The Joy of Fieldwork: Interview at Cocolo Rāmen X-Berg

by Cornelia Reiher

After our online interview experience with students from Seikei University and an interview in the classroom, our group visited a Japanese restaurant to interview the manager and an employee who is one of the course participant’s friends. As he happens to work at Cocolo Rāmen in Kreuzberg he was so kind to agree to be interviewed and asked the manager to join in as well. We traveled to Kreuzberg together and when we arrived at Cocolo in the early afternoon, most of the customers ate outside enjoying the warm and sunny weather. After putting together two tables for our rather large group inside the restaurant, students started to ask the questions they had prepared.

Cocolo Rāmen in Kreuzberg belongs to the Kuchi group run by the famours Vietnamese restaurateur The Duc Ngo who owns several Asian and Japanese restaurants in Berlin and Frankfurt. Cocolo Kreuzberg opened in 2013 and moved to another location within Kreuzberg in 2019. The restaurant’s interior is cozy and rustic. Everything from the wooden tables and benches where we were seated to the bar is hand-crafted. Students’ questions covered the personal biographies of our interview partners as well as the restaurant’s menu, staff, guests and the Corona-19 pandemic. We learned that the manager, Mr. Sumida, had already lived in Germany for more than twenty years, while Mr. Kuwahara came to Berlin only three years ago. While Sumida san manages the restaurant and has worked there from the beginning, Kuwahara san mainly works in the kitchen and makes rāmen and other dishes.

While the restaurant is now mainly frequented by locals who live in the neighborhood, before the pandemic, Cocolo was also a popular destination for tourists. Not only the guests have changed due to the pandemic, but also the restaurant’s sales strategy. While Cocolo was closed during the first lockdown, they started takeout services during the second lockdown in November 2020. As in many other Japanese restaurants in Berlin, the menu changed to adjust dishes for takeout. They added more rice dishes like donburi to the menu, for example. Another pandemic-related problem is that Cocolo, like so many other restaurants, had and still has difficulties finding staff.

After the interview, we ordered rāmen and enjoyed the variety of different tastes. Sumida san and his team take pride in the handmade ingredients, including miso used for miso rāmen. All ingredients are fresh and no frozen ingredients are used. This is reflected in the great taste of all the dishes we tried. Some of the students ordered the vegan and vegetarian rāmen variations. While vegetarian rāmen was on the menu since the restaurant opened, vegan rāmen was just added a few years ago. Sumida san was so nice to treat us to appetizers including delicious gyōza, edamame, karaage and horensō gomaae. Gochisōsama deshita!!!

Compared to the other interviews we have conducted so far, doing the interview in our research participants’ workplace had many advantages, but we also dealt with new challenges today. One advantage was that we could ask questions about what we observed, including interior and staff. If we would not have visited the restaurant, we would not have seen the noodle machine and watched how rāmen noodles were cut and we could not have tasted the food ourselves. Through being in the restaurant, we were able to feel the atmosphere firsthand, watch staff at work and listen to the background music that included Japanese enka and pop songs.  One disadvantage, however, was exactly this background music for recording the interview. However, it was a good experience of yet another and different interview situation and reminded us of the importance of taking notes. The most exciting thing of course was eating rāmen together after the interview. Thank you so much Sumida san and Kuwahara san for your time, for the hospitality and for treating us to the delicious appetizers!!!!

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