Curry, from kari, the Tamil word for sauce, came into prominence during the Vedic period, spread to neighbouring countries and then across the rest of the world. It went to Japan via the Brits during the Meiji period (1868-1912). The Japanese menu adopted it as its own and, contrary to what one may think – never mind sushi and shashimi or miso soup — it became the flag bearer of Japanese cuisine, especially when it hit Atlantic shores where it attained the “exalted status of hamburgers”, according to well-respected food writer Takasi Morieda.
With the rechristening of Aoi to Fuji (at 209A, Sarat Bose Road, Kolkata), this “unofficial national food of Japan” was added to the menu along with Temaki and Okonomiaki and then some. The two dishes that will take your fancy are Katsu curry and rice with a chicken or pork option. Freshly steamed rice relaxes on a bed of serious tonkatsu gravy topped with bread-crumbed cutlet slivers of whichever meat you pick. A complete meal, the tang comes entirely from the curry paste unlike the spice-mixture in the Indian case and from MSG in Chinese dishes.
Temaki, a hand-rolled sushi — an American creation like the California roll which is also available here — where a conical nori seaweed wraps contents (whether tuna, salmon, prawn, cucumber, avocado, pickled radish, asparagus, cheese or mushrooms packed in steamed rice) can be ordered just so you can Instagram it, taste withstanding. It comes in Natto variety too, but the sticky fermented soya beans may require gradual acquaintance. Temaki is served with gari (pickled ginger) and wasabi (horseradish paste).
Well into the realm of finger food with the above is Okonomiyaki – Japanese pizza that amply accommodates both veg and non-veg demands. Another emerging favorite is Buta no shogayaki — made with pork that comes from New Zealand because nothing else can bring about the gustatory texture and it’s the closest you can get to the textural delicacy of kobe beef. Tucking into the newly introduced Unagi, Japanese eel brought in straight from the island, may take some brass – a bit slimy but as with any ingredient the vinegar marination brings out a whole new characteristic far removed from its actual or perceived traits. And that’s the underlying beauty of Japanese cuisine.
Expect Fuji to offer only the most authentic of best-practice recipes. Assistant executive chef Rajneesh Semwal, who has sharpened his hocho (kitchen knife) under celebrity chef Nariyoshi Nakamura, at Sakura in New Delhi, adds to the picture in no small measure.
There is a wide range of sushis (try Kolkata Maki), sashimis (squid, octopus) and salads like Hourensou Goma-ae (boiled spinach spangled with sesame seeds), Atsyuyaki Tamago (a must-have Japanese omelet) and more. Fry-loving Bongs must binge on Tempura – oh, the airiness of it. You can’t be faulted for taking shelter from the swelter under Hiyashi-chokka (cold Ramen), Zaru Soba (cold soba) and Makimono in general. Set menus range from Rs 700-1,400 and Mocha-Kaeri (take-home) is also a possibility.
The restaurant, done in izakaya style (informal pub style) is easy, intimate and immediate – insist on being seated on a tatami at the far end. It has added a bar just like its sister, Matsuri, at Forum mall. “As of now, all varieties of liquor will be found and in six months’ time we will add sochu, sake and some Japanese beer and whisky as well”, said always obliging manager, Hitesh.
Quite taken by the experience of authenticity, I left with The Vapor’s playing in my head… I’m turning Japanese, I’m turning Japanese, I think so…