By Sourish Bhattacharyya
AFTER TESTING the waters with the Taste Japan food promotion last year at three Godrej Nature’s Basket stores in New Delhi, Mumbai and Hyderabad, Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) is all set to roll out the Japanese Food Season on Sunday.
The multi-event, two-city programme, also named Oishii (or Tasty) Japan, will take off with the Japanese Restaurant Season, which will see 11 establishments in Delhi and Mumbai offering set menus at prices ranging from Rs 1,000++ to Rs 3,500++ per person up to November 10.
Price-wise, Delhi seems to have the more exciting offerings. You could dig Megu’s Signature Sakura Sushi Platter at The Leela Palace in Chanakyapuri for Rs 3,750++ per head, or go to Lodi Colony Market for Guppy by Ai’s six-course set menu (veg, Rs 1,000++ per person; non-veg, Rs 1,200++ per person), or check out Ambience Mall for Sakae Sushi’s elaborate spread, which is big on rolls, priced at Rs 1,295 per head. Also on offer are the six-course set menus with the same pricing at Asia7 in Ambience Mall, Gurgaon, and the seven-item menu (veg, Rs 1,199++; non-veg, Rs 1,299++) at Izikaya, which has reopened at the Basant Lok Community Centre in Vasant Vihar.
Mumbai’s participating restaurants include Aoi, Mount Mary Steps, Bandra West, with a six-course menu (Rs 1,000++) has a sushi platter thrown in (I was tickled by the pesto maki with bocconcini and cherry tomatoes); Umame, Churchgate, whose offering is rather thin, except for the Suntory whisky ice-cream, for the Rs 1,500++ tag; Kofuku, Linking Road, Bandra West, which has a six-course menu priced at Rs 1,000++/Rs 1,200++.
The upper end, price-wise, is represented by San-Qi at the Four Seasons (four courses, Rs 3,500++) and India Jones at The Trident, Nariman Point (three courses plus a glass of sparkling wine, Rs 2,500++). Sushi and More, Cumballa Hill, Breach Candy, is also on the list, but the event website (cooljapanfestival.com) repeats the Umame menu in the pop-up for the restaurant. It’s an off-putting oversight.
The event’s other big highlights will be the Washoku, a Japanese street food festival with kaiten (or conveyor belt) sushi, yakitori, noodles and more selling for Rs 150++ per dish at the High Street Phoenix in Lower Parel, Mumbai, and an original Japanese recipe contest in association with BBC GoodFood magazine, the winner of which will be get to go to Japan. Check out the Facebook page, GoodFood Magazine India, to find out more about the contest — the last date is November 30.
Japan’s Ambassador Takeshi Yagi formally flagged off the Japanese Food Season at the embassy in New Delhi on October 17. His press conference was preceded by a sushi-making master class for students of the Institute of Hotel Management-Pusa presided over by Junichi Asano, an instructor at the just-opened Singapore branch of the Tokyo Sushi Academy. Asano, who has spent 15 years presiding over the kitchens at the Japanese embassies in Europe, started making sushi when he was 20 and he put in the mandatory 10 years before he earned his certificate to qualify as a sushi chef. Few people know sushi as intimately as he.
I asked him what it takes to make the perfect sushi. He said it was rice, though you need just 15gm of it in one sushi. “Nothing but Japonica sticky rice would do,” Asano said. The other critical step in the sushi-making process is to add rice vinegar at the right time to the sushi rice. “Add the vinegar as soon you take the rice out of the cooker,” he said. “The rice must be hot so that the vinegar seeps into it. It must be warm when you make the sushi.”
Asano spent his first night in India sampling Master Chef Yutaka Saito’s menu at The Leela Palace at Chanakyapuri, New Delhi, and discovered the world of vegetarian sushi. Saito, whose wife is from Delhi and a committed vegetarian, is the master of Japanese Zen cuisine. Vegetarian sushi, naturally, are big on his menu.
When I asked Asano about the new trends in sushi making, he pointed to the use of ingredients such as avocado, asparagus, vegetable tempura and spicy mayonnaise-based dressings. These ingredients have turned around the taste of vegetarian sushi. “I have always believed that vegetarian sushi aren’t interesting, but my dinner at Megu proved me wrong,” Asano said, but he was quick to add this bit of advice for all aspiring sushi chefs: “Innovative sushi may be a good way to introduce people to sushi, but you’ve got to learn the basics first.”