Twist of Taste: Yakitori Festival at Sheraton
Pan Asian Restaurant at ITC Sheraton had opened its luxurious doors for a Japanese Yakitori Festival between June 8 and 15. Though for the average Indian, the beginning and end-all of Pan-Asian is limited to the delicacies of customary Chinese – Kitchen Executive Deepak Pujari, with his passion for Japanese cuisine, digressed from popular notions to exhibit some delights from the Land of the Rising Sun – careful to balance between Japanese authenticity and Indian taste palates.
While for the passionate food lover, Japanese cuisine is delightful – for the Indian influenced by floating ideas of 'raw food' dominating this far-east cuisine, adaptability is often nauseated by preconceived notions. Pujari has been careful to battle this dichotomy. While not averse to raw food himself, his dishes for his Indian customers are more subtly balanced. "I never compromise on the authenticity of Japanese food. The base is always the same, I play with the sauces to tweak the flavour a notch – that way, both my customers and my notions of Japanese cuisine are pleased without scepticism," described a happy Pujari.
Yakitori, popularised in Japan during the early 20th century referred to 'bird food' – in our vocabulary that would be largely restrained to chicken. With time, through the course of the 20th century, pork, vegetables, seafood were all included into the ambit of Yakitori cooking. Prepared by skewering meat (chicken, pork), seafood (prawns), vegetables (mushroom, zucchini) and even tofu – the skewers are then seasoned with a variety of sauces. Each meat, vegetable or tofu has a corresponding sauce which is best-suited to enhance its inherent flavour. From an array of Teriyaki Sauce, Basil Sauce, Mizo Sauce, Peanut Sauce and Glazed Honey Sauce – the Chef attributes each to a particular primary element.
A live kitchen table adorns a corner of Pan Asian. As Kitchen Executive Deepak Pujari, picked up his knives to engage us in a delightful culinary conversation, we waited in anticipation of the delectable food finally arriving at its destination – our plates and consequently, belly. We began with a plate of Sushis and quickly moved on to the Yakitori. First, the Mushroom Yakitori with Mizo Sauce, which raised the curtains on the Prawn Yakitori with Teriyaki Sauce – one of the biggest takeaways from the meal. The flavour of the prawn still lingers in my mind, a week since the festival. Perfectly cooked and terminated with leeks, the Prawn Yakitori was among the finest. The Zucchini in Teriyaki Sauce was the other major takeaway. A flat vegetable spread wonders in my taste buds with its crunch balanced perfectly with the viscosity of the sauce. Of the vegetables, the zucchini won the night. Of the meat, the Honey-Glazed Pork Belly shared the podium with the Bacon Wrapped Asparagus and the Minced Chicken Stuffed in Chilli. It is impossible to choose a clear winner between the three. While the pork belly won over with its melting softness, the bacon was a winner for its dynamicity in sharing flavours with the fibrous asparagus; the chicken, on the other hand, brought flavours that are from our home, turning them into Five-Star quality culinary perfection.
As I ended the night, almost unable to move and with a smile disagreeing to erase from my face – Deepak Pujari, in his signature kindness, ushered in another plate of Dimsums to end the night with warmth. His intervention into Japanese cuisine, which he says "was a matter of utmost chance", has given the capital among the most dynamic Japanese restaurants which maintains a unique feature of being palatable to both authentic Japanese nationals and the always-enthusiastic yet sometimes sceptical Indian epicureans.