Japanese cuisine: The Middle East's raw and colorful sushi revolution
As the world becomes increasingly connected, novelty is traveling faster and farther than ever before. Add rising health concerns about food and the popularity of 'Instagrammable' dishes to the mix and it’s no surprise to learn that sushi has become one of today's most trending cuisines. HN talks to American, Japanese and Middle Eastern home-grown sushi brands about the strategies they are employing to grow and evolve beyond borders
Nobu Dubai has been open for 10 years, during which time there has been considerable demand for high quality sushi. Unfortunately, many restaurants are still opting for low quality products, which can oftentimes put sushi in a ‘cheap’ category, ultimately damaging the image of Japanese sushi-making art. When it comes to local tastes, Arab clients like to order a wide range of dishes and the number one dish is, understandably, the black cod miso yuzu, with the rock shrimp tempura in close second. We use large quantities of seafood at Nobu Dubai, such as lobster, and Japanese beef, more so than Nobu restaurants in London and New York.
Local designer dishes
In general, 10 percent of Nobu’s menu is a collaboration between Chef Nobu and the head chef of the international locations. Both work with local produce to bring specific tastes of the region. For example, at Nobu Dubai, we have created Tuna Toro with black sesame seed dressing, jalapeno jelly and caviar, caviar with mashed potato and fresh wasabi, Japanese beef dry miso, and date mochi ice cream.
We are using monk fruit sweetener to replace the sugar in sushi vinegar. It delivers the same sweet taste, but without the calories, keeping the sushi rice lighter and more pleasing to eat. It is, of course, more expensive; however that’s the price paid to stay ahead of the competition and to ensure continued evolution as a restaurant.
In the past two decades, sushi has become an iconic food cuisine, associated with refinement, celebrities, healthy eats and romantic evenings. The Kuwaiti market has, in recent years, fully embraced Japanese cuisine, as is evidenced by the remarkable increase of sushi restaurants, some of which focus only on delivery and takeaway, as well as the availability of this refined food in supermarkets. Japanese cuisine has grown in popularity, as a result of consumers adopting a healthier lifestyle. Meisei is offering a diversified modern Japanese cuisine by sourcing unique ingredients globally and marrying ethnic Asian spices with an interesting twist of European flavors. To add value to our proposition, we have three unique floors, offering pleasurable dining experiences, with a variety of exceptional live entertainment shows and quality food.
We constantly seek and invest in an array of equipment, such as: liquid nitrogen; dry-ice smoking and instant frosting tools; smoking guns and whipping guns; dehydrators and sous vide equipment; vacuum and aeration machines; candy floss machines and anti-griddles to quickly freeze sauces and purees into solids. In short, we have a culinary science lab in Meisei!
More Asian cuisines will be developed in the Middle East as consumers are seeking a greater number of Asian ethnic flavors.
We recently appointed a franchisee in Qatar due to open their – and our – first franchise outlet this year. Qatar is a much ‘younger’ market in terms of market saturation and we believe there is a place for our unique concept in such a market. We have further plans to open in other GCC markets, as well as internationally.
Many of our Arab clients prefer sushi which contains cooked ingredients, known as ‘cooked’ sushi. However, the percentage of Arabs who request raw seafood items has been rising considerably. Additionally, many Arabs prefer items that are drizzled with ‘rich’ sauces, given that this is a feature of most local cuisines. Nevertheless, a healthful trend, which calls for consuming vegan, vegetarian and no-sauce dishes, is on the rise. To better cater to our clients, we have been making our own secret sauces and sushi-roll wraps in-house since opening – something we anticipated and prepared for –thus establishing Maki as a leader in its domain. It’s worth noting that Maki was the pioneer in introducing healthy sauces, such as house-made Lebanese extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar and even thyme. The millennial generation is travelling more for holidays, education and work, and upon their return, they expect more of the same.
As more local community individuals become familiar with sushi, they are also more willing to try non-traditional things, like the rainbow roll or various rolls with raw salmon on top. Once they become comfortable with the cuisine, diners have a tendency to try new dishes. Over time and with continual education from our side, people’s trust in us is growing, and that always helps to bolster the brand.
Sushi in the MENA region
The majority of our client base is composed of young females, aged between 25 and 45. Most of our local clientele prefer cooked dishes over raw ones, and also like spice. In addition, we’ve observed that shrimp dishes are the most popular items requested.
Chef Herve Courtot Nobu, Atlantis, The Palm Dubai
Michael Sang-kyu Lee Food & Beverage Director Remza Group/ Executive Chef
Michael Mulrey Business manager for Katsuya ME
Mohamad Zeitoun Founder, Maki Group, Kuwait