Sushi outside Japan has take on a number of different mutations. From the California Roll developed in Los Angeles in 1963, a number of “special rolls” have become popular in the Japanese restaurants of the world. Some are just ordinarily special, like the Dragon Roll (California Roll plus unagi eel), to the exciting Bronco Roll (California roll with salmon and tuna on top) and the amusing Disco Shrimp Roll (California roll with spicy sauce and baked shrimp on top).
Not surprisingly, an innovative Japanese restaurant in Dubai called 弁当屋 (Bentoya) has come up with the “Dubai Roll” — tuna, salmon and cucumber (with “spicy sauce” added to give it some bite).
Sorry for the poor resolution and lighting — this photo was taken with my phone.
Why the contents of tuna, salmon and cucumber? The joke among my Japanese colleagues at the restaurant was that, since Dubai is constantly pushing to be number 1 at everything, the Dubai Roll has to have all the top sushi ingredients in one bite.
As many readers may know, once you’re hanging out with Japanese overseas, there’s an overwhelming trend to going to Japanese restaurants, and I’ve now been to them all in my 10 weeks in Dubai. Bentoya is the oldest Japanese restaurant in the city, but it’s pretty disappointing cuisine. The other notable Japanese restaurants are:
* 喜作 Kisaku: Kisaku is the most authentic Japanese restaurant outside Japan you could conceive. It was founded and is managed by Chitoshi Takahashi, a Japanese chef who started in the Middle East twenty years ago working in-house for the Iran branch of a major trading company, and who is such a fixture of Japanese cuisine in the Middle East that he was recently featured as the first person profiled in the book 中東のクールジャパニーズ. This restaurant serves everything — real sushi and sashimi, yakitori, and basically anything else you’d find in a standard izakaya fare such as shiokarashi, ika natto, and daikon sarada. Not only are all the chefs Japanese, so are most of the waitresses, and more bizarrely, at least two Filipino waitresses working in the restaurant also speak Japanese fluently (I spoke with one, and she apparently worked in Nagoya for five years before moving to Dubai).
* 菊 Kiku: Kiku is the leading competitor to Kisaku for authenticity, with possibly better sake but certainly inferior food (note: some Japanese friends disagree with me). The biggest letdown to this place is that the menu is in Japanese, the food is real, yet the Filipino waitresses don’t speak a word of Japanese. That may sound silly, but coming from Kisaku, it feels incomplete. Speaking with Japanese friends, eating Japanese food, the illusion of being back in Japan by the real Japanese food is ruined when I have to say, “A plate of hamachi sashimi, please… yes, that’s yellowtail.”
* 都 Miyako: Miyako is a lifeline for many of the Japanese who are in Dubai neither by choice nor desire. It is situated in the Hyatt Regency, which has an entire residence wing of hotel apartments that is full of Japanese people. It has a sushi bar, but is more of a standard teishokuya You can read a Japanese review here. There are a number of Japanese people who, given the option, won’t even leave the Hyatt Regency complex on weekends, part of the phenomenon I mentioned previously on MFT here.
* Nobu: The Dubai branch of the signature restaurant by world-famous L.A. Japanese chef Mitsuhisa Nobu is situated in the lowest floor of The Atlantis. Some might say that Nobu is not genuine Japanese food, it’s designed for the Western, not Japanese, pallet, and it’s absurdly overpriced, but I could never say such a thing publicly.
* Zuma: Zuma is apparently conceived by a Japanese chef but the cooking and wait staff are all non-Japanese international, from Filipino to Kenyan to Chinese to Belarussian. The food here is pretty close to being authentically Japanese but it’s missing a certain zest. Or said otherwise, Nobu is Japanese food made for Western people, where as Zuma is Japanese food conceived by a Japanese chef but made by non-Japanese. A comparison between the two can be read here.