Rustono Tempeh

Rustono : King of tempeh in Kyoto
March 13, 2011, 1:57 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Freezing temperatures and snow did not deter a husband and wife from making their dream a realization, as they battled conditions every day to cut down trees on the steep slopes of Kyoto’s outskirt forests.

Collecting the wood, they piled it into a cart and dragged it across the river to the future site of their business — a tempeh factory.

“Everyone who wants to be successful must dare to first dream their ultimate ambition,” said Rustono.

“When I came to Japan for the first time, I dreamed of becoming a successful tempeh businessman, and I made it.

“Now I want to dominate the tempeh market in the country. I can have it, can’t I? Dreaming is free, so why not aim high?” said the 40-year-old.

Born in Purwodadi, Central Java, Rustono now lives in a small village about one hour’s drive from Kyoto, Japan, with his Japanese wife and their two children.

“I like living in a village. The people are friendly just like villagers in Java. And here I have more space to make tempeh,” he said.

Rustono, previously a bellboy for a star-rated hotel in Yogyakarta, has around 350 customers across Japan. Most run catering businesses, restaurants and shops, and are attracted to the unique texture and taste of Indonesian tempeh.  

Japanese tempeh, called nato, is eaten plain and has a softer texture compared to Indonesian tempeh. The latter is usually either fried, sauteed or accompanies special dishes.

Another variation of Japanese tempeh is made without yeast and is also eaten plain.

“Most Japanese who taste Indonesian tempeh say it is really good. From the very beginning I made sure that I could make a good business from selling Indonesian tempeh in Japan,” he said.

Rustono, who worked in a Japanese food factory for three years, started his own business without initially knowing anything about tempeh.

Rustono started from scratch and taught himself to make traditional tempeh using yeast he brought back from Java.

“It took me four months but eventually I made it,” he said.

Dozens of times his recipes failed, but he soon realized that the water he was using was affecting the process.

“I decided to use water from a mountain spring instead, and sure enough, it worked,” he said.
Rustono returned to Java and visited about 40 tempeh factories in the cities and villages, trying to find the perfect recipe. Each had an entirely different method and approach to making tempeh.   

Armed with this new information Rustono began experimenting with different recipes in his kitchen, selling the product to  Indonesian expatriates living in Japan. Word spread quickly, and soon he had Japanese people seeking out this new delicacy.  

“When the customer numbers began to grow, we bought a big house in Shiga. We built a small factory amid the friendly rural community which reminds me of my own village in Java,” Rustono said.  

Rustono and his wife built the factory entirely on their own and worked through rain, hail or shine.  

“People shook their heads when seeing us working away in the snow, because most people were staying at home near their fireplaces,” he said.

Finally, the 4 x 8 square-meter factory was complete, and testament to their efforts, it still
stands today. 

The tempeh sometimes travels to clients hundreds of kilometers away via a cargo company which uses a chilled storage facility.

“We freeze our tempeh so that it lasts longer and stays fresh during shipment,” he said.

Rustono follows a similar cooking process as that practiced widely across Indonesia. The soybeans are cooked, the skins are removed and then rice yeast is added for fermentation, which takes several days.

Rustono uses a machine he ordered from Bantul, Yogyakarta.

Assisted by his wife and two children, who are seven and 10 years old, Rustono produces about 3,500 pieces of tempeh every five days.   

“The profits have allowed us to buy a 2,000 square-meter plot of land. I dream of building a bigger factory that can produce 10,000 pieces of tempeh (every five days) so I can supply tempeh to big supermarkets.

“That is my dream, to become a ‘tempeh king’ and dominate the tempeh market in Japan,” he said.

In Indonesia, where tempeh is widely available and inexpensive, people may think nothing of this food. But Rustono’s expertise has seen him invited to universities in Japan to speak as a guest lecturer. 

“I am proud that I can promote Indonesia even though  just via tempeh,” Rustono said.
His brand, Rusto’s Tempeh, has become widely popular with his customers, 60 percent of whom are Japanese.

From : The Jakarta Post


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