With Japan aiming to attract 40 million foreign visitors annually by 2020, one of the most pressing issues is how to better accommodate dietary restrictions. In particular, a recent increase in Muslim visitors has left restaurants scrambling to address the need for Muslim-friendly and halal-certified foods.
In Part 1, Professor Mariko Arata of Ritsumeikan University’s College of Gastronomy Management elucidated her general thoughts on the matter. Here, in part 2, she provides more detail as she asks:
In practical terms, what does halal menu development really mean in Japan, and what form might it take?
Professor Arata explains, ‘In addition to listing haram ingredients, I would like to see restaurants increase the number of dishes that Muslims can eat without having to ask for a special menu by adding items to their regular menu that would potentially fall within the definition of halal for those with a more liberal interpretation of restrictions.
‘Simply by implementing the following measures, for example, restaurants could potentially accommodate a much larger number of Muslim customers:
● Create a menu of several simple dishes that are boiled or grilled with salt and allow customers to order them a la carte
● Don’t add ham or bacon to anything
● Instead of mixing in ingredients that could be considered haram, allow people to choose them as toppings
● Use halal meat
‘Restaurants might also consider providing a range of table seasonings to accommodate the preferences and tastes of people from around the world. For Southeast Asians, for example, standard seasonings include chili sauce and sweet chilis. These could be provided alongside Japanese seasonings like ichimi, shichimi, and yuzu-kosho.’
Enhance hospitality by understanding that halal is more important than halal certification
Halal certification is just one standard used to show that dishes are prepared using halal ingredients. This certification, which is provided by third-party organizations, certifies that products and services adhere to Islamic dietary law.
For example, for meat like beef and chicken to be certified as halal, the animals’ throats must be cut with a sharp blade after an adult Muslim offers a prayer. Meat from animals raised and slaughtered by a Muslim acquaintance does not need to be certified, but in cases of international trade, including when non-Muslims are involved in the business, halal certification is often required.
According to Professor Arata, however, the certification system is not without its issues. ‘A uniform international standard for halal certification doesn’t exist - rather there are numerous certification bodies around the world. For this reason, some vendors will only recognize certain certifications.
Meanwhile, in the restaurant sector, a whole range of terminology is currently used: halal restaurant, halal chef certification, halal-friendly certification, Muslim-friendly certification and so on, which can cause confusion among both service providers and consumers alike.
Another important point to take note of is that restaurants aiming to accommodate all Muslims by trying to satisfy the strictest standards end up incurring more costs, which are then passed on to customers, meaning, in the end, no one is happy.’
Professor Arata continues, ‘Outside of the range of certified products, there are a wealth of products that individual Muslim consumers deem to be halal’. The implication is that restaurants should not overly rely on halal certification, but should rather start by disclosing information and developing menus with more options, as I mentioned earlier. Restaurateurs need to explore a wider range of measures while striving to communicate with Muslims.’
The Muslim community is extremely diverse, so dietary preferences differ widely based on sect, school of thought, and each person’s interpretation of dietary restrictions. It may even be true to say there is no such thing as a menu that can satisfy everyone. ‘What’s important is two-way communication and developing dishes and products through trial and error,’ says Pofessor Arata.
If this article can provide some helpful hints to stretch the already accommodating bounds of Japan’s well-known omotenashi hospitality even further, perhaps the concept of ‘hospitality through cuisine’ to better accommodate Muslim visitors will extend even further to ensure eating out in Japan is an easy and pleasurable experience for all international visitors, irrespective of their country of origin.
Return to PART 1>>
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