Japanese food in “saadi dilli” is a bit of a rarity. In a largely vegetarian world, the demand for such food is low to begin with. Add to that the “eek” factor associated with raw fish, and then being affordable largely by the urban bourbon-drinking page 3 hip and plastic crowd, and you have a cuisine on which the exclusion factor has been really high. I chanced on it, or rather was force-fed on it, when my parents decided to move to Japan for a year almost 15 years ago. Since then there has been no looking back and I’m always on the lookout for places serving Japanese food. So I was super excited to learn from a cousin that a japani eating place had opened up in D-Block Market, Poorvi Marg, Vasant Vihar, called Tamura (ph: +91-11-26154082).
A typical japani diner awaits you in the basement with both traditional and western style seating. Traditional seating essentially implies sitting on legless chairs placed on “tatami” (chattaai) flooring with space to lower our feet under the table. Shoes need to be taken off after descending the stairs, as is appropriate on entering any Japanese house. Alternatively, you can sit on a table and a chair and this may be a better option for people who are worried about straining their muscles. I prefer the tatimi both because it’s more in the spirit of eating Japanese food, as well as because it has dainty curtains that give a greater sense of privacy than the table-chair set up.
Entering the eating space I was immediately hit by a blast from my past: three different tables were occupied by separate groups of Japanese customers who were clearly having a good time with and were merrily smoking away, eating tempura and drinking vattish quantities of beer sake. Quite the thing you’d see in a sushi-roku type (plain diner) in Japan. Some green tea — well actually, pale yellow tea (the japani green tea is a little different from its Chinese version) — and cold towels were immediately served on seating. In Japan you are typically given steaming hot towels, but given the heat, cold towels will do well in India. Nicely enough you don’t have to ask for chopsticks, unlike most other places serving Japanese cuisine. Waiters landed up with menus and the traditional three bows. My dad got all excited and tried to brush up his Japanese: “ahh – chotto …. diet coke-wa deska?” — an effort that was lost perhaps because it was so unexpected from an Indian.
After poring over the menu we figured it would be best to go with a plate of mixed tempura (includes mostly very tasty vegetables) as well as two ebi (prawn) tempuras, two plates of mixed sushi — one was a cut-roll and the other was loose rice with the ingredients on the side and seaweed on top, and very fresh wasabe and pickled ginger slices. We ended with a tempura soba soup (noodle soup) that was also really nice. It’s really easy to mess up the soba by under- or over-boiling it and then not cooling it down before dropping it into the soup — something I have found the hard way in my own japani cooking experiments. The waiters, who are all trained in their parallel outlet in Nepal, told me that they had family-size soups available too, but on special order, and they do sashmi on Friday and Saturday evenings. Shabu Shabu nights are also possible, but again with prior order, and this is something I am all eager to do.
Price-wise I consider this restaurant really good value for money, though clearly not an option if you are going out on a budget meal. With two bottles of beer (and the small 300ml bottles were overpriced at Rs. 120, with the larger bottles unavailable), we ended up paying about 750 per head. But I have no hesitation in going back to spend it once more since the entire experience was so nice.
On the whole, a good home away from home for a Japanese and an excellent place to start experimenting with Japanese cuisine if one is new to it. In terms of a recommendation, I think if Mr. Tamura were to offer a little Japanese food appreciation service, nothing more than like a little 5 min. pre-order chat for people still in their early stages of experiments with Japanese food, then it would make the entire experience very solid. Otherwise people may be left wondering why the sushi came before the soba soup noodles and what exactly to do with the wasabe. Another suggestion would be to perhaps do a demo of how to use the chopsticks, particularly for the uninitiated. I am looking forward to going back and trying more items from their menu. And yes … they do serve Ozeki sake!
p.s. They also have branches in New Friends Colony and in Gurgaon (named Kyoto).