Gunma Prefecture is hoping Americans develop a craving for the jelly-like "konnyaku" (devil's tongue), a prefectural specialty, and has set up a shop at a Japanese restaurant in New York to promote it and test diners' reactions.
The Tokyo Tapas Cafe, which opened in March, is run by Noboru Kobayashi, who is from Takasaki in the prefecture, and Sachiko Mitsuno from Tokyo.
“We want to propose various dishes so Americans will come to eat konnyaku with little hesitation, like a second tofu,” Kobayashi said of the "konnyaku antenna shop."
The idea of the shop, to introduce and market the product as well as to acquire a sense of consumer trends and tastes, was realized thanks to a meeting of the cafe operators, who had been interested in serving konnyaku dishes, and the prefecture, which had been looking for such a market research base.
Konnyaku is little known in the United States, according to Kobayashi.
Konnyaku, produced from the tuber of a konnyaku plant, has long been a mainstay of Japanese dishes. It is considered an ideal health food for its non-fat and fiber-rich quality and with a low calorie content.
The prefecture and the Tokyo Tapas Cafe will jointly study customer reactions in order to utilize the result in developing products attractive to American consumers.
Because of its unique texture, foreigners often mistake konnyaku jelly for a fish cake and often shy away from eating it and cooking it in that form.
So the restaurant serves low-calorie egg rolls and hamburgers, made from a konnyaku flour mixture.
It also experimented with a sushi roll using sashimi konnyaku, sliced konnyaku to be eaten raw with a dip.
The prefecture and the cafe will survey customers who have dined or sampled various konnyaku dishes.
The cafe also is exhibiting a tapestry illustrating characteristics of konnyaku and the process of making konnyaku jelly from a plant.
The prefectural government’s sericulture and horticulture division plans to study customer reactions to 750 servings by January.
“We want to utilize the reports for product development,” an official said. “We are aiming at increasing konnyaku exports.”