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Meet Kiwamu Katayama, owner, and general manager of The Spice Jar in San Francisco. He shares his vision, love for spices, and American twist on traditional Singaporean food. Read more to deconstruct their famous dish: Laksa.

employees of the Spice Jar in San Francisco

Today: We chat with Kiwamu Katayama of The Spice Jar (San Francisco) about his inspiration and thought behind their signature dish: Laksa.

What is the Laksa Dish, and can you deconstruct it for me and what is the inspiration behind it?

Kiwamu Katayama: Laksa is a coconut curry with many spices, rice noodles, tofu, bean sprouts, and chicken. Laksa is a traditional Singaporean and Malaysian dish, but we changed the traditional recipe and Americanized it.

Our recipe is more for the American palate. We chose to do this from a business perspective since our target customers are Americans.

There are many Chinese restaurants downtown, but we are a casual restaurant with an Asian and Japanese fusion. We try to accommodate the American palate while sticking to our roots.

Laksa from the Spice Jar

Was this dish an instant hit?

KK: I took over the restaurant in 2020 from Jen, who opened it in 2015. But, Laksa was very much our signature dish with customers from the beginning. The restaurant has been operating for 6 years, and Laksa has always been on the menu along with Garlic noodles and Mongolian rice.

“Laksa is a coconut curry, with a lot of spices, rice noodles, tofu, bean sprouts, and chicken; it is a traditional Singaporean and Malaysian dish, but we changed the traditional recipe and Americanized it.

Kiwamu Katayama (The Spice Jar)
ingredients in Laksa
placing noodles into a large pot of boiling water

What are the key components of this dish and where do the ingredients come from?

KK: We are called the Spice Jar because we use a lot of spices in our dishes. The coconut curry base uses coconut milk and a lot of Indian and Malaysian spices like curry powder and turmeric. We also use some paprika, cayenne pepper, and coriander powder.

I always go to an Asian grocery store to get my ingredients. Unfortunately, this area of San Francisco does not have a lot of Asian grocery stores. Since we use a lot of special ingredients, I always end up going to the Asian food stores in Richmond or Downtown.

Laksa coconut milk soup

How do you find out about Asian specific suppliers?

KK: There is a big Asian and Chinese community in downtown San Francisco, so it is not hard to find specialty vendors. It is mostly word of mouth. When I took over in 2020, the former owner actually told me where I could go and get the ingredients.

What is the weirdest or more annoying modification you’ve had a customer request?

KK: Vegetarian or vegan requests. Laksa is made with meat, so it’s really not possible for us to make a vegetarian or vegan version out of it. We have other vegetarian or vegan options on the menu, but they are not our signature dishes.

chef making Laksa at Spice Jar San Francisco
Traditional Laksa dish from The Spice Jar in San Francisco

Which famous or popular person would you love to see walk into your restaurant?

KK: I love sports, so I think if I saw any baseball player walk in through the door, I would be pretty excited. Probably Barry Bonds.

“Before Cut+Dry, I did all my ordering over email after I locked up the restaurant for the night. But now with the app, I just do it anytime, it’s very easy.”

Kiwamu Katayama (The Spice Jar)

Are there any specific technologies that you use in your restaurants?

KK: I am not much of a tech guy, but we have a POS system, and we started recently with Cut+Dry. The app is very easy and convenient. It saved us a lot of time. Before Cut+Dry, I did all my ordering over email after I locked up the restaurant for the night. But now, with the app, I just do it anytime; it’s very easy.

The Spice Jar Restaurant

The Spice Jar Locations & Hours

2500 Bryant St
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 829 3668

Tues – Friday 11:30am – 9pm
Sat – Sun 5pm – 10pm
Closed Mondays

Follow The Spice Jar on Instagram.

Read more on The Deconstructed Dish.

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