In a country that mandates kebabs on pizzas, aloo chaat in burgers and even masala in Mirinda, is it surprising that we decide to put spice in the Sushi?
It is well known among restaurateurs across the nation that the Indian palate is not particularly adventurous. Anything that has to sell in India necessarily needs to be carb-based, verrrry spicy and desserts, cloyingly sweet. Any restaurant that tries otherwise, is usually another entry in the inventory of “nice try” attempts at bringing “authentic cuisine” to our shores.
With the rise in popularity of sushi it was only a matter of time before we decided that “authentic Japanese” was not Indian enough. Our riposte to the revered and ancient culinary traditions of Japan is to throw masala at it.
But that said and vented, culinary art these days is nothing if not a tip of the hat to the market; and if the market decrees that all things should be masala’d for acceptability, it falls to the ingenuity of experienced chefs not to receive the worst Indian admonition of all, “It’s soooo bland, yaaar.”
From that standpoint, the oeuvres of Chef Kapil Sahi, Executive Chef of Davanam Sarovar Portico Suites deserves credit for a first of sorts… and that is, trying to win the hearts of Indian customers by “putting a twist to the taste by adding Indianness to the Japanese cuisine.”
The dining table was decorated with tiny bowls of black and brown olives (olives flummoxed us), gherkins, vinegar dipped ginger, skinny cucumber, mint and... “wasabi chutney”.
The appetizer was (a very Delhi-esque) Tokyo Chaat. It had a crispy base topped with SunoMono (made of thin cucumber and vinegar), tossed with Chaat Masala with mayonnaise (the mayo flummoxed us) on top. The starter was served with tamarind chutney.
And then to the main courses.
The challenge to blend sushi with the tandoor was easily won. (India - 1, Japan - 0.)
The sushi was stuffed with semi-cooked prawns (babycorn for the veggies). The sushi rolls were served with soya sauce dip and a decoction of tamarind and jaggery. Prepared with hung yogurt (curd?), the Wasabi chutney added to the melange of taste. Some other guests who knew their Japanese food told us that the sushi was a little on the hard side.
They say Japanese cuisine is not complete without Miso soup. We didn’t get Miso soup. Well, not exactly, but we did get a Miso Mutton Shorba.
And then the Katsu, another Japanese cuisine staple to curry up. Katsu is typically beef, pork and chicken and is one of the more popular curries in Japan. We were served a lamb and beef Katsu Curry with sticky rice. The lamb curry comprised onions, carrots and potatoes blended with Indian spices. A breaded deep-fried chicken cutlet was part of our big curry bowl, and this was inspired by what they call “chop” in Bengal. (We think the Brits call it that, too.)
Some of the guests felt that while the lamb curry was spicy and delivered Indian spices, the Beef Katsu tasted sweeter and failed the Indian palate for the lack of masala. Vegetarians were served the a Subzi Katsu Curry.
And then there was dessert. Sake infused jalebi was served with sesame seeds and saffron. Again, the same people who complained that the sushi was “too hard” felt the same way about the jalebis. Too hard. There was also wasabi ice cream served in a sugar spun basket. The wasabi delivered its kick but it did not feel like dessert.
A four course meal costs about Rs 1200 for two.
In the final analysis, it’s always a challenge for chefs in India, being forced to fusion. Rather than fall to hiding everything in a fog of spice, the better among them make an honest attempt not to lose the flavours of the host cuisine and yet, tear into the unforgiving Indian palate with the required amount of masala.
Even if Chef Sahi’s canvas is the accommodating subtlety of Japanese cuisine, his effort is true to purpose and the result was appreciated by the restaurant’s spice-seeking customers.