Interviewed & written by Isao Tokuhashi & Chinatsu Suzuki
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Kabab stall (Chuo-ku, Chiba) *It’s been a Turkish restaurant called “Karadeniz61” since 2015.
There are so many kebab stalls in the middle of Tokyo. But once you step in the suburb area called Chiba Prefecture, that kind of shop becomes a curiosity.
Kebab61 is in the central Chiba City, which is located 40km (25 miles) east of Tokyo. When you walk on the station road in the city center, the spicy savor of doner kebab titillates your nasal passage.
This stall is run by the Kucuk brothers from Turkey. They have been having a strong bond with each other through times of prosperity and poverty and in sickness and in health. They grill kebab as they dream of delivering their taste of home to 6 million people living in the region.
*Interview with Vedat Kucuk, stall owner
*Edited by Daniel Penso
What does the name of “Kebab61” mean?
In Turkey, each car registration plate has a certain number which shows where a car is registered. For example, a plate must have “34” if you register your car at the motor vehicle office in Istanbul.
“61” in the name of this shop means Trabzon, our hometown, because cars have that number on their identification plates there. I put my affection for the land of my birth and pride in the town where I was born and raised into the name of “Kebab61”.
When did you open this stall?
Early summer in 2007. I started it by myself. My brother was doing another job at that time. (See his brother’s interview: Click!)
Before that, I sold kebab at a mobile stall in another place. Also before that, I was selling kebab on the streets in the middle of Tokyo.
When I was selling kebab near a busy railway station, a pawn shop owner was one of my customers. He worried about me because I was asked to close my stall by police many times. Then he introduced me to his friend, the president of the big company called Enterking.
The name of “Enterking” came from a Japanese-English word which means “the king of entertainment”. The company sells many kinds of used CDs, DVDs and game softwar. It was expanding its chain stores into the outskirts of Tokyo.
The president of the company suggested me putting my mobile kitchen on its parking lot. Also he said I was able to choose wherever I wanted to open. I chose two places. I operated one stall and a friend of mine did another one.
But I had to close my mobile kitchen because I had my driver’s license revoked. I got a parking citation many times when I put a kitchen-on-wheels on the streets. Moreover I was picked up for speeding and my license was suspended.
So I wanted to open my shop – not a mobile one – near a railway station. Most shops of Enterking are suburban ones that are located far from stations. But two shops were close to stations at that time and one of them is here.
Another one was closer to my house but I could secure space for a stall just beside the emergency exit of the building next door. So I came all the way to Chiba, 25 miles away from the heart of Tokyo.
Kebab61 is located next to Chiba shop of Enterking.
Are you good at cooking originally?
I didn’t cook very often. I’ve been cooking since I started to live by myself.
When I was selling kebab in Tokyo, I met with another Turkish guy. He used to be a cook in Dubai and he was hired by a millionaire there. But he had no experience of running kebab shop so didn’t know about ingredients very much. However he was particular in his tastes.
I used a different kind of sauce. He told me, “Be confident with your palate.” That means there is no absolute goody which everyone says is delicious so you should trust your sense of taste.
That advice from him expanded my imagination and creativity. I thought that it would be easy for me to create my favorite flavor. His advice was epoch-making for me. Before that, I made sauce based on information from other people or shops. I had no knowledge of sauce so I took it very seriously.
Then he made sauce for me. Its flavor was his favorite one. I put it on my kebab.
I have been using my own sauce since I opened this shop. This is genuinely my sauce. That means I serve customers my favorite flavor. Some customers come from Tokyo even if there are many popular shops near their places. They love my kebab much more than other ones.
(Left) Kebab sandwich with garlic flavored yogurt sauce .
(Right) Sandwich with hot chili sauce. Both are made from chicken kebab.
*Beef kebab sandwiches are sold on Fridays.
That’s your advantage.
There are a couple of kebab shops in Istanbul which I used to go to often. I wanted to recreate their tastes. But it would be difficult.
If I strive for the taste which I want to recreate, I have to use Turkish meat. However it is difficult for us to import meat from there because Japan doesn’t import from Turkey.
We use chicken imported from Brazil and beef imported from Australia. Chicken meat and pita for sandwich have been made halal.
