as toppings at relatively low prices, in contrast with the common perception that it is a high-priced Japanese dish, according to Tamoya.

Tamoya, headquartered in the prefectural capital of Takamatsu, plans to increase the number of overseas restaurants from five as of the end of last November to 13 by the end of next month, and further targeting a chain of 70 restaurants in Asia by the end of 2017.

West Food Planning, operator of the Kodawari Menya chain based in Marugame, Kagawa Prefecture, opened its first overseas restaurant in Kuala Lumpur in October 2014 and will set up two more in Malaysia this year. It is also considering operating in Singapore and Taiwan.

Kobe-based Toridoll Corp., which runs the Marugame Seimen chain, and Hanamaru Inc., the Tokyo-based operator of the Hanamaru Udon chain, are trailblazers overseas, both opening outlets abroad back in 2011. Toridoll, for example, now has more than 120 Marugame Seimen restaurants in 12 overseas markets, including Cambodia, Malaysia, Australia, Taiwan, China and Russia.

Toridoll and Hanamaru “have raised the recognition of udon overseas and achieved local acceptance of self-service restaurants,” a West Food official said.

“We would like to see Sanuki udon accepted across the world, overcoming differences in culture, religion and taste to localize the products,” said Toshinaga Hirai, 51, head of the Japan External Trade Organization’s office in Takamatsu.