Studying authentic vegan ramen in Berlin and Vienna

by Felix Fischer, Ivan Kaira and Fabian Reuter

Are you vegan and do you love Japanese ramen? Then you might wonder how you can get information about supreme ramen shops with regional ingredients in Berlin or Vienna. Japanese Studies students from Berlin and Vienna can help you out. On Thursday, June 23, 2022, four students from Vienna University and three students from Freie Universität Berlin met online for a student conference on regional and vegan Japanese food in Berlin and Vienna. And here are the results.

Maja Schachner and Vivien Überfellner presented their research on “authenticity and regionality in Viennese Ramen bars” (“Authentizität und Regionalität in Wiener Ramen-Bars“). They looked at interior design, staff, service, and menu in order to decipher ways to create authenticity in ramen bars.  They also considered management and customer expectations using participant observation, expert interviews, and secondary literature. They discovered certain strategies to introduce vegan options as “inauthentic” while importing products from Japan was read as authentic.

Referring to kaiseki, a Japanese cuisine often featured in Japanese restaurants, David Wurz talked about the „significance of regionality for Japanese food in Vienna” (“Bedeutung von Regionalität für japanisches Essen in Wien“ ). Since regionality and seasonality play an important role in this type of Japanese cuisine, he was interested in how restaurants in Vienna met these standards. Using qualitative interviews with chefs and staff from restaurants, David was able to discover the frequent use of mushrooms and asparagus as seasonal products in Vienna’s Japanese restaurants.

Another take on customer experience took the group “Vegan ramen options in Vienna” („Vegane Ramenangebote in Wien“). Bridging the gap between authentic Japanese cuisine and demands for vegan alternatives is important for restaurateurs. Patrizia Stromberger found some insightful answers to this problem in the Viennese gastro scene. She used interviews with a mix of Austrian, Japanese and Chinese restaurant owners in order to analyze the influence of cultural background on adopting authentic or vegan options. Patrizia found out that one restaurant owner referred to taste as the relevant marker of authenticity. However inclusive this might seem, only Japanese customers’ taste seems to be relevant to authentic taste, thereby impeding the adaption of Japanese food to vegan customers.

We presented a Berlin perspective on how food labeling plays a role in promoting Japanese food in Asia food markets and Japanese restaurants in Berlin. Especially important for our project are the ways labels are presented on Japanese food products from Japan, products of Japanese food from outside Japan and Japanese food products produced in Germany. Furthermore, we want to find out about labeling practices in Japanese restaurants via doing semi-structured interviews with managers and analyzing menus.

In summary, all four groups found different ways of employing social scientific methods in order to find out more about regional, vegan or seasonal food presentation in Japanese-coded shops and restaurants in Vienna and Berlin. So, stay tuned for the results of our projects which are due in September.

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