Chef Asami Indo On Japanese Cuisine’s Growing Popularity

Over the years, Japanese cuisine has acquired a huge fan base around the world. Every part of the island nation boasts a unique culinary experience that you must try when you’re there. Japanese cuisine is a lot more than just the widely popular Sushi, which is actually more of a gourmet dish. The street food of this country also has a lot to offer than the popular Tempura. You must have tasted some of the signature Japanese dishes in restaurants in India and abroad, but there is more beyond the classics. The Harajuku Tokyo Café in Delhi is slowly introducing the same to India, one outlet at a time. 

To explore innovative Japanese food and bring the country’s vibrant flavours to India, the café collaborated with renowned chefs from Tokyo and Osaka. From Boba Tea, freshly baked Japanese Jiggly Cheesecake, and exclusively crafted Japanese desserts and breads to made-on-order street food from Japan, one can enjoy a slew of delicacies at this venue.

We recently caught up with the restaurant’s Partner Chef from Japan, Asami Indo - who was on a short trip to India - to discuss Japanese desserts, her favourite dishes, and the factors and challenges that influence the cuisine to proliferate here. Excerpts from the conversation: 

Q. How would you describe Japanese desserts?  

A. Japanese pastry and desserts are light as air, and are a little less sweet compared with the sweet dishes from other nations.  

Q. What do you have to say about the response to Japanese cuisine in India?  

A. Initially, Indians were sceptical about trying authentic Japanese cuisine, especially since Sushi has been associated mainly with raw fish and was not so palatable or accessible to Indians, being mostly served in expensive five-star hotels. However, the perception started to change with the rise in popularity of modern Japanese cuisine, and the introduction of different ingredients in Sushi, especially vegetarian ones.  

Q. Tell us a little about your Japanese roots, and how you incorporate that into your understanding of food.  

A. Traditional Japanese cuisine is known as ‘Washoku’, meaning ‘harmony’ and ‘to eat’. The philosophy focuses on the harmony of ingredients that is both visually appealing and nutritious. I have always incorporated this in my cooking and the presentation of my food. I use minimally processed, fresh, seasonal foods with very small amounts of added sugars. The plating and presentation of food is very important for us Japanese and we like to do it very aesthetically.  

Q. What made you choose Harajuku for your foray into India?  

A. When Gaurav Kanwar met us in Japan, he was very excited about introducing Japanese bakery and street food to India. While there have been many Pan-Asian restaurants that have come up, the Japanese bakery and street food culture is still a very unexplored concept for Indians. We were also very excited with his ideas and decided to team up with him to popularise this type of Japanese food in India. The inspiration behind the menu is the Japanese bakeries and street food/fast food.  

Q. According to you, what factors and challenges influence the popularity of Japanese cuisine outside the island nation?  

A. A primary characteristic of Japanese cuisine is the preference for the raw taste of food without too many strongly flavoured sauces and minimum cooking time, whereas in Indian cuisine, there is a lot of roasting and use of various spices, etc. 

We tweaked the level of spiciness in some of the fillings used for the breads and curry, as Indians prefer a little more spice and flavour, otherwise all the recipes are very authentic Japanese. 

There are some synergies also in Japanese and Indian cuisine. Rice and curry, of course, are the most common ingredients/food staples in both cuisines. Although the Japanese curry is milder than Indian curry and has a bit of western influence, it is thickened with a little flour and is slightly sweeter. We managed to strike the right balance and our Indian guests are loving the food.  

Q. How are Japanese desserts different and what drew you to be a pastry chef in particular?  

A. Indian desserts are sweeter and heavier. Japanese desserts are light, and not overly sweet. We use a lot of fresh fruit and cream in our desserts. I was always very passionate about food and loved making desserts especially. After having trained at the prestigious culinary academy, The Tsuji Culinary Institute, I went on to further master my skills in France.  

Q. What is your favourite dessert, and why?  

A. That would be the Cotton Cheesecake - our signature cake. It’s different from a normal cheesecake, and is fluffy and light in texture. I think it’s one of the best Japanese cakes that people from other countries love and Indians are loving it too.  

Q. What would you suggest for a first-timer to try from the Japanese menu?  

A. The fluffy, freshly baked cotton cheesecake, the jiggly Japanese souffle pancakes, curry pans (fried bread stuffed with a curry-based filling), the parfaits (a very popular Japanese dessert like an ice-cream sundae with fresh fruit and jellies), the taiyaki, dorayaki (pancakes sandwiched with nutella), katsu curry, crispy Karaage, Japanese long fries, the light-as-air Japanese breads, and cakes.  

Q. Is there any misnomer that you wish to clear?

A. The main misnomer is that Japanese food is only Sushi or raw fish, and that it’s bland. It isn’t really so.