Chef Sanjeev Kapoor with Chef Yoshimoro Murata
I have finally taken half an hour off to get my experiences of Japan down on paper, rather blog it!
It was an activity packed, four days of learning. Landed in Tokyo on the 27th June and straightaway we had meetings with the Japan Tourism Agency and also the Creative Industry Bureau of Economy. This was followed by a study tour of the redevelopment of Roppongi area which has some high tech special features such as earthquake prevention system. Day Two had a meeting in the Indian Embassy and a city walk through the Marunouchi area looking at the redevelopment progress. We then left for Sendai and the following morning taken for a tour of the temporary housing with its highly well equipped facilities. Mid-day Day Three, left for Kyoto, where we did some sight seeing and wound up the day with a full tempura dinner. Day Four, got a chance to revel in Kyoto’s perfect picture postcard scenic beauty and we enjoyed visiting the Golden Pavilion also known as Kinkakuji. Post lunch we went to Hiroshima where we visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial. A short flight to Tokyo and back on the plane to India on July 1.
It might all sound so rushed but this trip was a demonstration of perseverance and persistence and survival. Japan has been through some rough times and our Indian delegation had gone there to improve ties between Japan and India post the March 2011 catastrophe. Called the Japan Familiarization Tour, it was a show of solidarity to Japan who needs help in many areas, including tourism. An important aspect of tourism is food and we hope to use this platform of food to improve the Indo-Japanese relationship. On my flight back home, I was awash with many thoughts about how we can showcase Japan better? It is a logical conclusion that if Indians go to Japan they would like to know what to expect, especially the food aspect. Well, let me tell you, throughout our tour, wherever we went, we had Japanese food! Fifty percent of us were vegetarians and even they survived. In fact all of us enjoyed the meals. The chef in me kept wondering that if I was to serve Japanese to Indians I would do things to make sure the food suited their taste. But, would you believe it, we did improvise – there was this mix of spices, something like our crushed chillies, with some mixed herbs. We sprinkled this on the food and quite liked it. We had some fantastic tempura dinner which I have already mentioned, and I also liked the Japanese Style Fried Chicken. Green Tea was served throughout.
Food is a big issue for tourists all over the world. So maybe Japan can be showcased to the prospective Indian traveler with the focus on Japanese vegetarian foods, tips of what to order, where to get it, availability of other cuisines which Indians enjoy like Mexican, Italian and Thai. I spent some time with Chef Yoshimoro Murata (he is also on the chefs panel of Singapore Airlines) at his restaurant Kikunoi in Kyoto and he pampered me with Traditional Green Tea. It was served with rice flour dumplings and sweet red bean paste. His restaurant is frequented by the Emperor and the Prime Minister. I gifted him my book Tandoori Cooking @ Home and he gifted me one of his. I have invited him to be our Guest Judge for the FoodFood Maha Challenge. I also sneaked out some time to chat with Sanjay Pugalia who is Editor of CNBC Awaz based in Japan.
I noticed that as a nation Japan is very sensitive to the needs of the time. They are emphatic about saving energy and resources, and this was true even before the natural calamity. Everywhere we visited, I noticed that the air conditioners were not set at a low temperature even though it was quite warm weather. I was also humbled by the sense of gratitude that was evident every where. The air hostess thanked us for visiting Japan and that is what they are trained to do, but when the bus driver thanked us for visiting Japan I realized how badly the tourist sector has suffered in Japan. Japanese people are courteous and gracious and I found this to be true at all levels.
While I still process my ideas on Japanese food further, enjoy some green tea recipes that I have ready.
Till I write again.