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Nihonbashi : An insight into top Japanese cuisine

Japanese restaurant Nihonbashi last week celebrated its 12th anniversary.

"We celebrated with pride our 12th anniversary and we are honoured to be the favourite Japanese restaurant in the city of Colombo. It has been a rewarding experience to fuel Sri Lanka’s growing appetite for authentic Japanese cuisine," said Dharshan Munidasa, the creator of the restaurant.

Dharshan Munidasa is a self- taught culinary expert, who takes pride in the fact that he never went to a culinary school.

Munidasa, who has a passion for cooking, had been toying with the idea of entering the catering business from his mid-teens. Born in Tokyo to a Sri Lankan father and a Japanese mother, it was natural that he developed a love for Japanese cuisine.

Arriving in Sri Lanka after the demise of his father, he was determined to open a restaurant with the accent on Japanese cuisine. Nihonbashi in Japanese literally means ‘Japan bridge’ and the restaurant is aptly named to bridge the two culinary segments.

He holds a degree in Computer Engineering and International Relations from Johns Hopkins University.

In 1995, 24-year old Dharshan Munidasa embarked on his dream and opened the doors of Nihonbashi to a discerning clientele in the plush surroundings of the Galle Face Terrace.

With the success of his maiden venture in the year 2000, he invested on a second, a quick service restaurant, at the ODEL and two years later Nihonbashi opened its doors at the JAIC Hilton (now Hilton Residencies).

Munidasa says the three restaurants cater to an average of 6,000 satisfied diners every month.

The newly re-furbished main restaurant at Galle Face Terrace with an harmonious blend of traditional and modern design, boasts of seven private rooms for corporate lunches and dinner functions. Many of the diplomatic dinners have been hosted here in the past.

The large Samurai room could be reserved for private functions or even for a romantic dinner for two, with subtle lighting and soothing music, on request. The family room also has the services of a DVD player.

"There are over 400 dishes to select from in our menu and when we have a sixteen course dinner that’s another 16 dishes," said Munidasa.

Nihonbashis’s menu consists of 95% cooked dishes, while Sushi (raw fish) is definitely a favourite with the Japanese, Munidasa said. The diners have the option of enjoying fusion Sushi.

You need not use chopsticks when eating Sushi always. One could use the fingers instead, he added.

Instead of importing everything they use a lot of Sri Lankan-Asian elements in their cuisine.

But some of the items such as Matsuzaka Beef and few others are imported from Japan. The biggest seller here is Tuna and Munidasa himself does the purchasing. The Tuna served at Nihonbashi is what comes from long liners caught off Sri Lanka’s shores.

"Wasabi or Japanese Horse Raddish is one of the key ingredients used in our cuisine and it is a root which grows in clear running waters and takes about three years to mature.This all important ingredient is found at the foothills of Mt Fuji. It’s grated on a shark skin. The ice cream prepared from Wasabi is simply delicious," co-ed Munidasa.

The Tuna they purchase is what’s called ‘Tokyo grade’ which is considered the best. and the next grade is exported to Europe.

Norwegian salmon is less expensive than Tuna served at Nihonbashi, Munidasa quipped.

" I used to carry Tuna to Maldives from Sri Lanka to be served in a plush hotel in one of the islands. The Customs officer were rather upset about it," he recounted.

Nihonbashi has made its mark in four of the Top Ten resorts of the Maldives. Its a fact that The Hilton in the Maldives uses techniques and menus demonstrated to them by Munidasa for the last three years.

The fact that Soneva Fushi and Soneva Gili of the international chain Six Senses and Huvan Fushi have invited Munidasaa to prepare and serve Japanese wine degustation menus to their guests, speaks volumes about authenticity of Nihonbashi food, the depth of knowledge of Japanese cuisine and its commitment.

At Nihonbashi each of the 25-member kitchen brigade is provided with his own set of kitchen knives by Munidasa. Its necessary that a cook or a chef has his own set of knives.

Nihonbashi’s kitchen inventory has knives to the value of nearly Rs. 200,000-300,000.

Nihonbashi has a staff of around 60 and it has been a learning ground for them.There are many who after learning Japanese cuisine at Nihonbashi have found employment in top restaurants and hotels abroad and come back to work at Nihonbashi on their return to Sri Lanka.

He recalls about the eating tour to Tokyo he embarked on with five of the staff members in March. This culinary tasting experience was not just eating but seeing and spending many hours at the famous Tokyo Fish Market where they generate around USD 200 million revenue a day, said Munidasa.

The exposure they received is worth more than 200-fold than what he could ever have given them back home Munidasa surmises.

He hopes to make it an annual pilgrimage with other Nihonbashi disciples in the future.

Haris

 

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