Guide to good food, made in Japan-The New Indian Express

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By Monish Gujral 21st July 2013 12:00 AM

My recent trip to Japan, my first to the island nation, was a much exciting as well as humbling experience. The Japanese are warm and hospitable. Always smiling and eager to help a stranger even if they don’t understand the foreign language. I was overawed by the cleanliness, hygiene and beauty that surrounded every aspect of Japanese living. The environment, the Ikebana, the food, the clothes.

Japan being a nation surrounded by the sea, the food is largely influenced by marine offerings. Japan practiced foreign seclusion till the middle of the 18th century. Neither any foreigner could enter the country nor any Japanese could leave the country till the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Only after the seclusion ended did the other cuisines find their way ashore the big island. I am sure they didn’t miss much as the Japanese cuisine in itself is so varied and special.

The traditional food of Japan revolves around rice with miso soup (soyabean-based soup) and other dishes, each in its own serving vessel or utensil, with an emphasis on seasonal and local ingredients. The side dishes often consist of fish, pickled vegetables, and vegetables cooked in broth. Fish is common in the traditional cuisine. It is often grilled, but it may also be served raw as sashimi or in sushi. Seafood and vegetables are also deep-fried in a light batter known as tempura which is close to our pakoras.Japanese food is based on combining staple food which is steamed (sticky) rice called Gohan with one or many (okazu) main dishes along with side dishes. Apart from rice, staples include noodles, such as soba and udon. Japan has many simmered dishes such as fish products in broth called oden, or beef in sukiyaki and nikujaga. The Japanese dessert is called Wagashi which is made from red bean paste and rice wine sake. Lately, Japanese food, specially sushi, has caught the world’s fancy. Nowadays there are many sushi bars serving a wide array of sushis to the hip and happening. I personally love sushi as it is light and easy to digest.

In Japan, I was invited by an Indian family who have made Japan their home. I requested them to take me to one of the upmarket tea rooms as I had always heard about them. They took me to a very fancy tearoom in one of the top hotels in Yokohama. I was hugely impressed by how Japanese romance their tea drinking. Besides the typical green tea is served in authentic tea cups without handles. We ordered Indian Nilgiri first flush tea. Japan imports a lot of tea from India, many varieties that may be foreign to Indians ,although it’s produced in India. We were served the tea in a beautiful Victorian tea set. Along with it there were three tier pastry dish with petitfours and yoki mori traditional Japanese cookies. It was a dream date with tea.

Later we went to a traditional Japanese restaurant, which had typical floor seating. I ordered a bento box meal. Bento box consists of small containers with individual small portions of beautifully crafted traditional Japanese food along with steamed rice and noodles served in small bowls called chawan. For dessert we were served sweet dumplings drizzled with red bean paste and rice wine called sake. Sake is a very smooth wine but beware it could be a little potent .

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First chef from India to be invited to Le cordon Bleu to demonstrate in Paris. Monish is credited with the trailblazing turn-around of Moti Mahal, from being a small but iconic presence in Delhi, to becoming a multi-national corporation that is well on its way to defining how the world eats Indian food. A traditionalist, Monish has remained true to the signature dishes that made Moti Mahal a legend, while reinventing the dining experience into one that is exciting and avant garde to suit modern sensibilities.

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