Photo/Illutration Masaki Saito holds up containers of his original condiment Koreiijan in Mito. (Kazumichi Kubota)

MITO--A Chinese eatery in Ibaraki Prefecture is surviving the pandemic thanks to its own unique savory condiment that has proven popular for dishes made at home.

The local restaurant's owner created the new, versatile topping that generated so much traction on social media that it is now commercially available across the prefecture.

The product is called Koreiijan, which is a pun on the phrase, "It's good, isn't it?"

Koreiijan is an oil-based condiment prepared with plenty of white sesame seeds, fried garlic, chopped shallots and other ingredients. It boasts a crunchy texture and a savory taste.

"I want it to become a regularly stocked item in each household, like mayonnaise," said Masaki Saito, 42, the creator of Koreiijan. "It is packed with all the flavors in a Chinese wok.”

Saito is the owner of the restaurant Haoteki Shuhan Hao in the city's Minamimachi district, which has been operating as an "izakaya" pub that mainly sells Chinese food and targets customers looking for a cozy place to drink after work.

But it lost many customers due to the new coronavirus pandemic.

Saito started selling lunches in spring last year, but the pandemic made it difficult for him to serve alcohol, which accounted for half of sales, for long periods.

As he was thinking about what else he could sell, Saito decided on the delicious condiment he had been making for take-out orders by regular customers.

On its own, Koreiijan complements chilled tofu and other dishes with simple flavors, but it also goes well with mayonnaise. It is being promoted with the slogan: "All you have to do is pour it over or mix it."

Saito obtained authorization from the public health center in May 2020 to make it commercially available. Now he sells it from a food truck alongside bento boxed meals, and he has asked his acquaintances to put the product in their eateries and shops.

He is also promoting the condiment at roadside rest areas in the prefecture.


As Saito made his big sales push, social media users started sharing recipes using Koreiijan for braised eggplants, onigiri rice balls flavored with "shiso" leaves, and many other dishes.

Part of his sales strategy was to only suggest a few ways to use it to encourage each consumer to come up with their own ideas.

Its popularity on social media attracted the attention of a major supermarket chain, and Koreiijan can now be found on the shelves of some of its outlets.

In August this year, a specialty shop operated by the prefectural government started selling the condiment.

For Saito, the pandemic has changed his views as a restauranteur.

"I don't think I can build back my business to focus on catering to drinking parties and offering free refills," Saito said.

Currently, reservations must be made to wine and dine at his restaurant.

Saito is making efforts to diversify his business, including selling bento from his food truck, setting up a food stall at events and selling Koreiijan.

He is now shipping about 2,000 units in large and small containers each month, with the entire process done manually from blending to bottling. But he is considering mechanizing the production process to achieve his ambitious goal of Koreiijan attaining must-have status in kitchen cupboards across the nation.

A 120-gram container of Koreiijan sells for 540 yen ($4.80), including tax, while a 330-gram container is priced at 1,080 yen.