Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Campa Cola and Concept PR - truly amazing!

I am sure that you have been following the trials and tribulations of what is known as the `Campa Cola Compound’ case. The drama, the questions, the tears, the bulldozers, hot sun, fainting spells, death of a protester, the Suo Moto action by the Supreme Court, the continuous noise on TV and gallons of newsprint spent or wasted, depending on your stance.

Personally, I believe that many, certainly not all, of those living in the disputed floors are at fault. Without getting into details, those who clearly knew there was a problem in the building are those who bought the flats in a resale after the construction was complete. These people clearly (i) knew there was no OC (ii) may have believed that an OC would be given and (iii) bought the flats at a rate lower than comparable building in that area which had OC’s.

Of course, there are others who may have been original purchasers who bought when the building was under construction so would never know if an OC would ever be granted. I believe that these buyers are really in trouble and are screwed. Life is unfair for them and this is one concept that seriously needs to be addressed as a general issue. Let me give you an example. Suppose you sign an Agreement with the holiest of builders [such a thing does not exist but hypothetically] say Tata Housing or Godrej Housing or Mahindra or some of the Rahejas or Oberoi, to buy a flat on the 3rd floor of a 45 storey tower where only the foundation has been laid, in a complex of 3 building with swimming pools, gymnasium, party rooms etc etc. This is pretty usual today. Would you ever know if the building would get an OC? The project would take about 3 years to complete at the very minimum. You simply have no assurance that an OC would ever come. It is only a calculated gamble you take having regard to factors like (i) reputation of builder (ii) builders completion record and (iii) a price advantage when you buy so early as opposed to buying a ready flat. But the question is what happens if no OC is given? You too will be a Campa Cola. This is disturbing. Honestly.

However, all this, in my view, pales into insignificance in light of what I am now going to show you. Credit for this stunning bit of information lies squarely with HRH the Queen of Kutch who being, among other things, an internet genius, found this. This is taken from the website of Concept, a Public Relations Agency owned by the Suchanti’s. The Suchanti’s also own Sinclair’s Hotels, Pressman Advertising and Concept Advertising. The Campa Cola Case is highlighted on the Concept PR website as a case study.

Please do read the case study. I express no views on it. All I can say is that I am stunned. It was a brilliant campaign run by Concept PR and full marks to them and the client [Campa Cola Compound leaders].

Now here is a shocking part. Mr Ashish Jalan a director and CEO of Concept PR owns two flats in the buildings. Does this explain anything or everything?

While you are about it, have a look at this article in the Indian Express.  This should also be an eye opener.

I am being extremely naive, but how much of what we see on TV and read in the papers is genuine news and how much of it is PR or lobby driven.

Another question that springs to my mind is that is there any shame left is there any sense of propriety? When your self interest is so paramount, and there is a clear case of the PR Agency acting only because its CEO was affected, and there was so much controversy would you publicise the so called `case study’? Maybe I am old fashioned and I would not. But then again, I would not have bought a flat in these circumstances either.

This whole matter raises so many questions. Does this not epitomise Sir Winston Churchill famous quote

“Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”

Would this not epitomise the quote misattributed to Joesph Goebbels

“If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it, and you will even come to believe it yourself.”

Should you not try everything to protect/defend yourself? How much of the care, pain and empathy expressed by MPs like Milind Deora, Rahul Narvekar and Shaina NC was real and how much was PR managed?

Frankly, I have no answers, just questions. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Top class Indian comedy

I quite like comedy, though not all genres.

As far as comedy on TV is concerned I do like the old shows - Seinfeld and Two and a Half Men [with Charlie Sheen]. Of course, Fawlty Towers is always hilarious. In the new lot I do like Big Bang Theory. Getting a reasonably good comic film is rare now a days. I can’t remember seeing a decent English comedy in years.

When you turn to domestic comedy, Comedy Nights with Kapil was top class, though now it has drastically dropped in quality. The numerous `laughter’ shows were unwatchable. Comic Hindi movies are also rare, though I confess that I do like some of Govinda’s movies and some of Akshay Kumar’s films.  By some I mean two – Bhagam Bhag and Hera Pheri, both co-incidentally directed by Priyadarshan and they both fall within the farce/satire genre. I find them extremely funny.

