Japanese food is being served up in fresh, atypical ways across the UAE Image Credit: Supplied


As the world looks to eat more healthily in 2019, culinary forecasters say Japanese food is at the centre of the action

Dinner tables everywhere, in restaurants and homes alike, will be heaving with Japanese dishes this year as a cluster of culinary trends converge around the peninsula’s cuisine. Even as conscious-eating movements such as veganism and sustainable sourcing gather pace, consumers want new flavours. Consequently, Japanese food is being served up in fresh, atypical ways across the UAE. For this special report, chefs in the UAE explain how the cuisine is evolving into 2019 and 2020.

Toshio Date, Chef at the LeMeridien Dubai Image Credit: Supplied

Pacific flavours

With US supermarket Whole Foods calling 2019 the year of Pacific Rim flavours, expect all sorts of experimentation on your plate in addition to foods from the Pacific Ocean nations, says Toshio Date, Chef at the LeMeridien Dubai institution Kiku. “Pacific Rim cuisine combines the ingredients and techniques of Asian and West Coast cuisines,” he says. “Also called Asian fusion, Euro-Pacific or regional Hawaiian cuisine, it's an exciting mix of flavours and cultures that is marked by sweet, warm and earthy notes.”

In addition to poke bowls, seaweed and sushi, you’ll meet ingredients such as basil, mustard, sea salt, garlic, Japanese Shichimi togarashi, a mixture of seven spices.

Try it: In Dubai, Cali-Poke, Kiku, Morimoto and 24th Street at the Dusit Thani; in Abu Dhabi, Trader Vic’s at the Beach Rotana and Ono Poke; Umi at the Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah

Yukitaka Kitade, Chef de Cuisine at UMI Japanese Restaurant Image Credit: Supplied

Focused dining

Just as Italian and Indian regional kitchens have become gained prominence recently, Japanese specialty menus are showing up operators rush to cater to diners’ demands for new experiences. “Ramen specialty restaurants are already well known, but we are seeing other Japanese favourites being chosen as the core focus of new restaurants,” says Yukitaka Kitade, Chef de Cuisine at UMI Japanese Restaurant at the Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah. “These restaurants are successful as they offer diners a choice and range of their favourite dish, and without lots of options these restaurants can ensure they do what they do very well!”

Try it: Yui for ramen, Kohantei for traditional kaiseki food (both Dubai), Benihana for teppanyaki (Abu Dhabi)

Thomas Frisetti, the Head Chef at Tanuki Dubai Mall Image Credit: Supplied

Fishing for vegans

With the rise and rise of vegan dining, chefs are thinking beyond classics such as sushi and sashimi. As one of the world’s most advanced nations, Japanese chefs are equipped to deal with special diets, says Thomas Frisetti, the Head Chef at Tanuki Dubai Mall. “The biggest trends in the Japanese food industry this year are allergen products such as buckwheat gluten-free noodles and vegetarian items such as seaweed and tofu. I think most restaurants will [also] have seen a rise in requests for vegan ingredients, and vegans can look out for ingredients such as tofu, kelp, wakame, edamame and miso which can be mixed and paired with rice and other flavours to create suitable dishes.”

Also expect to see delicate Japanese Buddhist dishes showing up, says Umi’s Kitade. “Miso-glazed eggplant (Nasu miso dengaku) is something I would recommend as it is one of my personally favourites.”

Try it: Moshi – Momo & Sushi for vegans, Kiku for vegetarians, Sushi at the Grand Hyatt Dubai for gluten-free options (both Dubai), Zuma Abu Dhabi for vegans

Chef Arlene Pielago Gubot of the street food eatery Spheerz Image Credit: Supplied

Fried heaven

Breaded, deep-fried foods seem to sustain entire food channels on social media (Tasty, we’re looking at you!), so it’s no wonder culinary forecasters Baum + Whitman have put katsu on their watch list for 2019. The fried, panko-crusted meat cutlet is often served with the Japanese version of curry (it’s nothing like its Indian namesake), but is delicious on its own with a tangy coleslaw, says Chef Arlene Pielago Gubot of the street food eatery Spheerz in Dubai’s Port Rashid area. “Katsu is a people pleaser,” she says. Pair it with a long cool beverage.

Try it: Tori No Su and Samurai in Abu Dhabi, Yo Sushi! (everywhere)

Underwater harvest

With plant-forward menus all the rage, sea grasses of all kinds are trending everywhere. Cookbook author Marc Murphy is just one of those pushing seaweed chips and kelp with everything. In fact, kelp is already such big news that scientists are already studying its vulnerability. To cook seaweed at home, add it to salads or drop it into a soup, says Spheerz’s Gubot. “Recently, I tried to create a version of Japanese Seaweed Soup at home, just simply saute with sesame oil, add minced beef adding a bit of soy sauce. Or simply make a wakame salad – just soak dried seaweed in cold water add some cucumber and vinaigrette dressing to it.”

Try it: Manga Sushi in Dubai, Jones The Grocer and Koi (both Abu Dhabi)