Nguyen Tat Trung, originally from Hai Duong Province, has been serving Vietnamese cuisine to Japanese diners in Tokyo for over 20 years.
When Trung first arrived in Japan in the early 2000s, the number of Vietnamese restaurants could be counted on one hand.
Now, thanks to Trung and other Vietnamese pioneers like him, that number sits well into the hundreds.
|The sigboard of Pho Trung restaurant in Tokyo, Japan. Photo: Supplied|
Trung, now in his 60s, served in the Vietnamese volunteer troops in Cambodia before returning to Ho Chi Minh City in the 1980s to study tourism and hotel management at what is now known as Saigontourist Hospitality College.
After graduating, he started an internship and then a full-time position at the five-star Rex Hotel in District 1.
His work at the Rex set him up for an opportunity to work as a head chef in Japan – a position he held for 13 years before deciding it was time to follow his own dreams of opening an eatery.
Now, Pho Trung sits in the heart of Tokyo and is considered a go-to haunt for both Japanese locals, Vietnamese and expats from other countries in Japan looking for authentic Vietnamese flavors.
“When it comes to Vietnamese cuisine, pho is the most well-known, so I named my restaurant Pho Trung so that people could remember it easily,” Trung said, adding that he also serves several other well-known Vietnamese dishes.
Though Trung’s restaurant is now considered highly successful, the dining industry in Japan hasn’t always been a bed of roses from the Vietnamese chef and entrepreneur.
Aside from the difficulty of sourcing ingredients, he also found himself in a constant battle against diners who say his food isn’t truly representative of the Southeast Asian country.
Eventually, Trung realized that his experience cooking in Japanese restaurants had led him to naturally adjust flavors to the Japanese pallet.
It wasn’t until after he re-adjusted these flavors back to being authentically Vietnamese that he began to find success.
“That’s when diners accepted my pho a ‘real pho’,” Trung shared.
“That’s also when I realized the values of the authentic Vietnamese flavors. We’ve been busy ever since.”
|A bowl of beef pho served at Pho Trung restaurant in Tokyo, Japan. Photo: Supplied|
Many Japanese diners often approach Trung to ask about the different ingredients and flavors in his dishes.
“They ask a lot of questions, and the more they ask, the more we get to teach them about Vietnamese cuisine and how unique and different it is,” Trung said.
After eight years of running his Vietnamese restaurant in Japan, Trung is proud that each dish the restaurant serves reaches the right quality as chefs use devices to measure everything from the amount of water and bones they use, to how much seasonings to put in.
“The authentic Vietnamese flavors in our dishes remain the same after all these years,” Trung said.
Aside from running a restaurant, Trung also offers chef training courses, pho cooking classes, and kitchen design consulting for people who want to open Vietnamese restaurants in Japan.
|Chef Nguyen Tat Trung. Photo: Supplied|
This weekend, Trung and his pho brand will also participate in the Vietnam Pho Festival 2023 in Tokyo.
The event, which will take place from October 7 to 8 at Yoyogi Park in Tokyo, aims to enhance the global recognition of Vietnamese culinary culture, particularly the Southeast Asian country’s popular beef noodle soup.
It marks a significant milestone in celebrating the seventh edition of the ‘Day of Pho’ (December 12), initiated and annually held by Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper to honor the world-renowned food since 2017.
The festival also serves as a tangible commemoration of the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Vietnam and Japan.
Vietnam Pho Festival 2023 will be co-hosted by Tuoi Tre and Saigontourist Group, with backing from the Vietnamese Embassy in Japan - the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Vietnam-Japan Friendship Association, and Japanese partners.