Changing Landscape of Indian Dining in Japan
I came to Japan first in November 2015 for a business trip before moving here for work. It was late evening and I was hungry. As a vegetarian and someone who doesn’t speak Japanese, the easiest option was to find an Indian restaurant. I still remember that I was staying in Akasaka and there was just 1 option in the 500 meters radius. While that restaurant doesn’t exist now, I recall that they had Naan and a choice of curry from Butter Chicken, Saag Chicken or Keema as their dinner menu. Disappointed, I asked if they can make anything vegetarian and they offered to remove chicken from Saag Chicken, which I accepted in desperation. The food was not that great for 1,500 yen but I appreciated the staff’s flexibility. This experience made me skeptical to move to Japan and I did a bit of research about Indian restaurants, especially around my office. Luckily, there were these 2 gems — Nirvanam in Kamiyacho and Swagat in Roppongi Itchome, which became my all time favorites later. Both of them were always crowded at lunch times and offered great food & service However restaurants like Nirvanam or Swagat were limited to some office areas. Most other restaurants labeled as “Indian” were actually providing just Naan and curry sets that were not authentic at all.
Fast forward to 2022, the Indian restaurant scene in Japan has take a big leap and these 6points summarizes the changes in the landscape:
1.Rise of authentic South Indian cuisine: Last 6–7 years has seen a tremendous popularity in South Indian cuisine, where on one hand, new south Indian restaurants such as Nandhini, Bangera’s Kitchen, Kerala Kitchen or Sri Mangalam started and gained a lot of popularity while on the other hand popular restaurants like Nirvanam, Andhra Kitchen or South Park have expanded further by opening new branches.
2. Beginning of Indian Street Food: Tokyo Mithaiwala has become a popular name among Indian food lovers and its menu includes a wide range of Indian street food and sweets. Other Indian restaurants, especially in Tokyo are also popularizing Indian Street Food in their menu.
3.Coming up of Indian fine dining: Thanks to The Spice Lab, Bombay Sizzlers and Bangera’s Kitchen, the Indian fine dining scene in Tokyo has seen a great boost. All these restaurants offer great ambience, food presentation and diverse food options.
4. Shutting down of “Naan/curry” so-called Indian restaurants: It’s a bit unfortunate but due to the covid-19, so called Indian restaurants serving unauthentic naan/curry, saw a great decline in the sales and were forced to shut down.
5. Japanese natives running Indian cuisine restaurants: As more and more Japanese natives are becoming interested in Indian culture and cuisine, few are taking the next step to learn Indian cuisine and start their restaurants. Some of the Indian cuisine restaurants run by Japanese natives include Eric South, Zero One Curry, Vaji Spice and Malayalam. The food is surprisingly close to authentic and even better than a lot of Indian restaurants.
6. “Biryani” and “Dosa” becoming common names among Japanese natives: Adding to the list of dish names like Naan or Butter Chicken, Biryani and Dosa is becoming more common to the Japanese natives. Both the dishes are loved by people in Japan and no doubt these would be household names soon. List of restaurants with best Biryani and Dosa are coming up in my next blog.
As a researcher, here are 3 changes that I feel will be seen in the coming years
1.Focus on healthy food options, including vegan: A lot of people are becoming health cautious and there is no denial that Indian food in restaurants use a lot of oil to make it tempting for the taste buds. As a result, people are trying to avoid eating out Indian food often which needs to be addressed by the restaurants by adding healthier choices in their menu.
2.Popular Indian restaurant franchisees looking into Japan: As the covid settles and borders are reopened, the Indian or foreign talent would continue to rise in Japan. Looking at this opportunity, many big Indian restaurant franchises (Haldiram’s, Bikanervala, Ananda Bhavan etc) might find a great market here
3.Further segregation of cuisine or item speciality: Till now the Indian restaurants have been segregated majorly by North Indian or South Indian cuisine. Over the time, it could be segregated by more detailed cuisine speciality (like Andhra cuisine or Gujarati cuisine etc) as well as item speciality (like focussing on Biryani or Dosa etc)
Needless to say that Indian restaurant landscape has changed many folds in the last few years and that Indian cuisine will see a great demand, growth and competition in Japan in the coming years. As a restaurant, there is a need to step-up the game by growing your digital branding initiatives as well as planning to address the future demand. If you are interested to know more, feel free to contact me on LinkedIn, and I can share how GoCurry can help you in your journey.
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