Ja­panese cui­sine: The Mid­dle East's raw and col­or­ful sushi revo­lu­tion

Hospitality News Middle East - - CONTENTS - nobu­restau­rants.com/dubai

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.

Novel in­no­va­tions

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.

Novel in­no­va­tions

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!

Fu­ture chal­lenges

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.

Lo­cal pref­er­ences

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.

Lo­cal adop­tion

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.

Oliver Maki




Chef Herve Cour­tot Nobu, At­lantis, The Palm Dubai


Michael Sang-kyu Lee Food & Bev­er­age Di­rec­tor Remza Group/ Ex­ec­u­tive Chef

Oliver Maki

Michael Mul­rey Busi­ness man­ager for Kat­suya ME

Mo­hamad Zeitoun Founder, Maki Group, Kuwait

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