Despite all this, comedy in India is pretty pathetic. There is one very bright silver lining to the rather dark Indian comedy scene. This is the absolutely wonderful team at All India Bakchod. They are Tanmay Bhat, Gursimran Khamba, Rohan Joshi and Ashish Shakya. Many of you will have read Ashish Shakya’s column in the Hindustan Times every weekend, he is really quite funny.

Every so often they present a 5 to 10 minute show which is available on You Tube. They are really topical, hilarious and often obscene.

I give you a link. Please do watch a few clips. I guarantee a laugh.


Thursday, June 5, 2014

Tinted glass on your car? `Gheun taak Ghorpade!!'

We are experiencing a really hot summer. This year I have felt the heat much more than before. Probably age.

A couple of days ago I had parked the car in the shade of a tree. With the passage of time, the shade moved and the car was basking in the hot noon sun. With my work done, it was time to drive home. You know the scene. The car was terribly hot. The insides were really hot, the steering wheel almost un – graspable, the mass of plastic that forms the dashboard was untouchable. I was hot and sweaty, irritated and thirsty; I switched on the air conditioning, lowered the windows and tried to get the heat out. But this was not much use. The insides were just too hot for the air conditioning to cope. The sun was still beating down not making things cooler. The air blowing from the vents was cool if you went close to the vent, but became as warm as the car as it traversed towards my face. It was quite hopeless.

In this situation, in my mind I thought about all the lucky half wit builders we have in Mumbai zooming in their SUV’s with dark film on their vehicle glass doing the dark deeds they do. I thought about all the `Mantri’s’, `Babu’s’, the `Mahapaor’ [Mayor] and other sundry VIP’s who zoom in their blacked out cars with security in tow. Bottom line is that the air-conditioning in their cars would work superbly. That was all I was concerned about. Here I was, the fool who buys flats from the half wit builders and the bigger fool who pays his taxes so that the `Mantri’s’, `Babu’s’, the `Mahapaor’ [Mayor] and other sundry VIP’s can get their salaries, struggling in the heat with a struggling air-conditioned while they chill out.  

So I decided that I needed to figure out what exactly is the legal position on tinted glass in cars. Let me tell you that I was rather surprised to find out the position. Basically, we mango people have no hope.

One Avishek Goenka, a public spirited person, filed a public interest Writ in the Supreme Court seeking an order that the use of ``black’ tint on vehicle windows be banned in toto and that all vehicles should have glass with 100% Visual Light Transmission [VLT]. Grant of this prayer would mean that no level of tinting is to be permitted, so, obviously, no fixing of any film nothing, just clear glass.

Have a look at Rule 100 of the Central Motor Vehicles Rules, 1989. I am reproducing it here for you with some of my own highlighting.

“The glass of the windscreen and rear window of every motor vehicle shall be such and shall be maintained in such a condition that the visual transmission of light is not less than 70%. The glasses used for side windows are such and shall be maintained in such condition that the visual transmission of light is not less than 50%, and shall conform to Indian Standards ...........”

Now what does this mean? This means that a manufacturer can install glass where the VLT is not less than 70% [for front and rear] and not less than 50% [for the sides]. The words used are glasses shall be..... . Would this mean, for example, that if the windscreen had 90% VLT you could install film to reduce the VLT to 70% and still be compliant? I would think that this would be possible, that is, you could tint the glass or affix film so long as the VLT did not fall below 70% and 50% as the case may be.

But no. I am wrong. 3 Judges of the Honourable Supreme Court by an order dated 27th April 2012 held that once the car is made, and the glass is compliant as specified by Rule 100, then you cannot affix any film or in any way tamper with the VLT. So, all the stories that you have heard from a salesman that such and such film are `RTO approved’ is complete humbug.

After 27th April 2012 you cannot have any film on the glass. That is a blanket ban no if’s, no buts’,

I am rather disturbed by the decision taken by the Supreme Court. Personally, I see no reason why affixing of film to remain complaint with Rule 100 should not be allowed. Thus, if a cop stops you and demands you remove the film that you believe is `RTO approved’ you will be wrong. The cop will be right and you will be forced to remove the film.

