International Sushi Day: Chefs On Vegetarian Sushis Trend, India
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Sushi is a famous Japanese dish that has gained popularity across the globe thanks to its unique flavours and a combination of different textures and appeal. Made with vinegared rice and fresh seafood, a part of India’s population tagged it as a dish that required an “acquired taste.” 

Thus, to cater to the Indian palette, variations of Sushi were developed. One of the most popular variations is vegetarian sushi. But did vegetarian sushi exist before their Indian adaptation, or are we the pioneers of the recipe? This International Sushi Day, Slurrp interviewed sushi chefs to learn more about the adaptation of vegetarian sushis in India.

The History Of Sushi

“As technology advanced, the food culture also evolved. Chiefly, the discovery of vinegar and the eventual application of soy sauce made the need to store fish over long periods unnecessary. The biggest benefit of this was being able to “mix” the curation process with edible rice. By simply taking some rice, pouring some vinegar over it, and layering it on fish meat, people could easily create a preservative snack that was less salty, immediately edible, and more filling,” Chef Kaichunglian at Amazonia tells team Slurrp.

The culinary expert further says, “Fast track to the 1800s Edo period — where in the bustling streets of what was at the time the world’s most populous city, people needed fast food, and sushi competed vigorously to serve that purpose. To compete with other fast foods, sushi had to be fast to prepare, easy to eat, and tasty. The curation process of vinegar also evolved, and by this time period, it could be mixed with sushi and eaten immediately. As the technology evolved over the decades and more effort was put into getting the freshest fish to customers, sushi went from being best known as a blue-collar energy bar sort of food to a world-renowned delicacy to be enjoyed with fine sake and company. Remnants of the various stages of the evolution of sushi are prevalent around Japan today, but the sushi we think of has beautifully survived a sometimes inventive and sometimes brutal past.”

“Due to the ban on fish, river fish was used in making sushi, which is less fleshy and even smells. But to make the process smoother, the ex-sushi chefs decided to start processing people’s food for them. If a customer brings rice, then for a fee, the store can churn out a small set of sushi. The restaurant did not provide rice, which was one of the technical definitions of a restaurant under the GHQ ban, and the stores did not provide a place for people to stay or sit. Although there was no seafood, river fish and some other ingredients like eggs and cucumbers did just fine, as people were just as happy to lay hands on whatever kind of sushi they could get. In today's society, the food scene across the nation is evolving at a rapid pace. Many trends have been developed from many traditional techniques and modern implementations. Japanese cuisine has come a long way since it was first introduced to the States in the last 50 years,” highlights Chef Kaichunglian.

Chef Shailendra Kekade, an avid authority on F&B at Sante Spa, chips in and says, “The evolution of sushi in India reflects a fascinating blend of traditional Japanese elements with local tastes and ingredients. Sushi started becoming popular in India in the early 2000s, primarily in metropolitan cities like Mumbai, Delhi, and Bangalore. Initially, it was available only in high-end restaurants and hotels catering to expatriates and affluent locals.”

Adaptation Of Vegetarian Sushi In India

Replacing the traditional use of seafood to make sushi with vegetarian and vegan ingredients was a major change to the original recipe. As per the experts, here is how it happened. “Sushi has undergone an interesting evolution over the years, especially as it has left Japan's borders. One interesting development I've noticed is how sushi is being modified to accommodate different cultural diets. For example, to cater to the needs of vegan and vegetarian customers, there is a considerable demand in India for vegetarian versions of several cuisines. Many creative vegetarian sushi choices have emerged as a result of this trend,” informs Mahesh Ramasamy, chef at Angsana Oasis Spa & Resort.

