Say good­bye sushi

Most of the Ja­panese restau­rants sprout­ing in the city of­fer at least a dozen items. Why, then, are you stuck on the rice rolls and ra­men bowls?

Mid Day - - FOOD - ANJU MASKERI anju.maskeri@mid-day.com

WHEN you walk into Hara­juku, a new Ja­panese eatery at Ban­dra’s Chapel Road, it feels like you’ve en­tered Bar­bie’s condo, ex­cept there’s more to it than just candy coloured decor. The walls are dot­ted with frames of Ja­pan’s fash­ion for­ward youth, dressed in flam­boy­ant out­fits and caked in dra­matic makeup. The Tokyo neigh­bour­hood the joint is named af­ter, has in­spired scores of cre­ative minds in­clud­ing pho­tog­ra­pher Shoichi Aoki, who launched a fash­ion mag­a­zine called FRUITS fo­cused on in­di­vid­ual styles found in Hara­juku. Sadly, Aoki an­nounced in Fe­bru­ary last year that the mag­a­zine would cease pub­li­ca­tion — ef­fec­tive im­me­di­ately — be­cause “there are no more cool kids to pho­to­graph.” “But you can’t say the same about food,” in­sists co-owner Saleha Bawazir, whose hus­band, Aveek, lived in Mel­bourne, where there was a Hara­juku eatery spe­cial­is­ing in crepes. “He would eat it al­most ev­ery day for break­fast be­fore mov­ing to Mum­bai. The other Ja­panese con­nec­tion is my cousin’s wife, who is from Tokyo. Through her, we learnt that the area is as much about deca­dent street fare as it is about fash­ion,” she adds.

More the mer­rier

If you have been fol­low­ing In­sta­gram’s food trends, you’ll know that Hara­juku hasn’t fallen out of flavour just yet. “It’s mind bog­gling to see the num­ber of stalls of­fer­ing choc-cov­ered waf­fle shots, creamy crepes, pan­cakes and desserts. It was my hus­band’s dream to in­tro­duce the same va­ri­ety in Mum­bai,” she says.

The idea of of­fer­ing Ja­panese fare has caught the fancy of sev­eral restau­ra­teurs in Mum­bai. In fact, in the last one year, the city has seen many new open­ings in­clud­ing Keiba at Ma­ha­laxmi, Izumi in Ban­dra and Lower Parel’s Typhoon Shel­ter. Bawazir agrees that Ja­panese food is the next big thing. “What’s in­ter­est­ing about the cui­sine is the flavours they use to en­hance seem­ingly sim­ple food. The light dip­ping sauces, cit­rus, miso, wasabi, pick­les, and soy sauce. It’s a great bal­ance of sweet, salty, sour and spice,” says Bawazir.

While ideat­ing on the restau­rant, the cou­ple were aware that they were en­ter­ing a mar­ket that has been wit­ness­ing im­mense growth. “But, it was mainly in the high cui­sine. No­body had thought of street food,” she says. Much like its name­sake, the space of­fers a wide range of sweet and savoury crepes, Do­rayakis, palm-size treats com­pris­ing a sweet fill­ing sand­wiched be­tween two round cakes — sim­i­lar to Amer­i­can pan­cakes, among other things. The only heav­ily Ja­panese sound­ing item that you’ll need get used is shrimp okonomiyaki crepe, a savoury pan­cake (which looks like a cross be­tween a dosa and frankie) that typ­i­cally in­cludes meat, veg­eta­bles and seafood. Here, it’s served driz­zled with tangy-sweet Ja­panese-style may­on­naise and okonomiyaki sauce. We also try a spoon­ful of just the mel­low okonomiyaki (trans­lates to one’s lik­ing) sauce, which will re­mind you of both a Worces­ter­shire and bar­be­cue sauce and is charac-

BOTH Bawazir and Kha­tri con­cur that there’s heavy West­ern in­flu­ence on Ja­panese food. It’s the Por­tuguese traders who, in the 16th cen­tury, in­tro­duced tem­pura to Ja­pan, as well as the deep-fried, breaded meat cut­lets that the Ja­panese now call katsu. The Amer­i­can in­flu­ence, on the other hand, can be seen in the desserts

terised by a sweet flavour and is as vis­cous as or­ganic honey.

