By Kishori Sud
Indians may be getting increasingly experimental with their food palate, but they mostly picture only a sushi roll or tempura in their head when asked about Japanese cuisine, says Japanese chef Masaharu Morimoto, who has had a culinary relationship with India for almost 15 years. But he doesn’t mind.
Known as the Iron Chef and well-known for his presentation skills, Morimoto’s flavours are known to Indian foodies via Wasabi by Morimoto, which has two branches in India — one in Mumbai since 2004 and other in New Delhi since 2008 — in association with the Taj group.
There is a lot more to Japanese cuisine than sushi, sashimi and tempura; for instance, miso soup, yakitori, edamame, ramen, mochi, okonomiyaki and oden. Yet Indians know mostly about sushi, sashimi and, at most, tempura. For a long time, it was presumed by the masses, and probably still is, that sushi and sashimi are the same thing.
The 62-year-old says he is fine with it.
“Although there is a lot to Japanese food, I don’t know how to give that information to each and every person here. If they think Japanese food is sushi and tempura, that is fine. Come here (to Wasabi, to learn more about Japanese cuisine).
“When they come and see the menu, they will see the dishes and ask automatically what all is really there in a Japanese cuisine… That is what I am doing,” Morimoto said.
However, he said people have started taking interest in the cuisine over the years.
“The number of people coming here has increased a bit; as it has been 10 years now, more and more of them are trying to understand the Japanese culture and take interest too. More people want to try the Japanese culture, including food,” he added.
Morimoto says his restaurant in Mumbai has little competition as there are few restaurants offering Japanese food. But the same can’t be said of the national capital.
“There are a lot of places and options for people to indulge in the cuisine; so there is a lot of competition,” he said.
Cost, however, is a factor. “Unfortunately, regular people cannot come here. Only one per cent of people can come to Wasabi as it is expensive,” said Morimoto, who opened his first restaurant in Philadelphia in 2001.
Can he do something about the rates to make his food more affordable for the ones who would love to try the cuisine?
“I would love to make it more affordable but the ingredients are expensive. Bringing them from Japan is expensive. You cannot forget the tax factor too,” Morimoto said.
Since 2001, Morimoto has spread magic across the globe with restaraunts in New York, Mexico, Bangkok, Las Vegas, Maui, Boca Raton, Tokyo, Orlando, Dubai and, finally, India.
His first cookbook, “Morimoto: The New Art of Japanese Cooking”, has won two International Association of Culinary Professionals Awards, including the Julia Child Award for Best First Book, while his second book was released in November last year, titled “Mastering the Art of Japanese Home Cooking”.
Asked what changes he plans to bring to the menu to mark the 10th year of his “baby” as he calls his restaurant, Morimoto says he has to “collaborate” with the people working here as ingredients that he actually uses in the authentic menu are not available here.
“It is a bit difficult to bring my menu here because the ingredients are very different and you don’t get them here. Seasonal things are an issue, and then there are some rules that this kind of animal or the other is not allowed here in India… so it’s not possible to have the same thing.”
How much do the Japanese know about Indian cuisine?
“Japanese love Indian food. Just a little less spice and oil though. We make the curry rice, everyone likes it. But medium spicy is what I like,” Morimoto added.