The People of Austin Embracing Eastern-Based Cuisines
By: Ross Milvenan and David Lopez
Kula Revolving Sushi Bar is now the hottest restaurant in Austin, according to Eater Austin.
Traditionally, Tex-Mex and barbecue have dominated Austin cuisine, but the success of new restaurants offering more eastern-based cuisines show the people of Austin’s shifting culinary needs and desire for authentic dining experiences. The recent success of Kula Sushi and Ramen Tatsu-ya displays this shifting appetite.
Kula Sushi brings freshness and flair to Austin sushi
Kula Sushi opened its first location in Irvine, California in 2009. Since then, they have opened 13 locations across the United States. The Austin location was opened in May, and has been the most popular location despite being in its early stages.
“Everyday we are busy,” said Joyce Rivera, head server at Kula. “We have regular customers that come three to four times a week. They just can not get enough.”
Austin is currently the 16th most healthy city in the United States, according to Forbes.com. Kula’s success could be partially due to the emphasis they put on healthy ingredients. Kula proudly states that they are part of the “food revolution”, aiming to provide natural, organic and additive-free food.
“It has been our fundamental principle to prioritize customer’s health over anything,” according to Kula’s website. “We are proud to say that all foods are served fresh and safe at our restaurants.”
“Everything you see here is fresh,” Rivera said. “We don’t use any chemicals or imitation crab or shrimp … It’s all real.”
Rivera also said she believes one of the reasons Kula has been so successful is because the people of Austin now want uniqueness in their dining experience. Kula serves “kaiten-zushi”, or rotating sushi, on a conveyor belt that wraps around the restaurant.
“People in Austin are always looking for something different,” Rivera said. “Kula is different from even other sushi places … We are very unique.”
Kula offers food in a way that may be unique in Austin, but in no way unique in Japan. In fact, “Kaiten-zushi” is a subset of Japanese cuisine common throughout Japan. Kula aims to give an authentic Japanese dining experience and believes this element allow customers to have an experience that they will not find in other places in Austin.
“We have a Kula culture,” Rivera said. “We want people to enjoy the Japanese environment … We want them to feel like they are in a Japanese sushi bar.”
Local Ramen restaurant gives authentic Japanese experience with every slurp
Ramen Tatsu-ya has recently been named one of the 12 best new restaurants in America, according to eater.com. Ramen Tatsu-ya is another restaurant offering eastern-based cuisine in Austin that has become very popular, even having a long line out the door on most nights.
However, founder Tatsu Aikawa was initially unsure of how an exclusively ramen restaurant could do in a Austin market dominated by Tex-Mex and barbecue.
“When we opened Ramen Tatsu-ya in Austin in 2012, we were the first ramen shop in the city, and we didn’t want to Americanize it,” Aikawa told Bon Appétit magazine. “Austin’s preconception of ramen was ‘Oh, the packet stuff?’”
However, in due part to a Austin market that was lacking in eastern-based cuisine options, Ramen Tatsu-ya began to generate a lot of buzz and popularity.
“The business is beyond our expectations. We were thinking like a hundred bowls for lunch and dinner. We’re doing two to three hundred at dinner,” said Aikawa in an interview with eateraustin.com.
Aikawa also wanted to give the people of Austin an authentic eastern-cuisine. Aikawa said when he started the restaurant there was a definite need for ramen in Austin and he wanted to help expand the people of Austin’s global palate.
“We want to educate people on what ramen truly is,” Aikawa wrote on ramen-tatsuya.com. “It’s the soul food of Japan.”
The Asian population in Austin is also growing. Currently, the percentage is just under 7% of the population, but this population is doubling every ten years, according to austintexas.gov. As Austin continues to diversify, it is likely that more and more people will crave cuisine that gives them a sense of sentimentality to their original roots.
Aikawa believes one of the best parts of cities offering dishes from across the world is the impact that these dishes can have on people.
“Anywhere you go in the world, there’s a certain dish that evokes an emotional or nostalgic response,” Aikawa said.
Both Kula Sushi and Ramen Tatsu-ya have plans of expanding into other cities in the near future. Hopefully, other cities are as willing as Austin is to embrace these eastern-based cuisines and enjoy an authentic Japanese dining experience.