Japanese food has a growing draw in India

The two hundred years of isolation of the Japanese island between the 17th-19th centuries arguably engendered a unique and exotic culture that includes its distinctive cuisine

Nirupama Sekhri Mar 05, 2020
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The two hundred years of isolation of the Japanese island between the 17th-19th centuries arguably engendered a unique and exotic culture that includes its distinctive cuisine. Also, the fact that only one-eighth of the narrow island is cultivable - the rest being mountainous, as well as thickly forested in parts - forced them to look sea-ward, and it is no wonder that fish, seafood and seaweed take-up a prominent place in their diet, and Washoku, the word used to describe a range of heritage Japanese dishes such as sushi, was born.

These dishes require care and attention to detail, and offer a burst of nuanced and delicious tastes and flavours, while also looking outstandingly artistic. Now the Japanese government is creating greater awareness of its distinctive cuisine in other countries, with the Embassy of Japan hosting awareness programmes on Japanese food and sake (rice wine) hosted by celebrated Japanese cuisine goodwill ambassadors especially flown in from their native country, as well as taking Indian chefs to Japan to witness and learn first hand the intricate procedure of sourcing and preparing traditional dishes.  

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Indian Chef Pankaj Bhadouria, a former teacher who shot into culinary fame by winning the MasterChef title in 2010, was one who spent an intense few days in Japan savouring and learning the subtlety of flavours. She says she was amazed to learn about the 70-odd types of miso soups - a staple Japanese dish - one can enjoy. 

Chef Bhadouria also emphatically points out that there are plenty of dishes on offer for vegetarians and people who may not relish seafood that much. She herself can now serve up delectable salads using apples imported from Japan, which the Indian government has approved a trial shipment of to India for the first time in December last year. 

Another important aspect of Japanese dishes is pointed out by renowned Chef Ogawa Hirotoshi from Japan, who has conducted several appreciation programs in India. He says the special essence of Japanese cuisine is based on flavours, colours and techniques. Japanese food uses ‘umami’ or a taste or enhanced taste that goes beyond the sweet, sour, savoury and bitter.

Colours, he informs, hold meaning in their cuisine - yellow and red whet appetite, white signifies cleanliness and hygiene, and black helps hold or connect the ingredients together.  He also demonstrates the highly skilled way specialised knives are used to slice fish delicately and even the careful way meat is held - just with the tip of the finger and thumb - to avoid unnecessary heat to be passed into the meat! 

Japanese Ambassador Satoshi Suzuki draws attention to Japanese curries and broths that resonate well with the Indian palate. He is also encouraged by the steadily increasing interest in Japanese food in India - as witnessed by the mushrooming of Japanese restaurants - and hopes that their products too - especially apples and fresh, non-frozen fish for which Japan and India had signed a sanitary certificate in 2018 - will find prominent place in the Indian market.