After reading so much about Japan and its cuisine, it is only natural that I wanted to taste it. Thankfully there was enough Japanese restaurants in South Indian state Chennai and to my knowledge many have cropped up in the last few years alone. This sudden boom is not without reason.
Chennai is renowned as automobile manufacturing hub in the country. There are many Japanese automobile companies that have their base here like Suzuki, Mitsubishi and Yamaha and. Of late more industries are investing in Chennai and this has resulted in robust cross cultural visits between the countries.
The city has a Japanese consulate and organisations that facilitate cross border businesses. Japanese language schools like Hayakawa Japanese Language school, where considerable number of students enroll to learn the language every year, have also increased. Penetration of manga in the city has improved. This is marked by wider readership and rise in sales of manga in the city. To cater to rising expats from Japan and to some extent increasing interest in Japan among youngsters, many Japanese restaurants cropped up in the city like Monoyama, GOGORamen, Aki Bay and Sushi in a box in the last 3-4 years. Many star hotels too began including Japanese cuisine for the same reason.
Even in the city where there are more vegetarian than non-vegetarians, these Japanese restaurants thrive and that says a lot. Though most of these restaurants stick to their Japanese roots, they need to introduce vegetarian options to attract the crowd. Typically, if a group of five people go to a restaurant at least three of them will be vegetarians, which cannot be ignored.
But would vegetarian dishes do justice to Japanese cuisine, which is predominantly has meat base? I would say they are definitely not bad. I can say that because I had my first taste of Japanese dishes in a restaurant Sushi in a box and I liked it. The restaurant had wide range to choose from starting from sweet potatoes and tempura for a starter to katsu for main dishes. Though menu mostly consists of non-vegetarian there was sufficient vegetarian options to choose from.
I chose sweet potatoes roll and yasai tempura roll made in teriyaki sauce for starters. Since I had always wanted to taste ramen, I ordered soupy Nagasaki Champon ramen for the main dish. While we were waiting, the guy waiting on my table offered kimchi and pickled daikon (radish).
Now I began to take a look around the restaurant, which seemed to have themed around manga. I could recognise figures of Naruto, Yagami light from Death Note and Monkey D Luffy from One piece. There were few whom I did not recognise. As I took in my surroundings my mind filled with details from all those cooking manga and anime I spent reading and watching. It built up my anticipation.
When dishes finally arrived, they looked different from what I expected it to be. I first tried yasai tempura, which is nothing but mixed vegetables in teriyaki sauce. The six rice rolls and ample vegetables in tempura were a little sweet but nice. Eating with chopsticks came easy and I managed to finish vegetables and roll using it. I surprised myself. Next came ramen.
Finally a dish I was waiting to taste and I was not disappointed. I had a huge bowl of ramen in front of me accompanied by a spoon. The noodle was long, smooth and had rich flavour of vegetables. I was ready to embarrass myself by eating clumsily using chopstick. (I probably held the stick wrong, but hey it was my first time) As I put the long noodle in my mouth, they broke so easily that there was no need for me to cut them using the stick. It was lot easier than using a fork and knife and much more comfortable.
Since vegetable broth was light, the dish was easy to eat and within minutes I was finished and drank the remaining soup directly from the bowl. I felt content. That was a deserving finish to my first ramen experience. It was just a beginning. I cannot but wish for many more to come in land of rising sun, Japan.