I’m in gastronomic heaven! And I didn’t even have to die to get here. I write from the capital of the worlds finest gastronomic country. I revel in this unmatched reverence of the freshest of ingredients, be it rice, tea to seafood and more. And here’s the surprise, I do so in its exclusive sushi restaurant as well in it’s oasis-like, fabulously well-appointed award-winning spa. I am regaled with a massage of all my senses. And all this in the iconic Mandarin Oriental which brings contemporary elegance to Nihonbashi, the historical and cultural centre of Tokyo commerce. True to its surroundings, it blends the best of past and future architectural splendor. The dynamic Paul Jones who helms this landmark has a strong India connection (having lived and spearheaded hotels there) and now in Tokyo is not only extremely well-versed in the Japanese culture but is as much a sushi fan as he is of Indian food.
SUSHI IN THE SKY
We float above Tokyo, on the 38th floor of the iconic Mandarin Oriental and the floor-to-ceiling glass windows serve up breathtaking views of the revered Mt Fuji and the dynamic city panorama. No wonder this magnificent Sushi restaurant is called Sushi Soro (soro means sky). In front of us in this 8 seater Sushi Soro restaurant is maestro Yuji Imaizumi who has over 20 years of refined experience.
We all know that Japanese cuisine is acknowledged to be the worlds most sophisticated cuisine, it combines the artistic with precision, freshest and finest of produce, seasonality and a reverence that is unmatched in the world. Explaining the cuisine’s intricacies. is Chef Dharshan Munidasa, who is half Japanese and half Srilankan and coinicidentally, his award winning Japanese restaurant in Colombo is called Nihonbashi. He guides me through the worlds largest fish market, Tsukiji, (where he flies in to regularly buy seafood and more) too. Over a relaxed Omakase experience, we watch this true master of Tokyo’s authentic “Edo-mae” style of traditional sushi cuisine as he works deftly on the sushi counter sculpted from a 350 year old Japanese cypress tree.
SUSHI: DID YOU KNOW?
We all know that “su shi”(sour rice) and it represents the category of Japanese foods which consist of cooked, seasoned rice served with fish, meat, vegetables, or other ingredients. The common varieties are maki rolls ( wrapped with seaweed or Nori), nigiri (individual mounds of rice topped with other ingredients).
But did you know ?
*That the most important component of sushi is rice? Think about rice to sushi as dough is to pizza: if your dough is no good, the pizza is no good, regardless how excellent its toppings.
*Sushi etiquette: Eat the sushi with your fingers (not chopsticks). Use the oshibori – a hot, moist towel neatly rolled up, to clean your hands during the meal, but when done, make sure to place it neatly to the side, not crumpled in a ball.
*You will be served pickled sweetened ginger (gari) , a swipe of wasabi ( a kind of horseradish). We make the common mistake of eating the gari with the sushi, actually it is meant to be eaten in between the sushi bites. We make the common mistake of adding wasabi into soy sauce and using it as a dipping sauce. Wasabi can be added to pieces of sashimi, or placed atop nigiri – but not mixed into soy sauce. Many omakase bars will pre-lacquer your nigiri with soy, so you won’t even have to worry about soy sauce and dipping.
But let’s say that a few nigiri pieces are not pre-sauced. Always, always dip your nigiri fish side into the soy sauce, as opposed to dunking the bottom rice part head first. If you dip rice first, too much soy will be absorbed, and overpower the fish’s delicate flavor.
Excuse me while I get rejuvenated through Five different Routes with a spa journey featuring five essentially Japanese ingredients. This in the heavenly space in the sky spa. In Mandarin Oriental’s treatment named “Totally Tokyo” you can be sure rice plays a stellar role, plum, green tea, pine and bamboo too.. Enveloped in sounds filtered through bamboo speakers and the fragrance of green tea, a pine-oil footbath, a plum-salt scrub, and a warming rice hull pack expertly applied by the therapist while the everhelpful and super efficient Michiko Fujikawa fluently explains it all in English. This ofcourse after the deeply relaxing shiatsu-style massage. Did I forget to tell you that through the big glass windows, the sacred snow-capped Mt Fuji in the blue winter skies is also blessing my magnifcient massage of the senses?
