There are a couple of good Japanese restaurants in Chennai. My favorite is Momoyama, which serves great food at a reasonable price. One of their signature dish is called ‘Tori no Subuta’ translating to ‘sweet and sour pork of chicken.’ Yes, sweet and sour pork made with chicken. The intended meaning is ‘sweet and sour chicken’ or ‘sweet-and-sour-pork styled chicken.’ I guess, since sweet and sour pork is a quite popular dish in Japan, they translated it in this way. The translation sounds funny for the natives. So what? It tasted fantastic and I would order it again next time.
When I’m outside Japan, I always was asked which Japanese restaurant is a ‘true’ Japanese one. Some self-claimed ‘authentic’ Japanese restaurants serve food which is too creative for the Japanese. I enjoy and appreciate the creativity of these Japanese-ish restaurants.
‘Hourensou no Oshitashi’
To check the restaurant’s authenticity, you should look at the menu under the appetizer section. Go down the list, and if you find an item called ‘Oshitashi,’ then busted. The restaurant is not authentic. The dish is actually called ‘Ohitashi’ without the first ‘s’ in Japanese. Ohitashi is a common dish, meaning ‘soaked.’ Some vegetable – spinach, or Hourensou, is the most popular – is boiled and chilled. You will sprinkle bonito flakes and soy source when you eat. A very simple vegetable (but not vegetarian) dish. As this item is very common, you will never find a typo at a Japanese-run restaurant. However, this error is commonly seen at many Japanese-ish restaurants in the US. I wonder why.
The Ninja Conspiracy Theory
My theory goes like this:
Somewhere in the United Stats, there is a secret society to decide what is authentically Japanese. This society, probably named something like ‘Notable Intellectuals for Naming Japanese Authenticity’ or N.I.N.J.A., picks up a dish and publicize it as ‘truly Japanese’ via the underground network of the Japanese-ish restaurant industry. One day, the translator of the society accidentally added an extra ‘s’ when they were developing the list of authentic Japanese appetizers. The list was published and, as any authoritative body does, they denied the error. This is how you find ‘Oshitashi’ everywhere.
Philadelphia Roll and Hibachi
Oshitashi is not the first one certified as ‘authentic’ by them. Sushi and Tempura might be the first batch and they did a pretty good job on defining them as an open field for creativity. Hayashi, my favorite Sushi buffet in Nashville, has a dozen of colorfully decorated Sushi rolls – from ‘Rainbow Roll’ to ‘Tempura Sushi.’ After trying these creative Sushi, now I almost think Philadelphia Roll and Spicy Tuna Roll are quite normal. (But please do not even think about ordering them in Japan. They only have less creative ones!)
Hibachi is one of the masterpieces that the N.I.N.J.A. society (or whoever behind this plot) has ever introduced. I’m talking about the ‘Japanese’ restaurants where you will be seated to a big table with the built-in hot plate and the chief will entertain you by juggling the food and the knives. My first Hibachi experience was in Atlanta and I truly enjoyed the performance (the onion volcano!) and the food. I’m convinced that if someone starts a Hibachi restaurant in Tokyo, Japanese people would love it as it seems quite new.
Oh by the way, Hibachi in Japan is a charcoal container looking like a flower-pot, traditionally used as a heater in the house. Nothing to do with grilling or juggling.
Steak at an ‘authentic” American steak house in Tokyo comes with miso soup and steamed rice. McDonald’s here had a time-limited menu called ‘Idaho Burger,’ a burger with hash browns in it, and ‘Beverly Hills Burger,’ a burger with a fried egg and avocado source. Let’s call it even.