Serv­ing new-gen fare

Two months ago, Vikram Kha­tri, ex­ec­u­tive chef at Hello Guppy, over­hauled the menu to in­tro­duce a range of new items in­clud­ing caramelised pop­corn with crispy ba­con, beet­root rice cracker and tuna na­chos pizza. This was an ad­di­tion to the gourmet fare that the restau­rant al­ready of­fers. “Ev­ery­body knows about sushi and ra­men. It was time to ed­u­cate peo­ple that there’s a lot more that comes from Ja­pan,” he says. He gives us the ex­am­ple of the Katsu sando, which gets most pa­trons cu­ri­ous be­cause of the un­usual in­gre­di­ent — the bread. “While you might think of Ja­pan as a rice-eat­ing na­tion, not many are aware of Ja­pan’s se­cret love for the loaf. It is usu­ally white and pil­lowy,” he says. At the restau­rant, the chef uses chia seed multi­grain sour­dough bread with a white base. In­ter­est­ingly, both Kha­tri and Bawazir con­cur that there’s heavy West­ern in­flu­ence on Ja­panese food. It’s the Por­tuguese traders who in­tro­duced bread to Ja­pan in the 16th cen­tury, as well as tem­pura and the deep­fried, breaded meat cut­lets that the Ja­panese now call katsu. “A lot of pork is now be­ing seen in Ja­panese cook­ing. We have bor­rowed the same for­mula, so we nor­mally use ba­con to wrap the Tsukune, Ja­panese chicken meat­balls pre­pared yak­i­tori-style where it is skew­ered and grilled. The sand­wiches — fouregg omelette with taiyaki bread and the mush­room katsu with ki­noko — come with French fries and sweet potato chips. And, in­deed, you’ll be struck by how the dishes look a lot like what you might have eaten at Amer­i­can din­ers.

The other form of West­ern in­flu­ence is some­thing you’ll see on Hara­juku’s menu, where choco­late, cus­tard cream, cream cheese, and nutella are prom­i­nent in­gre­di­ents used as fill­ings in the pan­cake. “That is the way it is eaten in Ja­pan. Luck­ily, in the city, choco­late is a big draw. It’s al­most a bait to lure pa­trons into ex­per­i­ment­ing with new pan­cakes,” jokes Bawazir.

Hav­ing said that, there’s enough to please the veg­e­tar­i­ans in the Ja­panese diet. Ac­cord­ing to Kha­tri, the coun­try has a rich tra­di­tion of cook­ing with veg­eta­bles, and a clas­sic ex­am­ple of this would be the nabe or the hearty one-pot meals.

In keep­ing with this, Swap­nil Doiphode, sous chef at Yuuka, The St Regis, in­tro­duced the avo­cado tartare, what he calls a pro­gres­sive Ja­panese dish, where the creamy flesh of avo­cado is mixed with pars­ley, and then placed on a sheet of ice. When brought to the ta­ble, the server gen­tly cracks the ice and pours dashi sauce made with corn and ha­banero, a hot va­ri­ety of chili pep­per. “It looks pretty and is healthy. So it’s a win-win,” he smiles.

PICS/PRADEEP DHIVAR

The katsu sand­wich .

PIC/GETTY IM­AGE

Taiyaki, a fish-shaped cone made from a bat­ter sim­i­lar to waf­fles, topped with dol­lops of soft serve in matcha, vanilla, black sesame or choco­late flavours. Here, the bat­ter is poured into the cast iron mould while a fill­ing, usu­ally Azuki or red bean paste or cus­tard is piped on the other side. The Tokyo neigh­bour­hood the joint is named af­ter, has in­spired scores of cre­ative minds in­clud­ing pho­tog­ra­pher Shoichi Aoki, who launched a fash­ion mag­a­zine called FRUITS fo­cused on in­di­vid­ual styles found in Hara­juku. Sadly, Aoki an­nounced in Fe­bru­ary last year that the mag­a­zine would cease pub­li­ca­tion — ef­fec­tive im­me­di­ately — be­cause “there are no more cool kids to pho­to­graph.” Shrimp okonomiyaki Chicken tsukune with ba­con

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