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Aji no hiraki © Hokkai Suisan
It all started with a Dutch fishing business that exported its fish to Japan. Marinus Noordenbos, the owner’s son, was sent to Japan at the age of 18 to work with some of their clients. While there, he learnt the Japanese methods of preparing fish and also met his future wife, Yukiko Fukuyama. In 1993, they launched Hokkai Suisan together, a fish processing and delivery company.
Starting from just one product, aji no hiraki (dried horse mackerel), which Marinus Noordenbos’s father exported to Japan, the company developed its range and now offers around sixty products including iwashi mirinboshi (sardines in sweet soy sauce) and gindara saikyozuke (black cod with miso). All the fish is caught in The Netherlands and prepared using Japanese methods.
Marinus Noordenbos’s first intuition was to satisfy the demand from the Japanese families living in his country. Thanks to word of mouth, his clientele grew and extended to fifteen other European countries. ‘People in Amsterdam who liked our products got their colleague in Dusseldorf to try them and suddenly, I found myself delivering to Germany’, the director recalls.
Having been a family-run business for many years, Hokkai Suisan has expanded gradually as its target market has broadened. From 2010, the company started to cater to western customers, demonstrating a pedagogical approach to Japanese cuisine.
‘Generally, Japanese cuisine is perceived as being complicated’, Marinus Noordenbos explains. ‘But we say that the opposite is true, and that it’s actually quite easy to make Japanese dishes at home. It’s no more difficult than cooking pasta.’
Thus, the founder of Hokkai Suisan recommends one of the company’s bestsellers, shio saba (salted mackerel). ‘It’s a simple yet fabulous product. When you’ve got nothing in the fridge but there’s some shio saba in the freezer, you can have a delicious Japanese meal in just twenty minutes. This product is very satisfying and no-frills. All you need to do is grill it and serve it with broccoli, cooked in soy sauce for example, with a bowl of rice.’
Marinus Noordenbos asserts that his main mission is to promote Japanese cuisine. Since 2021, he has been the Japanese Cuisine Goodwill Ambassador in The Netherlands. In order to support his clientele further in their discovery of the many different Japanese-style fish dishes, the entrepreneur opened a restaurant, Hokkai Kitchen, in 2010.
Having initially been a takeaway sushi counter, the establishment was transformed into a restaurant with a dozen tables in 2015, with the arrival of chef Kuniyoshi Ohtawara, having come from Hotel Okura in Tokyo. It offers a wide variety of raw fish. The rice is imported from Japan, as is the wasabi sometimes.
The chef at Hokkai Kitchen also put his expertise at the disposal of Hokkai Suisan’s clients during the COVID-19 pandemic. The company started offering video tutorials on its website. Demand exploded, particularly in Germany where Hokkai Suisan is gaining market share. ‘But we can’t offer filleted mackerel and expect a German person to buy it’, Marinus Noordenbos continues. Thus, the team started sharing recipes and culinary tips, which were met with great success. Indeed, Hokkai Suisan plans to release a recipe book in 2023.
‘The only way for us to continue to grow is by encouraging people to keep cooking at home’, the founder summarises. Hokkai Suisan also now offers its own products imported from Japan: Hokkai Shoyu (soy sauce), Hokkai Miso and Hokkai Nori (seaweed for sushi). The soy sauce and miso are made by old Japanese factories that still use hundred-year-old wooden barrels (kioke) for the fermentation process. The result is an extremely subtle umami flavour that has matured over the decades.
Several times a year, Marinus Noordenbos holds open days on his premises and invites these manufacturers, who have the opportunity to present their products to the public. However, the founder aspires to increase his business-to-business commercial activities aimed at culinary professionals. To achieve this, he participates in events that bring together various chefs, including recipients of Michelin stars, and introduces them to his products.
His goal still remains to make Japanese gastronomy more accessible to prevent it from being confined to complex places and closed off to the majority of people. ‘Japanese cuisine is too incredible to remain exclusive’, concludes Marinus Noordenbos. Hokkai Suisan, which now delivers to almost 6000 homes all over Europe, is preparing to celebrate its thirtieth anniversary, which certainly goes to prove that Japanese products are still sparking the interest of the general public.
More information on Hokkai Suisan can be found on the company’s website. Further details on restaurants and retailers around the world that use Japanese ingredients are listed on the Taste of Japan platform.
© Hokkai Suisan
Salmon © Hokkai Suisan
Hokkai Shoyu © Hokkai Suisan
Marinus Noordenbos with miso producers in Japan © Hokkai Suisan
Hokkai Kitchen © Hokkai Suisan
Hokkai Kitchen © Hokkai Suisan
The Noordenbos family © Hokkai Suisan
Marinus Noordenbos © Hokkai Suisan
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