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Features

Sushi, Sake and more

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When Aamir Khan swallowed a fish in the movie Dil Chahta Hai, many Indians cringed at the sight. It was 2001 and not easy for the not-so-welltravelled to fathom that a few years down the line, fish in raw form would become an all-time favourite for food connoisseurs. Just how it was unthinkable that Japanese food would become an integral part of the Indian eating-out experience as it has become now.

Going out for a meal has come of age from the MSG-vinegar-laced chowmein to highend restaurants serving the best quality Japanese food. It’s not surprising that The Lodhi hotel in Delhi has recently brought on board Chef Noboro Ozeki, a Japanese chef of repute for its restaurant Elan. Ozeki, who brings to the table authentic delicacies from his country, says, I am a traditional Japanese chef and my food style is authentic and classic. The signature menu I have curated is rooted in the traditions and culture of Japan. Think seaweed salad, maguro, unagi shahimi, tuna tartar and more.

THE EVOLUTION

Earlier, keeping the authenticity of the food was a bit difficult since to source ingredients in India was a big task, says Rajesh Khanna, F&B head, The Metropolitan Hotel and Spa, which houses Sakura, one of the oldest Japanese restaurants in the city. Things have changed from then and how, with not just authentic Japanese dishes but an entire Japanese meal experience on offer. Today, with more and more people travelling around the world, the true authenticity of the cuisine has got its space in the market, says Avantika Sinha Bahl, owner, Kampai, a restaurant in Aerocity. The restaurant, that opened last year, is touted as a contemporary twist on Japanese cuisine’ and serves Japanese staples like black cod miso, tantan men ramen, maguro katsu maki roll, brie cheese tempura with miso fig dressing, pork belly marinated in honey soy jam, salmon & avacado tartare, lamb chops in miso butter and more. The idea behind Kampai is to increase awareness around Japanese cuisine which at the moment is one of the most trendy cuisines in town, adds Bahl. The Kylin group of restaurants which opened in 2005 were one of the pioneers of Japanese cuisine in the city. According to its MD Saurabh Khanijo, they were one of the first Oriental lounges to have maximum weightage on Japanese cuisine with bowls like Yaki soba and tempura udon bowls in addition to a long sushi menu. Initially there were only a few takers for this cuisine and only the welltravelled used to order. But now all these dishes are favourites of every diner who comes to Kylin restaurants.

SUSHI IS BAE

Let’s admit, the mention of Japanese food conjures up images of stunning sushi neatly presented on a platter. Sushi has arguably become one of the favourite dishes of Delhiites, served at almost every other restaurant. The evolution of these rolls of rice and fish has been interesting in India. Says Amit Chowdhury, executive chef of The Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai, Sushi has come of age with Indians. The Indian palate has become more adventurous, and has overcome the aversion to eating raw fish. As sashimi quality fishes are available on menus, Indians no longer need to wait to travel to exotic lands to relish them. The Indian gourmand now knows that sushi does not mean only maki rolls. They know that sushi basically means, vinegared rice served with various ingredients which can include seafood, vegetables and even fruits. Taj Palace’s famous Wasabi restaurant has played a crucial role in making Indians fall in love with Japanese cuisine.

A lot like AD Singh’s Guppy, a restaurant synonymous with excellent Japanese food. The first to introduce black rice sushia tasty and a healthier alternative, Guppy has a loyal fan following. Now many guests ask for their sushi to be made in black rice. We were also the first to introduce mango (which is more an Indian fruit) paired with tuna for non-vegetarians and avocado and cream cheese for vegetarians, says Chef Vikram Khatri, executive chef, Guppy. Adds Khanna of Sakura, Years back sushi was the rolls of rice and fish only. Now there are different types of sushi i.e. rolls, nigri, chirashi, California and fried. Over time, the style of eating sushi has also changed. Today nigri sushi is preferred more than a rolled sushi.

HEALTH QUOTIENT

According to Kylin’s Khanijo, Japan has maximum number of centenarian only because they eat healthy and their cooking styles like teppanyaki are the healthiest. With health food becoming the next big thing in the Indian culinary scene, Japanese seems to be a delicious alternative to health food. Says chef Ozeki, An increasing number of Indians are accepting Japanese cuisine as it matches their new emerging dietary requirements and evolving tastes. Japanese food is healthy, rich in minerals and there are more takers for this food in India.

BUSTING MYTHS

Why should non-vegetarians have all the fun? Especially when Japanese restaurants serve dishes like a spinach salad, vegetable tempura, mango avocado cream cheese sushi and more. Says The Metropolitan Hotel’s Khanna, at Sakura we have designed the menu to 40 per cent vegetarian to make Japanese food available to our vegetarian guests. This food boom must be music to the ears of the burgeoning expat Japanese workforce in Delhi.

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