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There is more to Japanese cuisine than just Sushi

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Though Japanese cuisine is popular in India, it is more than just Sushi. Sapna Sarfare finds out more.

Indians are foodies by nature and amongst the cuisines to find place in our plates is Japanese cuisine. But there is a lot more to it than just Sushi. And that is why masterchefs need to decode this cuisine for the layman.

Describing Japanese Cuisine


Japanese cuisine is steeped in culture. Chef Hitesh Rai, Conrad Pune reveals, “It is a mix of sheer flavour with the artistry of food presentation. They believe in the purity and nature of the ingredients used and tries to keep them as simple as possible. The use of fresh & seasonal ingredients, the method of cooking and presentation is what makes it so interesting. The amount of hard work and dedication that a Japanese chef puts in is also highly commendable.”

Chef Swapandeep Mukherjee, Head Chef, Sakura, The Metropolitan Hotel & Spa, Delhi, shares an interesting thought. “The cuisine takes you on a journey through four seasons emphasizing on fresh seasonal ingredients and flavours.”

Chef Joy Dey of Doubletree by Hilton Chinchwad vouches for the cuisine’s simplicity and detail work. “The ingredients taste and the style of cooking which makes it interesting and different from other cuisine.” Vikram Gakkan, Corporate Chef of Malaka Spice Group states the same about freshness and flavour. “Choosing high quality ingredients is a crucial part of cooking process.”

Japan In India

In India, Japanese cuisine has its fan following. It might sound strange considering we are slaves to spices. Chef Swapandeep reveals, “People are becoming more health conscious and Japanese cuisine is one of only three national food traditions recognized by the ‘UN’ for its cultural significance and health value, fan following is natural.”

Chef Hitesh speaks of high number of Japanese MNCs coming up here in the past few decades. “Moreover, the number of people visiting Japan has also increased and this has brought about the knowhowe. A number of chefs have also developed the cuisine to the likes of the Indian palette and this has again helped in the increase of number of people preferring the Japanese cuisine.”

Key Things

If you want to truly know any cuisine, know the key things used. Chef Joy discloses, “Japanese use soya sauce, cooking sake, Mirin, fish flakes, raw fishes, variety of tofu & mushrooms, seaweed, miso paste, etc. Japanese use chopsticks, fine strainer, one side sharpen knives, bamboo baskets, crucible tongs, special bowls and equipments for different dishes etc.”

Chef Vikram speaks of the use of fresh ingredients, right cooking techniques like Robatayaki, Teppanyaki and Tempura. “Japanese food is artistic like its culture.” Chef Swapandeep states the dependency of traditional Japanese cuisine on rice and seafood. “In modern cuisine, meat also plays important role, although cooking style consists of raw (sashimi), grilled, simmered, steamed, deep fried, vinegared, or dressed.”

Chef Hitesh speaks of important ingredients like different noodles (Ramen, Soba, Udon etc.), and seaweeds. “The Hangiri (the bamboo bowl used for sushi), Makisu (the bamboo mat used for rolling maki rolls), Kotobuki (Japanese omelette pan), Kushi (Bamboo skewers). In terms of cooking styles and cooking methods, you can see Mushi (steaming), Futto (boiling), Nikumu (Stewing), Kitaeru (Braising), Age (Deep frying), Agemono (Shallow frying) and Guriru (Grilling).”

Regional Specialities

Despite being a small country, regional variation & cooking style can be found to some level. Chef Hitesh tells, “During festivals in spring, ingredients like spring cabbage, bracken, royal fern, wasabi, bamboo shoot, mackerel, red sea bream, hard shell clam are in abundance hence dishes like the clear clam soup, rice dumplings and cherry flavoured rice cakes and garnished sushi are made. In summer, ingredients such as edamame, okra, broad beans, tomato, corn, onion, eggplant, eel, skipjack tuna and horse mackerel are in abundance. Some popular dishes are chilled tofu, zaru soba or chilled soba. In autumn, new rice is harvested and other ingredients like lotus root, matsutake mushrooms, taro, sweet potato, pumpkin, Japanese chestnuts, buckwheat, mackerel, salmon and giant Pacific oysters are in abundance. During winter, cold ingredients such as turnip, giant white radish, carrot, amberjack, halibut, sandfish, puffer, Bluefin tuna, snow crab and Northern shrimps are in abundance. During this time, the New Year’s Day is celebrated and dishes like boiled sardines, and “Zoni” which is a soup with rice cakes are prepared.”

Chef Joy mentions two main regions – Osaka and Kyoto. “Both have almost same food and ingredients. Some popular dishes in some regions are tebasaki, miso katsu are popular in Nagoya area (between Osaka & Tokyo). Kakuni is popular in Osaka area (southern part of Japan) etc.”

