When you think of Japanese food, is your first thought sushi? Harry Kosato joins us to open up the boundaries and introduce you to the full scope of the cuisine by busting some common myths.
India’s culinary landscape has been evolving at a breakneck pace over the last couple of decades. With technology making it easy to live in a global community and the Indian audience opening up to new experiences, a lot of new cuisines have started to thrive in the country’s metro cities, but none quite as successfully as Japanese cuisine.
Though ‘going for sushi’ is now a part of the desi vocabulary, there still exists an underlying narrative that all Japanese food is synonymous with raw fish and nothing more. Nobody knows this reality quite like Harry Hakuei Kosato, Japanese Cuisine Goodwill Ambassador to India and founder of one of India’s first sushi delivery ventures, Sushi and More. he’s seen the Japanese food space through from birth to its figurative graduation, and now as an ambassador and a Kikkoman India Representative, he’s made it his mission to foster a better cultural (and culinary!) connection between the two countries.
It was back in 2007 when he first arrived in Mumbai and started testing the waters for a sushi restaurant that he first understood the scope of the problem. “For those early years, people said things like, "’Harry san, take my advice, don't do it’, ‘It will fail for sure, do something else,’ ‘You don't understand India, we are a country of vegetarians!’" he recalls. But pushing on step by step he started educating his customer base on the potential for even veg and Jain sushi and soon word began to spread and Sushi and More has become a consistent success.
He estimates that it was between 2011-2017 when the sushi boom started accelerating and during the pandemic, things reached their peak. Though they stay true to the techniques, there have been additions made over the years to cater to an Indian audience, “Adjustment, creativity, and innovation are the key to the evolution of food culture in any country,” he says. He’s also been blown away by the amount of variation Indian sushi has seen recently from spicier options or using mango and mushrooms, avocado, and canned tuna to adjust for realistic availability.
But even within this diversity, there are some limitations, mainly due to misunderstandings about the nature of Japanese cuisine itself. In his position, he often has to contend with questions and a belief that sushi is the extent of the offerings but he says “Like India, Japan has a rich diverse food culture,” and his goal is to “ inform, promote, and accelerate and encourage chefs and consumers to appreciate Japanese food ingredients and Japanese cuisine.”
We caught up with Harry Kosato to understand more about the most common myths surrounding Japanese cuisine and some things we should know before Japanese cuisine reaches the next phase of its evolution in India. Because, as he says “The boom has just started”.
Myth #1 Sushi always has to be raw ingredients and contain raw fish.
Chefs have created some amazing dishes that are neither raw nor contain raw fish! Kappa maki which is a cucumber roll is so simple and yum, and Inari sushi is a sweet soy-cooked tofu skin filled with vinegared rice, which is another favourite of mine that I love!
Myth #2 Japanese food revolves around sushi and cooked dishes aren’t as popular.
Hundreds of other dishes exist and are hugely popular. Think Kaiseki. Donburi. Yakitori. Nabe. Or, Nimono. To name a few. More and more eateries will open up serving different things like shabu shabu, okonomiyaki, yakiniku, wafuu pasta, karaage senmonten, etcetera!
Myth #3 Sushi is always a very expensive or elaborate meal to have.
False. Affordable sushi is on the rise!
Myth #4 Soy and wasabi are a must-have along with all types of sushi.
Yes, something like a Kikkoman soy sauce which is naturally brewed, is a must. But be careful with brands which claim to be naturally brewed - many are from Southeast countries as well as in the Far East, where the soy sauce does contain MSG, preservatives and artificial colourings and flavourings, don't use those! Wasabi too is yes as it is a natural 毒消or "doku keshi" (literally "poison eraser") but of course too spicy so kids don't have wasabi in their sushi! That being said there is a friend who is a chef in Japan who serves sushi with different types of oil like avocado and coconut oil and exotic salt, from the Himalayas and other places, which for me was a real eye-opener!
Myth #5 Light soy sauce is healthier than dark soy since it has less sodium.
Not necessarily. So there are basically 3 types of soy sauce. Light. Dark. And Kikkoman soy sauce. Light soy sauce is for flavour, where many are chemically produced. Dark more for colour, where again many are chemically produced. And Kikkoman soy sauce which is naturally brewed for over 6 months, can be used as a key ingredient for enhancing the food. Sodium levels also differ from brand to brand so check on the label. Kikkoman soy sauce has about thirty per cent less sodium than using salt, but because of its higher umami content, tastes better even with lower salt content, for example.
Myth #6 All sushi is bite-sized and must be eaten with chopsticks
There are futomaki rolls which are bigger. Then there is sushi which are layered or scattered. Oshi (pressed sushi) sushi and Chirashi (scattered) are just two alternatives to Nigiri (hand-pressed) sushi and Maki (rolled) sushi, for example. You can eat with your hands as well as chopsticks, whatever makes you feel comfortable.
Myth #7 Any type of fresh fish can be used for sushi.
False. Usually seawater fish versus river fish, but there are varieties which are not to be eaten as sushi. Maybe say there are around 50 key fish and seafood sushi varieties people enjoy eating.
Myth #8 Japanese and Indian food are polar opposite cuisines
False. Similar in some respects but very different in many other respects. Japan does share a rich tradition of vegetarianism like in India. People eat sushi with their hands as Indians eat their food with their hands, for example.