I raise a toast with the delicious“Iron man” juice and ask a few questions: Can delicious also be nutritious? Tasty food be healthy? Contradictory? Not possible? But worth finding out, don’t you agree? After all, food delivers the much-needed energy and the vitality to work and to enjoy life in all it’s manifold aspects. And so it’s been my life-long quest to find food that combines taste with health. And especially in restaurants. Having eaten my way through all my travels around the world and through all my 33 books, I have to admit that very, very few restaurants serve up food that combines these two aspects. Most coax flavors and enhance textures with dollops of fat, frying to a crisp, layers of cream and so on. India’s restaurantscape continues to grow and expand with multiple cuisines and options. And each year, as I research The Times Food Guides I eat non-stop in restaurants here.
You can imagine my delight when in the heart of bustling South Mumbai, I find a cafe, an oasis of calm which creates, innovates and serves up the most amazing spa menu. And this is a glassed off space ( outdoor verandah et al), surrounded by trees. This jewel of a open-through-the-day café is part of the Taj’s Wellington Mews, their swanky serviced apartment property. Sure! You can imbibe the tranquility and coffee and snacks but even more exciting is the light and delightful menu of the Jiva spa complemented by a variety of fresh fruit and vegetable juices. Ofcourse, the comprehensive short menu with it’s sandwiches and pastas also offers a flavorsome Goan prawn curry and the ever popular Chicken kathi roll. But it’s the healthful yet yummy Steamed Sea Bass, the Mediterranean-spiced Chicken Breast and the healthy Wholewheat Ravioli with Spinach and Mushroom and Stir-fried Spring Vegetables served with Tofu that Chef Shrutika Koli excels in. Here I not only trip out on their crisp salads, but also their addictive roasted pumpkin soup spiked with cumin and the homestyle drumsticks.
From chef Shrutika Koli and the dynamic, health-buff Parveen Chander Kumar, who helms the serene spa and the property, I get a rejuvenating taste of health. “The soup is full of antioxidants” explains Parveen and I chip in “and what a unique lingering whisper of cumin it has”.
P.S. The Iron Man is a refreshing apple, guava and pear juice. Weli Deli’s Pineapple and Ginger with Mint and Celery is another favorite of mine too.
HEALTHY COOKING TIPS
Chef Shrutika shares some of her tips and recipes with us.
· Always use only seasonal and fresh vegetables and herbs, instead of canned or dried ones.
· While making juices of fruits and vegetables try and squeeze last minute without adding any sweeteners .
· · · Try to best capture flavors retain the nutrients in food without adding excessive salt and fats
· Cooking with minimal heat and a la minute tossing of food help to maintain colour and texture of food .
· Avoid excess use of all the white food stuffs eg. Sugar , salt , rice , milk, refine flour …..
CUMIN SCENTED ROASTED PUMPKIN BISQUE
Amount Measure Ingredient Preparation Method
500 grams pumpkin red
15 grams cumin seeds roasted and powdered
15 milliliters extra virgin olive oil
10 grams sea salt to taste
10 grams pepper corn crushed
20 grams shallots chopped
20 grams garlic chopped
20 grams leeks chopped
Peel & cut pumpkin in to wedges. Marinate pumpkin with olive oil, salt, peper & garlic.
Roast marinated pumpkin in the oven until well-done. Puree the roasted pumpkin to a fine paste.
Sauté garlic, shallots, leeks, cumin seeds & add pumpkin puree. Add vegetable stock, and seasoning.
Simmer the soup till smooth and creamy. Strain and return to fire.
Check for seasoning, color and consistency. Serve hot garnished with roasted cumin powder.
THE PERFECT PUMPKIN
- Very low calorie (100 gms of pumpkin has 26 calories)No saturated fats or cholesterol.
- Pumpkin has many anti-oxidant vitamins such as vitamin-A, vitamin-C and vitamin-E.
- but rich in fiber, anti-oxidants, minerals, vitamins.
- Recommended by dieticians in cholesterol controlling and weight reduction programs.
- High quantity of Vitamin A, a powerful natural anti-oxidant.
- Plenty of B-complex group of vitamins.
- A rich source of minerals like copper, calcium, potassium and phosphorus.