Shailendra Kekade, chef at Sante Spa, says, “Indian sushi chefs have adapted traditional sushi recipes to suit local tastes. This includes using spices and ingredients familiar to Indian cuisine. For example, sushi rolls might incorporate ingredients like paneer, tandoori chicken, and local spices. Given the large vegetarian population in India, sushi offerings have expanded to include a wide variety of vegetarian options. These might feature ingredients like cucumber, avocado, asparagus, pickled vegetables, and unique Indian vegetables and fruits. Indian chefs have created fusion sushi, blending Indian and Japanese culinary techniques. This has led to innovative creations like sushi rolls with curry flavours or sushi topped with spicy chutneys.”

Shailendra Kekade further adds, “As of now, sushi has become more accessible to the general population, moving beyond luxury dining to casual and fast-food settings. The perception of sushi as a healthy, low-fat meal option has resonated well with health-conscious Indian consumers. Despite the adaptations, there is also a growing appreciation for authentic Japanese sushi. Overall, sushi in India has evolved to become a versatile and popular cuisine, balancing authenticity with local flavours and dietary preferences.”

Vegetarian Sushi Ingredients And Emerging Trends

While vegetarian sushis must have appealed to the palettes of Indians, there are a few things you should keep in mind while making them. As per Gaurav Paul, chef at Hilton Bangalore Embassy GolfLinks, to ensure that the flavours in vegetarian sushi are as appealing as traditional sushi, he and his team maintain the essential base ingredients: nori sheets, Japanese sticky rice, sake vinegar, mirin, and seasonings. He further adds, “The key difference lies in the toppings and fillings, which are creatively replaced with vegetables and fruits such as mango, avocado, cucumber, carrot, and eggless mayonnaise. This adaptation of fillings and toppings has been widely accepted and enjoyed by consumers both in India and globally.”

Another unique vegetarian filling shared by Gaurav Paul is the use of compressed watermelon, which replicates the texture of tuna, topped with thin slices of mango and finished with a drizzle of tamarind mayo. As per the chef, this inventive combination has been well-received and adored by his customers.

For the fillings, Chef Kaichunglian revealed to team Slurrp that they use different types of vinegar to complement the vegetarian fillings, such as apple cider vinegar, champagne vinegar, or cherry vinegar.

  • Sushi Vinegar: for flavour and tenderise meat, poultry, or seafood. 
  • Vegetables: Add zesty flavour to hot or cold vegetable dishes. 
  • Stir-fry: Add depth to dishes with sweet-savoury or tangy sauces, from Kung Pao Prawns to General Tso's Chicken and Lemon Chicken.

When it comes to rice, Chef Shailendra Kekade says, “I have used traditional sushi rice for a variety of sushi. Still, I have also experimented with young ambemohar rice, locally available Indrayani rice, and zero-degree Shillong purple rice. Apart from rice, I have used quinoa grains as well as cauli rice for my low–carb sushi. That being said, to get the right flavours, I pay attention to the ratio or combination of the sushi vinegar, salt, and sugar, which varies when I use it with naturally sweet or pickled ingredients in each case. The seasoning liquid needs to be adapted well to the end-use combinations, and the tweaking needs to be done accordingly.”

The Global-View Of Vegetarian Sushi

There is no longer a doubt that vegetarian sushi is widely popular and continuously accepted in India. But how are the world and the creators of sushi, Japan, taking this? Chef Kaichunglian shares an amazing statistic, “According to the data, there has been an increase in Sushi orders by nearly 50 per cent since January 2019. According to a 2021 report from the Japan External Trade Organization, there were around 100 restaurants in India, mainly serving Japanese cuisine, up from 60 in 2020.”

Supporting the statement, chef Mahesh Ramasamy also adds, “Vegetarian sushi was not particularly well-liked or sought after before it was adopted in India. However, as specialist fusion food has become more popular in India's major cities, restaurateurs are putting more emphasis on offering vegetarian alternatives on their menus. Also, when we talk about the global view, vegan food has become incredibly popular in Japan—a nation best renowned for its seafood sushi, no less. With plant-based ingredients, Japanese chefs are reinventing classic meals and winning praise from all over the world for their visually spectacular vegan creations.”