Kolkata is loving Japanese food

Exotic Japanese food is loved all across Kolkata
Image courtesy: ©The Fatty Bao

When I first moved in to Kolkata, in 2014, I carried a huge hangover of Japanese food with me. It lugged around with me as I searched the city to sate my craving. At that time, there were only two names—The Sushi Oke and Fuji—addressing these needs.

In a space of only four years, the number of restaurants serving this cuisine has doubled, if not tripled. There seems to be a gradual increase in Kolkatans wanting to explore oriental, specifically Japanese cuisine. On the other hand, Fuji, which was previously called Aoi, has opened its second outlet (The Japanese Restaurant and Garden) in the new Eco Park in Rajarhat. The first outlet in Southern Avenue, however, remains a favourite with Japanese food lovers.

With existing standalone restaurants expanding and new food chains (like The Fatty Bao Kolkata by Olive Group) coming into the city, the trend is flourishing. “The response of The Fatty Bao in Kolkata is equally good when compared with those in Bengaluru and Mumbai. Diners in Kolkata are extremely evolved and their love for Asian food is well entrenched in the city’s culinary culture. Being well travelled, knowledgeable and fairly experimental with their food, they are open to trying new cuisines,” says Executive Chef, The Fatty Bao Kolkata.

Authentic or not?

What do people of Kolkata like in this cuisine? Sushi Oke’s menu prides in typical California, Boston and prawn in maki sushi rolls. The tempura is a must-try here.

After the success of Ambuja Neotia’s oriental restaurant, The Orient at Raichak in 2011, they opened two more in New Town and Salt Lake. Their pot meals and stir fried XO udon noodles in main course are their most preferred dishes. Corporate Chef there says that people in Kolkata do not like tampering of products with fusion at all; they prefer the food to hold on to its authentic taste and flavour.

Along similar lines but with an extensive menu, Fuji serves authentic sushi, with a licensed bar. From their food menu, yakitori, okonomiyaki and donburi are traditionally prepared, though their bar menu does not include Japanese alcohol like sake.

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Asparagus tempura and cream cheese sushi roll at The Fatty Bao
Asparagus tempura and cream cheese sushi roll at The Fatty Bao
Image courtesy: ©The Fatty Bao

New names like The Fatty Bao, who opened up in December 2017, are focussed on ramens and baos. Of course, guests find traditional gyoza and sushi rolls on the menu, though nothing compares to their excellent char sui bao, exotic mushroom ramen and chasu ramen. Fatty Bao is constantly challenging itself with frequent food festivals.

Aajisai in the upscale Quest Mall on Syed Amir Ali Avenue, is probably the only Japanese restaurant to have kaiten sushi or conveyor belt sushi. Guests are welcomed to take a seat around the belt, from where they may pick coloured sushi plates and pay accordingly. The à la carte menu boasts of extensive Japanese preparations (from nigiri and maki sushi, gyoza, okonomiyaki, ramen and donburi—expect everything here), including many choices of teppanyaki sets to pick from.

And the ambience?

I may be a minority in the population who enjoys their Japanese meal in an authentic setting like Fuji. The first time I walked in through the nondescript, almost seedy, entrance of Fuji’s Southern Avenue outlet, I had no idea how holistic the entire dinner would be. We walked through the small door to find a neat seating arrangement. We opted to get a low table with sit-downs, after taking our shoes off. Tatami mats, ceramic crockery and Japanese-styled windows are a definite win-win for me.

Image courtesy: ©The Fatty Bao

Fatty Bao strikes a chord with most residents who like their food served in a relaxed and sophisticated oriental setting. Akachōchin (paper lanterns) hanging from the ceiling and Japanese artwork on walls gives the restaurant a warm vibe. Their attentive and knowledgeable wait staff always helps in making the right choices from food and bar menu. Fatty Bao is the perfect place for those initiating themselves to this distinct cuisine.

So the way ahead?

Even though some chefs say that the material cost of Japanese ingredient is very expensive and intricacies like handling sushi with utmost care and selling them within stipulated time is key, they also feel as Japanese food has healthy properties, so the trend has increased recently.

In totality, people are not only trying out the Japanese offering in Kolkata, they come back to eat again. Slowly and steadily the love for Japanese food is growing.

Sushi Oke witnesses 75 per cent of repeat customers and it is quite positive about the future of Japanese food in Kolkata.

With these many positive outcomes, one can secure the craving for Japanese food in Kolkata.

AUTHOR'S BIO: Amrita Das is a freelance travel writer and professional travel blogger, based in Kolkata, India. She has been contributing to some of the top publications in India and internationally. More on: www.travellingidesofmarch.com