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That Americans love a little show needs no guesswork. So when they discovered the Japanese Teppanyaki, which is something as basic as grilling on a hot iron plate, they had to take it a step further, and add a little drama to the whole process. But we will come to that later.
It has been said that the Japanese weren’t as obsessed with the Teppanyaki as much as the foreigners were. Introduced in 1945 by Misono, a restaurant that focuses on Western cooking methods on a Teppan (which means a hot plate), it soon became more of a talking point amongst the non-Japanese. Guests at this restaurant enjoyed watching the whole process of food being prepared before them, which is one of the main attractions of a Teppanyaki meal.
It was not until about 1964 that Benihana (another restaurant chain) opened its first restaurant in New York. Referred to as a Japanese steakhouse, Benihana, and more restaurants to follow, began to add a touch of glamour to the whole Teppanyaki experience. It was almost like watching a flair bartender in action, where the Chef would toss ingredients in the air, juggle their spatulas as they tossed an egg, and so on. While the meal continues to be a simple affair, it was this whole show that made, and continues to make, Teppanyaki quite an attractive way to spend money on a meal.
Once the Americans loved it, Teppanyaki began to gain popularity in Japan, simply because of all the American tourists. Even today, in Japan, it is a rather exclusive experience because only the best ingredients are used for it.
There is not much difference between the Japanese and Western styles of making a Teppanyaki; the cooking oil might vary. Seasoning of course is extremely important in this kind of a cooking method, and it is rarely overpowering. The idea behind the method is to allow the actual flavours of the ingredient to come through. So there is little beyond soy sauce, vinegar, wine, and maybe some garlic, that is used, and salt and pepper of course. And the fact that the diner can actually control the flavour of the dish, since it is being prepared right in front of him, is a big advantage for sure.
In Bengaluru, the weather is currently perfect for a Teppanyaki dinner. You might not get it everywhere, but there are a few spaces that are promoting this culinary art. Zen at The Leela is one place to check out for sure. And their access to great quality ingredients, which is imperative in the case of a Teppanyaki, makes the meal a lot better. What they serve is a pre-fixed five or a seven course meal, where the main course is from the Teppanyaki menu and is prepared in front of you. The appetizers etc. come from the kitchen. There is also an À la carte menu where you pay according to the meat you choose.
And then there is Shiro, which offers a Teppanyaki table that needs to be booked in advance. It is quite a fun experience if you are in a group of six or eight.
OKO at The Lalit too has a Teppanyaki table. From soft shell crabs, tuna, John Dory, scallops, lamb chops, tofu, prawns, grilled lobster tail, and so on – there is quite a bit to choose from. Again, call and reserve in advance.
Teppan is yet another place to check out Japanese grills. They will even throw in a show, but considering its mid-range, and fairly popular, I suggest you call ahead to block your chair by the grill. Watching it being cooked is half the fun after all!
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Priyadarshini is an independent journalist from Bengaluru whose life pretty much revolves around food, good music, literature, and cinema. She’s worked with different publications over the past 10 years, and has written about travel, theatre, films, books, music, food and lots of food! She’s travelled wherever her feet and budget would allow, discovering cultures through local palates and social behaviour, and in an ideal world would probably resort to using food and music to resolve any dispute.