Monday, September 27, 2010

Indian Restaurants : In pursuit of Curry

We came to Japan after having lived in South Korea for 8 months and few years back we  have also lived in Israel. Having lived in these two countries, we came to Japan mentally prepared that we will find Indian restaurants only in the big cities like Tokyo or other places where many Indians live. The least we had expected was to find a good Indian restaurant in Iwaki where not many Indians live.

On our first weekend in Iwaki, we decided to go around a bit and when our friends recommended that we join them for lunch at an Indian restaurant, we were surprised to know that there was an Indian restaurant after all. We drove down to the restaurant Mayur near Iwaki’s Yotsukura Beach . It is run by a Nepali-Indian couple and the décor was a nice blend of stuff from India and Nepal. The Menu card was in Japanese and the staff is Japanese too. I am not sure if the cook is Indian or Nepali or Japanese but for sure the food was delicious and not the overly spiced fare which we come across in most Indian restaurants outside India. Infact, the Butter nan that we ate was much superior in taste and appearance compared to even a lot of reputed restaurants in India.
Our friend had taken us to the restaurant after a long drive covering atleast 20 kms, so while having lunch I joked that I don’t mind coming here over and over even though it is not so close to home. He  then told us that he had actually taken a longer route so that we could see a bit of the Pacific coast on the way and the actual distance from our home to the restaurant was only about 10 kms. Hearing this we were happy to have found out a nice Indian restaurant near home.

However this was not all that was. As days went by we found that there is no dearth of Indian restaurants in Iwaki. Every shopping mall and department store in Iwaki has an Indian restaurant apart from the other Indian restaurants in the city. We had lived in Daegu, South Korea for eight months just before we moved to Iwaki and I remember that finding restaurants or food joints serving non Korean cuisine was difficult . Finding groceries or other stuff for cooking Indian, Italian or any other cuisine was next to impossible . We hadn’t come across Lasagna during our stay in Korea.We used to buy American food stuff from Costco and a few friends ordered stuff online from some stores in Seoul or requested people visiting from India to carry few items like tea or flour for them. After this experience we had least expected to find Indian spices, Thai curry pastes, Italian Pasta sauces , Korean Kimchi and American biscuits so easily at the departmental stores like Maruto , Ito Yokado or even Don Quijote !

Any person who meets us for the first time asks us the typical question- Doko Kara Kimashita ka?. This translates to “ Which country are you from”. When we say India, the person’s face lights up and in 90 % cases the first word that they speak after that is “ Curry” and the expression shows that the person in question loves curry. Infact curry and rice is a hot favourite among most age groups here. The love for curry is such that ready to eat curry packs are easily available and even the Bento boxes ( lunch boxes) at the convenience stores like 7/11 , Lawson, Family mart have a curry rice set . The cup noodles or instant ramen also has a curry flavour with the words Indian style curry written in bold. So loved is the curry that the Japanese have adapted the curry with certain changes in the spice levels to make a Japanese curry which is much easier on their taste buds. I heard from a Japanese friend that chocolate is also one of the ingredients of some Japanese curries! Recently I read that the curry was introduced to Japan in the Meiji era ( 1869-1913) by the British when India was still under British rule. Today the curry is as popular in Japan as Sushi, Ramen or Soba.  

Apart from Indian food, the other cuisine that is equally popular in Japan is Italian. Like the innumerable Indian restaurants here, there are Italian restaurants too. If you ask a local to suggest a place for lunch or dinner , the choices will inevitably be an Italian or an Indian restaurant with a quick followup question, would you like to eat Japanese food.

Now when my friends or family back home express their sympathy- “Poor you, must be having such a tough time adjusting with food over there”, I can’t help but smile . 

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