There is so much more to the Japanese kitchen than just sushi – meet kaiseki, soba, teppanyaki, wagashi and izakaya’s in Dubai and Abu Dhabi’s best Japanese restaurants.
When most of us think about the Japanese kitchen, we think sushi. And sushi is probably the most exported part of Japanese cuisine, and of course a delicious part at that. But there’s a lot more to the cuisine than just sushi, and we wouldn’t be Dine in the City if we didn’t attempt to de-mystify it a little for you, with a few tips for the best Japanese restaurants in Dubai and Abu Dhabi added in of course.
The most traditional Japanese cuisine is a meal with rice, miso soup and small dishes which usually include fish, pickles (tsukemono) and boiled vegetables, called Kaiseki when served in a formal style. Interestingly, a strong part of the tradition is that these dishes should not be mixed, i.e. you are not supposed to put the fish on top of the rice (hence the love of bento boxes!). Donburi is the only exception to this – a rice bowl dish that has everything served in one bowl – rice, fish or meat and vegetables in broth, stew or sauce. Another characteristic of the kitchen is the use of seasonal products both for vegetables and nuts as well as for fish.
The best Japanese restaurant in Dubai to try this is probably Hashi at Armani, where you can experience traditional cuisine with different dishes served at the same time. Zuma, both in Dubai and Abu Dhabi is another place that offers this type of experience.
Ramen, Soba and Udon
You may also be thinking of ramen, soba and udon. Soba and udon refer to the type of noodle (made of buckwheat and wheat flour respectively) are traditionally eaten by themselves, not with side dishes. Toppings may be added such as nori (seaweed) and wasabi. Ramen is usually more comprehensive with meat or fish and vegetables in the broth. The noodles used for Ramen are Chinese wheat noodles.
In Abu Dhabi, Kazu at Yas Viceroy serve variations of udon and soba to give a try. In Dubai, the best Japanese restaurant to get your noodle fix is TOMO at Raffles, which has a mind boggling selection of noodles as well as generally serving all styles of Japanese cuisine.
Teppanyaki is a dining experience in itself. You are seated at a table with a hot surface grill in front of you, and a chef will prepare food for you as you watch and eat. Meat and seafood is grilled live, and in more traditional Japanese teppanyaki restaurants they may also grill yakisoba noodles with cabbage. Western influenced venues will include fried rice on the grill as well, and will also include more of a show by the chef slicing, throwing and juggling food.
In Abu Dhabi you can try Tori No Su at Jumeirah Etihad Towers for a true teppanyaki experience, and the best Japanese restaurant in Dubai to try teppenyaki is Kiku at Meridien Hotel & Conference Center.
My favourite part of Japanese traditions, I hope Izakaya’s will become a true trend and we will see more of them around the world. They are pub-type venues, frequented for the heavy after-work drinking sessions the Japanese tend to participate in, and although they don’t offer a full a la carte dining experience, they usually have a tapas style menu with different (finger)foods to share. Edamame you will know, but in addition there would often be karaage (fried chicken pieces), kushiyake (grilled meat skewers), sashimi and tebasaki (chicken wings). Everything of course should be washed down with lots of Japanese beer and sake. Something to look out for if you ever make it to a more traditional izakaya is blow torched mackerel – and don’t be surprised when they blow-torch it on your table right in front of you!
In Dubai, Ramusake at Hilton Doubletree JBR is a nice example of an Izakaya.
In Europe, Shabu Shabu seems to be misunderstood. Most people associate the term with cheap all-you-can-eat restaurants that serve bland Japanese food and make your clothes smell of soy sauce and grease.
In fact, shabu shabu is a traditional Japanese cooking style where diners add meat, vegetables and other condiments to boiling water in a large hotpot at their table. Once cooked the meat or vegetables are retrieved and eaten hot. When everyone is done, the broth is added to rice and eaten as a soup at the end of the meal.
To our knowledge there are no places in Dubai and Abu Dhabi that offer shabu shabu yet – we will keep you posted!
No meal is complete without dessert. Wagashi are Japanese sweets served with tea such as mocha and anko. Mochi you may have heard of, small rice cakes that now come in hundreds of flavours, and are sold in lots of malls. Anko is a red bean paste sweetened with sugar and/or honey. Most up-market Japanese restaurants will not serve these, but will rather use traditional ingredients such as Japanese green tea or matcha in Western style desserts such as soufflé.
We hope this gives you some inspiration for a new culinary journey into the Japanese kitchen!