Chef Swapandeep too feels different region have different taste and cooking style. “Like Kanto region foods are strongly seasoned, while on the other hand, Kansai region foods are lightly seasoned. The amalgamation of Japanese cuisine consists of food from Hokkaido region, Chubu and Kanto regions, Kansai and Chugoku regions Shikoku, Kyushu and Okinawa regions.

Tips To Remember

It is vital to remember certain tips for authenticity. Speaking of etiquettes, Chef Hitesh reveals, “One must not pass food from chopstick to chopstick as it is generally done on funerals. One must not impale ones rice bowl with chopsticks and make them stand as this too is a ritual during funerals. One must not cut their sushi with their knife and fork as this is considered as an insult to the chef. If the piece is too big for the mouth then one can take a bite and keep aside. In fact if a person is not very comfortable with chopsticks, it is fine to use ones hands to eat sushi.”

Chef Joy reveals, “Japanese they always say the food is for them is like a culture. The ambience of place where they have food is always silent. Japanese doesn’t like to infuse their food with other cuisine ingredient.”

Chef Vikram states, “Always respect the food that is been cooked and eaten. The equipments used need to be always clean and sharpened as knife skills are equally important to dish our artistic food.”

Miso Soup

Ingredients

Water – 2 Cup

Miso Paste –1 Tbsp

Dashinomoto – 1 Tsp

Silken Tofu – 1 Tsp

Spring Onion – 1 Tsp

Wakame –1 Tsp

METHOD

Bring the water to a simmer. Whisk in the miso paste and dashinomoto. Simmer for a minute. Garnish with small cubes of silken tofu, finely chopped spring onion and soaked wakame. Serve hot.

  • Recipe Courtesy Chef Hitesh Rai, Conrad Pune

Zaru Soba

Ingredients             

Soba (Buckwheat Noodle) – 100 Gms

Soba Sauce – 100 Ml

Spring Onion – 20 Gms

Wasabi – 10 Gms

Dry Seaweed (Kizami Nori) – 10 Gms

For Soba Sauce,

Dark Soya – 20 Ml

Fish Stock – 60 Ml

Mirin – 20 Ml

Method

Boil soba noodle for five minutes. Thoroughly rinse it and put it into ice water. Serve with cold soba sauce, wasabi and spring onion. Garnish dry seaweed on top.

  • Recipe by Chef Swapandeep Mukherjee, Head Chef, Sakura, The Metropolitan Hotel & Spa, Delhi

Ume Okra Yakko

Ingredients

Silken Tofu – 120 Gms

Umeboshi (Pickled Plum) – 20 Gms

Okra – 80 Gms

Kizame Noori (Noori Julienne) or Katsuobushi (Bonito Flakes) – 20 Gms

Japanese Soy Sauce (Kikkoman Recommended), as required

Method

Cut the silken tofu and put into ice water (at least 10 minutes). Meanwhile bring water to boil and blanch the Okra. Remove seed from umeboshi and then chop with the blanched Okra. Now remove the tofu from ice water and put it in the strainer to remove the excess water of tofu. Arrange the tofu in a platter and put chopped okra & umeboshi mixture on top of it. Garnish it with kizame noori or katsuobushi. Serve chilled with soy sauce on side.

CHEF’S TIP: Use katsuobushi for garnish as this is the way how Japanese prefer. If you are vegetarian, you may use noori julienne. You can make the mixture of umeboshi and okra then keep in the fridge to chill them.

  • Recipe by Chef Joy Dey of Doubletree by Hilton Chinchwad

Ebi Katsu

Ingredients

Tiger Prawns – 200 Gms

Oil, for frying – 100 Ml

For Marination,

Garlic Paste – 10 Gms

Miso Paste – 10 Gms

Kikkoman Soy Sauce – 5 Ml

Salt, to taste

Egg – 1 Each

For Batter,

Tempura Flour – 20 Gms

Chilled Water, as required

Panko Bread Crumb – 30 Gms

Method

Clean and de-vein the prawn before marinating it with the above mentioned ingredients. Make a thin batter using chilled water and tempura flour. Dip the marinated prawns into the tempura batter and coat it with the panko bread crumbs. Once the prawns are crumbed well, shake it to get the loose crumbs fall out. Fry oil in a pan over a medium heat and fry the breaded prawns till golden brown. Serve hot along with a bowl of Miso soup or with some wasabi mayonnaise.

  • Recipe Courtesy Vikram Gakkan, Corporate Chef, Malaka Spice Group