But beef has not. We have to use beef fat for making meat tender or preventing drying out. That fat has to be made halal. However we can’t import halal fat from anywhere. I don’t know why, but we have no choice but using non-halal fat which is available in Japan.
So even though beef is made halal, beef kebab can’t be halal food anyhow. So we use non-halal beef meat.
Beef is not halal?
No. So my heart bleeds for it. Actually we sell beef kebab only on Fridays and some Muslims buy it. They say they don’t care if it’s halal or not. But in our hearts, we don’t want to sell it if we can.
On the other hand, chicken is made halal completely. Also we use vegetable oil for sauce so it’s OK. Vegetable oil is exempt from halal.
We use chicken thigh and oil isn’t necessary to keep it from drying out. Because chicken thigh itself contains fat. But if you use chicken breast, you have to use fat and it has to be beef tallow. You can’t use vegetable oil as a substitute.
We wish halal beef or halal chicken were available here in Japan. In order to make them halal, a religious worker has to pray with reading Koranic phrase before cow or chicken is slaughtered. We need people who read Koran when slaughtering. I think it’s not difficult because there are many mosques in Japan now. So it must be easy to look for them. Many Muslims live in Japan. I half feel like asking ranches in Japan to make halal meat.
Halal chicken doner kebab.
BTW, you were really busy until your brother, Selami Kucuk, came here to help, weren’t you?
Yes, I was very busy from when I opened this shop until the end of 2008. I needed more help but I didn’t have enough money to hire people. So I had a difficult time.
If the amount you buy is little, everything becomes expensive. But even if you buy things a lot, you don’t have a place to put them and you won’t be able to sell everything. If you order something from a company in Tokyo, postage will be high. So you have to look for something you need in your area.
Hence we have to look for things we need around here. But actually, commodity and ingredients for food are more expensive than in Tokyo. Especially prices of meat double from those in Tokyo according to time and circumstances.
Moreover if I asked someone to write up the menus, I had to pay for it. But I had no time to do it on a computer. I had to do all the things about running a shop by any means. It was a psychological battle for me.
When I was selling kebab in Tokyo, I prepared a simple menu and shop hours were shorter than now. I opened at 6PM and closed at midnight (*Now their shop is open 3PM – 5AM or noon – 5AM) but I earned much more than now.
However, I don’t think the current situation is bad. Rather, I think it’s good for us because we’ve learned how we make ends meet on smaller earnings. If we got used to real money, we wouldn’t be able to make ends meet when the sales dropped. So managing this shop teaches us a good lesson.
Now this shop opens everyday. My brother and I work from afternoon until next morning on a rotating schedule. We don’t have plan to hire people for now because we don’t want to let others suffer when the sales are poor. That’s why both of us work day and night. When my brother is sick, I work harder. When I get tired and need to rest, I ask him to work longer. We bear some hardship for the sake of our goal.
(Left) Vedat Kucuk, an owner (Right) Selami Kucuk, co-owner
What is your goal?
To expand our business. We want to do it in this area. When I have time, I look around to find space to open new stalls.
We want to open many stalls in this area, Chiba Prefecture. And eventually we want to open a restaurant here. There are many Turkish restaurants in Tokyo, but there’s almost none in the Chiba Area.
So we want to open a shop which we can transmit our culture to neighbors. Now people here who want to eat Turkish food have to go to Tokyo by car or train.
I have been thinking of opening my own Turkish restaurant here since I came to Japan. So first of all, we have to expand our business in order to hire people who have professional attitudes toward business.
But life does not really go as you plan it sometimes. You encounter obstacles, stumble here and there. There are ups and downs. We have to accept our lives as they are.
I’ve never longed for city life. Instead, I think a great deal of things close. I was happy when I was in a countryside in Turkey. I enjoyed the mountain view and my heart went out to the way a village used to be. So I want to enjoy life by cherishing neighbors.
Karadeniz61 (Former “Kebab61”)
3-18-8, Chuo, Chuo-ku, Chiba City, Chiba
(The nearest station: Chiba-chuo Station on Keisei Line) *Map: Click
Opening hour: 11:30am – 3am (Shop holiday: Tuesdays)
*Look at their Facebook page; Click!
We interviewed Selami Kucuk (left), Vedat’s brother who runs a stall together.
If you want to read, click here!
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