Entertaining Indians & Japanese with Food

Part 1 – Five Lessons I Learnt About Indian Food


If you imagine Indian colourful curries & masalas and Japanese set meal in the box – Bento or Teishoku, you notice that these are completely different cuisines. Indian food uses many spices/masalas, whereas Japanese food flavour is based on soy sauce, broth and sake based dressing materials. For me, it took quite a while to understand the different tastes. And I would like to spread our learnings to our friends to better organize your Indian & Japanese friends coming over.

1 – Sauces

Let’s think about how to entertain Indian family at this time. The first and the most important element is sauce. They love to dip any snacks & appetizer in sauces. Typical dips would be ketchup, curd (yogurt), chutney & mint sauce. The food without sauce or moisture is considered as dry.  People even dip their cookies in chai before eating them. Most of the Indian main courses are also curries made of mashed vegetables, cooked with water. So, for all three courses, not being “dry” is critical.

2 – Meats

The second key is the way to serve meat dish. I notice that even my non vegetarian family members don’t prefer to eat a big chunk of meat like filet or steak. They enjoy minced meat dish like Kabob, or diced pieces such as Tandori Chicken. If you want to serve fish, please check with your guests about fish/seafood allergy beforehand. Fish is not usual ingredient for many Indian people. Due to most of India being inland, people didn’t have chance to savour fish in some parts of India. Thus many people haven’t developed taste of fish and seafood.

3 – Side Dishes

After planning the main course, it’s time to think about side dishes. Japanese people love to eat fresh ingredients with minimum cooking process; we eat ingredients as fresh as possible (such as Sashimi). On the other hand, Indian people cannot eat undercooked food, and actually I’ve never seen (raw or salad-like) green leafy fresh lettuce served at our family’s places and Indian restaurants. So we must make sure everything is cooked & heated well.

4 – Spice

Japanese people believe that Indian people love hot red chilli spiciness like Korean food, however it’s a myth. They love many kinds of mixed spices, but not just a spice. You probably saw boxes of masalas on supermarket shelves such as chaat masalas, chicken masalas, and garam masalas. Those are mixture of turmeric, coriander, thyme, and cumin, not only single spice but variety of grinded masalas mixed. Hence the food you offer doesn’t have to be kick ass spicy.

5 – Dessert

Finally deserts, Indian people have a very sweet tooth. Back in Japan, I see many less sweet confectionaries, and some Japanese gentlemen cannot take any sweet stuff. If you have tried Gulab Jamun – round donuts dipped in syrup, you understand how much sweet stuff people can enjoy. So if you serve any deserts, make sure you put extra sugar in them.

When we plan a meal for Indian family, we try to serve something similar to Indian food. We believe that if the food is completely different from what people get used to, it’s hard to enjoy. Teriyaki Tandoori chicken, Vegetarian Japanese curry, Eggless cookie similar to Nan khatai, Vegetarian Happousai, and Hot Kinpira, those are small number of creations everyone enjoyed.

Those are some of the tips we’ve discovered, if you have any other perspectives of Indian food from the outside, please do share them in the comments below! Together, we can keep innovating on “Indian-ized” food we can all enjoy together!


Diwali is around the corner (2014)

And How Indian And Japanese Festivals Differ


The biggest Indian festival – Deepavali (Diwali) is here! It’s a festival for lights, lots of candles, sale season, home decorations, more shopping, family gathering and special card games.

Indian festivals are very different from Japanese festivals. The largest Japanese “festival” is actually New Year. So if I take New Year as an example of a Japanese festival, the first difference is that we only gather with family members & relatives. Friends and colleagues are not allowed to join the gathering.

Possibly related, we see many suicide cases around New Year in Japan. People who don’t have family and those living by themselves feel extremely lonely around the time. No shops and restaurants except convenience stores are open around the period and cold snowing season doesn’t help matters.

Indian festivals, by contrast are,open to family, friends and colleagues and even people from other religions. A few years ago, at my first Deepavali, Rachit and I went to our friends’ place. Her family welcomed us and explained all about Deepavali to me.

At the Deepavali night, quite a few number of her relatives dropped by her home and enjoyed conversations over the dinner with her dad & mom. We (friends) were enjoyed dinner & the conversations by ourselves as usual. It’s totally freedom for us, we don’t have to participate the relatives’ conversation or help set up the table or dinner.

After the dinner, we moved to other room to start card games. From this point, there were 2 groups; a group of the parents’ guests and a group of our friends’ guests. Both groups enjoyed the meal without many interactions. If this is a Japanese family, we are not allowed to split into groups. We have to be one big gathering and just listen to the senior-most people with controlling power – the format doesn’t enhance the relationship among people.

The friends in the other room started playing “Teen Patti” – gambling card game, while the other group was having dinner. After an hour or so, both groups merged and enjoyed the game together. This is quite unique group – family & relatives and friends are playing together. And everyone seems comfortable with playing the card with strangers.

As I mentioned, in Japan, no friends or colleagues are allowed to join family gathering, and so this gathering on Diwali was beyond my concept of family gathering. Generally speaking, Indian people welcome others and accept people flexibly. Japanese also accept strangers without judgment in personal interactions, but typically gatherings are  a lot more formal and private.

Another difference is that Japanese gathering is usually more relaxed for the host. The invitee list is usually small, everyone who is coming is quite close, the food menu is not as comprehensive as Indian gatherings, and overall there are fewer surprises to deal with. Indian gatherings are usually open to all, and so the hosts have to work a lot harder on arrangements & food to organize the event.

A final big difference between Japan and  Indian festivals is definitely alcohol consumption. I’ve never seen anyone drinking alcohol at any Indian festival. In fact, most  festivals don’t even have meat or non vegetarian food. Surprisingly, most of our Indian relatives don’t drink. It’s a huge difference from Japan, as we open New year with drinking sake/beer – “Kanpai!”

This Diwali is our first one after marriage. We are looking forward to it and for finding more fun differences between the Indian and Japanese way of life. And of course, more fun, friends, f00d, family  and “teen patti“!