Japanese cuisine is picking up in India and Sushi is now the new Momo (dumplings). In the bigger cities it is even available for home delivery and many of these are actually quite good. We have started getting the ingredients fairly easily and cooking Japanese food at home is no more stressful.
But when it comes to infusing Indian flavours in Sushi I have been a little skeptical as I have tasted very bad versions of tikka masala type sushi. My impression of a fusion sushi had to change definitely, and how.
Recently we tasted some Indian inspired sushi at The Metropolitan Hotel & Spa and found the sushi quite good and ingenious even though the names ranged between Sakura Delhi roll (chicken tikka sushi) and Chennai special roll (Prawn tempura sushi).
The India inspired flavours were subtle, the ingredients fresh and the Indian flavours did not mask the fish or prawn or even the chicken, though I was fearing the same. My own favourites were the Chennai special roll and the Tofu Kimchi Gunkan from the festival lot.
Natto Temaki was my first pick from the regular menu and I got an extra helping of natto (fermented soybeans) because of my love for fermented foods. The Temaki had very little natto so an extra helping works better.
Do ask for extra natto as it is good for health too. Natto is an acquired taste but once you start liking it you just like it as is.
We already love the Ebiten Okonomiyaki which is grilled pancake with a sauce and loads of bonito flakes topping, screaming umami and addictive stuff.
As I always love Kimchi, another fermented food, we tried Buta Kimchi (stir fried pork with kicmchi) which was fabulous. Hot and slightly tart, real fermented kimchi and juicy shred of pork make a great combination together.
The desserts section features some interesting flavours of ice creams and you will be tempted to order the Matcha, Black Sesame, Red beans and Wasabi flavours of house made ice creams. We shared spoonfuls of all these flavours and loved each one of them. My favourites will be Matcha and Black Sesame while Arvind loved the Red Bean Ice cream.
I wanted to talk to Master Chef Tetsu Akahira, Sakura but we had to communicate through a translator because he cannot speak English.
Sakura at The Metropolitan was started by Chef Akahira's some 15 years ago I was told and he has curated the menu carefully and keeps evolving is from time to time. No wonder Sakura keeps winning accolades all over.
Here is the excerpt of my interview with Chef Akahira.
picture courtesy The Metropolitan Hotel
HFDV : What was the idea behind the India inspired sushi festival? Did you want to inspire more Indians to appreciate sushi?
Chef Tetsu Akahira : Japanese cuisine is proving to be a hit among culinary enthusiasts in India now. They have started liking the taste of Sushi, and palates of Indian have evolved over the years.
HFDV : What precautions did you take to develop these fusion versions of sushi. They taste really good and not overly Indianised I must say. Though I did not try the Tandoori Paneer Nigiri and Tandoori Paneer Gunkan.
Chef Tetsu Akahira : At Sakura, we believe, crafting a Sushi is an artistry - making it eye pleasing, working with flavours of the basic ingredients to shine through without too much seasoning, type of knife used to create the dish, cutting techniques and much more. Thus, such infused flavoured Sushi menu was carefully prepared keeping in mind things like, appropriate use of spices, flavouring them with vinaigrette rice, tandoori only tastes good when served hot, etc
And, we are delighted that you liked our menu. Feedback like yours keep motivating Sakura to continuously strive for bringing something new during such festivals.
HFDV : How fermented products like Natto and Kimchi are generally served in Japanese cuisine? What are the general foods that are served with these accompaniments?
Chef Tetsu Akahira : Natto and Kimchi are basically appetizers. Natto has a distinctive pungent smell and an equally unique flavour. There are very few dishes, which are made/paired with Natto, some of them are Natto Sushi Roll, Tuna Natto, Squid Natto. Natto tastes best with mustard and soy.
Kimchi is very spicy and whatever food it is matched with will probably end up with one overpowering taste, i.e., hot. So its pairing needs to be seen carefully with Japanese food. Though there are many ways to consume it, can be used as a condiment or can be practically cooked with and food you have on hand. At Sakura, Kimchi can be used as a rice topping, as a ramen or nabe flavouring, or as a spicy pickled side dish.
HFDV : What is your own favourite India inspired sushi?
Chef Tetsu Akahira : Though complete menu tastes good to me, but, if I have to choose one, it will be Achari Chicken Sushi.
I wonder if that is Kimchi effect. After all hot and tart flavours rule the taste buds of most people, in doses small or large.