The chicken can be more than a bird. It can be proof of a country’s multiculturalism (Think of Great Britain). It can be made to blast culinary rituals (Japan).
What Indians did to the Chinese with Chicken Manchurian, and to the British with Tikka Masala, they are about to do to the Japanese with Biryani Sushi. While purists at five-stars remain sniffy, sushi makers of Delhi’s well-regarded restaurants are celebrating this as innovation. Fusion is the way, they say, the sushi will ultimately go in India.
No sign of it here I think as napkins are folded by my plate at the Sakura in The Metropolitan. Chef Hitoshi Shigaki explains the road ahead. I skip the ‘What is nigiri sushi?’, ‘What is sashimi?' routine. Deepak Sarkar, Shigaki’s assistant, says Delhiites have by now caught on to this “esteem food”. They no longer have to be spoon fed the basics.
Wasabi, the pungent green sauce, eaten with sushi, surprisingly, is still a bit of a fight. "Delhiites continue to think the wasabi is their chutney," says the Sakura manager.
"Once a Bengali couple were here celebrating their anniversary. They lathered so much wasabi on the sushi that they were in tears…" Drama at Sakura thankfully happens away from the public eye behind sunscreens in exclusive dining areas. Sakura is Delhi's ryokan, where along with the best quality of fish, privacy is part of the course.
Varun Tuli's Yum Yum Tree is another delightful pause in my rediscovery of sushi. With Yum Yum Tree, Tuli brought Disneyland, as it were, to the fine dining culture of sushi eating. Here, lunch or dinner is no starchy affair; children watch the sushi plates roll along the conveyor belt as if they were plying toy trains. The offerings are eclectic: classics like California Sushi roll along with new concoctions such as Grilled Vegetable Sushis with wasabi and mayo.
Tuli calls this "sushi for the family, a place for fun, unlimited offers and modernism".
For customers, unlimited offers is modernism. Or so guests on Tuesdays and Sundays at Yum Yum Tree tell me.
"A four-course dinner, unlimited sushi and salads off the conveyor belt and unlimited Tiger Beer for just Rs 500… it's a steal," says Anuthi, a regular.
"This is smart dining. What we are served here is what you get in New York or Shanghai and not necessarily in a tiny village in Osaka," says another.
At every stop, Delhi's reception of sushi is evident. I heard no tentative questions; customers ordered from the menu as if they were born to it. A few chefs, however, say that what Delhiites really like is khichdi Japanese. A bit of this and that. A little bit of theory and a little bit of imagination.
Chef Saby of Ai wasn't about to give these similes time of day. He smiled tightly and ordered sushi, perfect little finger food arranged on a plate.
"I want to be classic and contemporary," he says, adding that this is why his restaurant has suppliers, a consultant and a chef from Japan. But he does concede to the occasional "fried fish sushi and deep fried rice balls" request.
Sushi at Ai comes with a few extras. On any evening, the bar and a small side lounge will be buzzy, blaring music, and full with people with nimble feet.
By the time I reached the Sushiya takeaway at the neighbouring Select City Walk mall, I was up to my gills with salmon. I bought a maki box to end the 'research' and dreamt all the way back home of mirchi pakoda.