Japanese cuisine, Teppan style

Teppan is the third Japanese restaurant I have tried in Chennai. Given that it is a Japanese restaurant, vegetarian options were limited and the price was on a higher side. It costs close to Rs 2300 for two people.

But the place was cosy and ambiance was good. So  I think I will let it pass as I figure it is a good place for casual dining. Once settled, we got down to ordering. Problem with Japanese restaurants is that it is hard finding vegetarian items from the 20 odd page menu. You need to scrutinise pages for veg options, since they are pretty easy to miss. If you have mastered that, it becomes easy. 

Now coming back to food, for starters we ordered a plate of kappa maki, shredded cucumber rolled with sushi vinegared rice. It was accompanied by raw but slightly flavoured ginger and teriyaki sauce. When I first put maki in my mouth, first thing that hit me was tangy taste lent by vinegar and crispiness of rice. Mild flavour of cucumber rolled inside sushi was refreshing. It was so good that we ordered another place of kappa maki. It was again another roller coaster ride of tangy rice, mild cucumber and crispy rice that left me wanting more. I can still remember the taste even three months after I have tasted it.

Kappa maki, rolled cucumber in vinegared rice
Kappa maki, rolled cucumber in vinegared rice

After maki, we settled on yakisoba and udon for the main course. Yakisoba is noodles is made of fried buckwheat and thinner, while udon is a type of thick wheat noodle. These are common street food in Japan. They are made using teppan style in the restaurant and are dipped in teriyaki sauce, which makes noodles a little sweet. What I liked about these noodles where they were not sticky and melt in your mouth. You do not need sauce to go with the noodles as they are already dipped in it. Though in terms of taste there was not much of a difference between the two, the flavour does not overwhelm you.

Buckwheat yakisoba noodles
Buckwheat yakisoba noodles. Source: Pinterest
Think wheat udon noodles. Source: Bon Appeit
Think wheat udon noodles. Source: Bon Appeit

What is teppan-style or teppanyaki? Teppanyaki is a style of  Japanese cuisine that uses an iron griddle to cook food. The word teppanyaki is derived from teppan, which means iron plate, and yaki, which means grilled, broiled, or pan-fried. In Japan, teppanyaki refers to dishes cooked using an iron plate, including steak, shrimp, okonomiyaki, yakisoba, and monjayaki.

Teppanyaki grill used for making yakisoba. Source: Honeycombers
Teppanyaki grill used for making yakisoba. Source: Honeycombers

The originator of the teppanyaki-style steakhouse is the Japanese restaurant chain Misono, which introduced the concept of cooking Western-influenced food on a teppan in Japan in 1945.

Apparently this style is not very common or not considered very Japanese. When I was talking to Satoshi Akimoto of Aki Bay Ramen shop, he said there is only one place in Japan that serves teppanyaki cuisine. “It is liked more by foreigners and popular in the West, especially the US, which is the place of origin of grilled cooking,” he explained.

More than Japanese, foreigners enjoyed both watching the skilled maneuvers of the chefs preparing the food as well as the cuisine itself, which is somewhat more familiar than more traditional Japanese dishes. As restaurants became more popular with tourists, the Misono chain increased the performance aspect of the chef’s preparation, such as stacking onion slices to produce a flaming onion volcano.

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