Here is a link to the Supreme Court Judgement. Do read paragraph 17. That is the crux of the matter.

By the way, you may wonder how the the `Mantri’s’, `Babu’s’, the `Mahapaor’ zip around with blacked out glass. Our wonderful Supreme Court has very helpfully suggest a way out for them. How nice. This is what the Supreme Court says.

Another issue that has been raised in the present Writ Petition is that certain VIPs/VVIPs are using black films on their vehicles for security reasons. Even this practice is not supported by law, as no notification by the competent authority has been brought to our notice, giving exemption to such vehicles from the operation of Rule 100 or any of its provisions. Be that as it may, we do not wish to enter upon the arena of the security and safety measures when the police department and Home Ministry consider such exemption appropriate. The cases of the persons who have been provided with Z and Z+ security category may be considered by a Committee consisting of the Director General of Police/Commissioner of Police of the concerned State and the Home Secretary of that State/Centre. It will be for that Committee to examine such cases for grant of exemption in accordance with law and upon due application of mind. These certificates should be provided only in relation to official cars of VIPs/VVIPs, depending upon the category of security.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Japanese Beef

Japanese beef is world famous. You have heard about Wagyu of course. If you have read the previous post on Shabu Shabu you will know how good meat can be.

HRH the Queen of Kutch declared that we should have a meal of Japanese beef. So we set about looking for a suitable restaurant, something that was approachable and would not bankrupt us with beef that was prohibitively expensive as can often be the case in Japan. The Japanese can and often do go over the top with quality and consequently the price of food. We needed a sort of more middle path, Buddhist approach to our beef prices.

As is her wont, HRH the Queen of Kutch saw a restaurant which fit the bill, it was small, it was quite upmarket and it was a specialist beef restaurant where you could roast the beef of your choice. We made a reservation and arrived at the appointed time. The restaurant was called Matsusaka Wagyutei.

Now everybody has heard about Wagyu. The cattle are massaged with gin and fed beer and are made to listen to soothing music by Mozart and so on and so forth. There is probably some element of truth in all this. If you type in `Wagyu’ on Google you will get a host of literature. I am extracting a paragraph or two for you. Reading this is revelatory.

“Wagyu” actually simply means Japan (“wa”) beef (“gyu”), so it could be used to describe any type beef and is not an indication of grade. And while Kobe is the most well known Wagyu, there are higher grades of Wagyu. Higher grades of course, are determined by the degree of fat layers (“sashi”) in the meat. The marbling grades are 1 – 12, and whereas Kobe is 6+, Matsusaka is 10-12. To give you a basis for comparison, USDA Prime Beef is 6-8% fat, whereas top Japanese beef can be 25% fat. And much like the best sushi grade fish, not a lot of super premium grade Wagyu leaves Japan, so you may not have had a chance to taste it if you have not visited Japan.

Matsusaka is widely acknowledged as the finest beef Japan has to offer. It is produced from the Tajima-ushi cows, female only, from the Hyogo Prefecture. There are raised in a quiet and serene area between 2 rivers. When they have no appetite, they are fed beer to stimulate hunger and then are fed a combination of tofu lees and ground wheat. These are the famous cows that receive massages and are played often soothing music to calm the heifers’ mood as it is believed that this leads to better quality beef.

The New York Times writes

“And the meat, densely marbled and butter-tender, is difficult to come by, even in Tokyo, because only 2,500 Matsuzaka cows are slaughtered each year. It commands prices as high as Kobe's -- up to $60 a pound in a meat market, if you can find it. Don't look for Matsuzaka in the United States, where Japanese beef has been banned since March 2000, after an outbreak of hoof-and-mouth disease in southern Japan.”

Matsuzaka cows are slaughtered when they are 3 years old, an unusually long life for cows bred for beef. ''They are alive longer than any other beef cattle, and that makes a difference in the taste and texture of their meat,'' said Shizuo Kashiwagi, the owner of a meat market not far from Matsuzaka. ''And in the fat.''

