Japanese cuisine is becoming extremely popular in India, especially among the young and the health conscious.
Initially limited to premium restaurants in five-star hotels, Japanese cuisine has been made more accessible by a host of popular fine dining restaurants like Izakaya, Sushiya, Kyoto and Tamura.
"Japanese food is one of the healthiest in the world as it consists mainly of rice, vegetables and seafood. In today's hectic lifestyle, it is one of the best cuisines we have," Kamal Dahal, manager at Kyoto restaurant, Gurgaon, told IANS.
According to Dahal, 95 percent of their ingredients are flown in from Japan; so the food is a bit expensive, but customers, especially youth, don't mind shelling out some extra. Dinner at Kyoto could set you back by Rs.2,500.
"Today's generation is independent and wants to experiment with its food. Many of our customers are youngsters working in nearby multinationals," said Dahal.
Agreed Sonali Chowdhery, director of Izakaya in south Delhi's Vasant Kunj, who said people nowadays have become more enterprising and independent in their tastes.
"The customers that we get vary in age but they all appreciate the food," she said, adding that dishes like tempura and sushi were the most sought after at her restaurant.
At Izakaya, some of the ingredients they fly in are basashi (horse meat), wasabi and gari (pickled ginger). A meal for two here costs around Rs.2,000.
Similar is the scenario in other metropolitan cities like Mumbai where youngsters are leading the change - some out of curiosity, others just to be fashionable.
"Japanese cuisine is fashion food and some of our young customers do come here because eating Japanese food is fashionable," Shreeya Mitra, head chef at Sushi and More, Mumbai said.
As per Mitra, her restaurant is one of the most affordable eateries in Mumbai as a meal for two costs only around Rs.500. "Our mother company imports the ingredients for us and doesn't charge any profit," she added.
Former Indian ambassador to Japan, Aftab Seth, said youngsters today were more open to new cuisines as they were better travelled.
"Indians especially the young are travelling a lot these days and they are more open to new cuisines than their parents," Seth told IANS.
"Japanese food is definitely fashionable for some," he added.
A perfect example of the increasing popularity of Japanese cuisine is Sushiya in Delhi. Started in 2007 in Saket in south Delhi, it initially only delivered Japanese food but expanded into a takeaway joint in 2009. Finally it became a dine-in restaurant in 2011 due to the rapid increase in clientele.
Mike Adarsh, manager at Sushiya, told IANS: "We started off as a takeaway joint, but the demand for the cuisine was overwhelming and we had to open a dine-in restaurant in March 2011."
According to Adarsh, the USP of his restaurant is the 'value-for-money' meals which have helped in creating a loyal customer base.
The recently opened Megu at the Leela in Chanakyapuri has gone a step further for its Indian clientele, as around 40 percent of the dishes are vegetarian.
"We had to keep in mind that there are a large number of vegetarians in Delhi and we want to cater to everybody. Hence we decided that 40 percent of the dishes on our menu will be vegetarian," Aishwarya Nair, corporate head, food and beverages, at the Leela, told IANS.
However, the restaurateurs unanimously agree that Japanese cuisine will not be able to attain the same level of popularity in India in the near future as its Chinese or even Italian counterpart due to its ingredients.
"Japanese food has the majority of Ingredients flown in from Japan, so the food is bound to be expensive. Food joints selling sushi won't be cropping up in nooks and crannies in the foreseeable future," Vijay R. Verma, assistant manager at Harima, Bangalore, told IANS.
Moreover, the Chinese food sold here is made as per the customer's taste, which means more fried and spicy food opined Dahal.
"But the minute you add unnecessary spices or oil to Japanese food, it loses its taste," he said.