When I read something like this, I get pretty het up. With all our religious mumbo jumbo, our innate cruelty, though, ostensibly we are deeply compassionate, we have no qualms with Cows/Cattle eating garbage or being fed bananas and god awful waste from temples and heaven knows what else [all of which is alien to their diet] and keeping them in Panjrapoles. But real care is never taken. After seeing the care with which Japanese cows are raised, I am not sure if India is the cow worshipping country, or Japan. Anyway, that is another story.

We were welcomed in, bowed to and whisked to the upper level where we were seated at a table. The owner came along, gave us an `English Menu’, which, to be honest, seemed like it was written by a 4 year old kindergarten student. Anyway, we did not have much to look at, it was basically different types/cuts of beef with prices in Roman/English, and so we knew if something was going to cost us an arm and leg. We were informed by not so dumb charades in as much as he spoke a few words, that the Fillet and Sirloin were over. We looked disappointed, sighed and said that he should get us whatever he thought was appropriate. Looking at the menu, it became apparent to us that the owner buys whole cattle and then butchers them. He is on some sort of Guild that entitles him to do so, presumably like the Palanpuri Diamond Merchants who are `sight holders'. We knew that even with Fillet and Sirloin being sold out we would eat very well.

So platter one arrived with three cuts of meat, rather small portions. The in-table brazier was electrical, and switched on. An indented plate containing Soy, Sweet Sauce and Salt & Pepper arrived and we were told to add some Chilli Paste to the Sweet Sauce. We also got some fresh Wasabi with a ceramic grater and were told to add the grated Wasabi to the Soy. The meat was to be grilled, dipped in either of the sauces and eaten. As a side we got some Cucumber Kimchi.

The electrical in table brazier


Left to right - Salt & Black Pepper, Sweet Sauce, Soy Sauce

3 Meats

The pieces of meat were sliced to a thickness of about 1 centimetre or slightly less. We placed a piece each on the grill, boy, the grill was hot, the meat seared beautifully and cooked in under a minute each side. We sprinkled some salt and pepper and ate. Magic. That is the only word I can use to describe the meat. Magic. The unctuousness of the meat, soft, buttery with just the slightest chew was something to savour. If you do look at the photographs you will notice that the three meats are clearly distinguishable. Don’t ask me what cuts they were. If you can read Japanese then there are little labels you can read.

Beautifully seared

The meat was soon over, another plate was ordered. That too was demolished. We were still hungry, so I asked for the menu again and saw Special Tongue. So Special Tongue it was. Delicious, thought it had a different texture from the other cuts we had eaten. The Tongue was equally fatty, extremely tender but had a different mouth feel [sorry about the deeply sexual context or double entendre].  

More meat

The special Tongue

It was an excellent meal, something we would not get outside Japan. We came away very satisfied and totally happy.

The Queen can do no wrong. Every restaurant she identifies is sure to be a delight.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

HRH the Queen of Kutch's Top 10 Reasons to visit Japan

Japan: Worth a visit at least once in a lifetime, if not more. Here are my Top 10 reasons:

The Bullet Train

A train journey like no other: With over 2,387.7 km of tracks, the Shinkansen will whisk you people from one end of Japan to the other, and has been doing so since 1964 with maximum speeds of 240–320 km/h. It is the way to travel in Japan. They have spotless cars, comfortable seats and impeccable service (the conductors even bow on entering and leaving the car). They are also amazing when it comes to timekeeping -- your train will arrive at its destination to the very second -- guaranteed.. 

The Conductor

Japanese Toilets or Washlets

Once you use a Japanese toilet, you will never want to use a normal toilet again. From warm seats to automatic flushing and the amazing bidet spays with panels to adjust direction, pressure, temperature and anything else you can imagine.

The Japanese toilet is a testament to Japan’s excellent engineering and design being used to make life better.

Asahi Super Dry beer

As a general rule, all South East Asian beers have a sweet undertone, be it Tiger from Singapore, Tsingtao from China, Singha from Thailand, Bintang from Indonesia and the Japanese ones like Sapporo or Kirin. Super Dry Asahi is, as it’s name suggests, not at all sweet. As a bonus, Asahi has set up dedicated outlets where beers are served at a bone chilling -2 C from dispensers that are frozen over. I do not know if the ice on the dispenser is a gimmick or it really freezes the condensation. We went to the Asahi Super Dry outlets and had some really good beer. Having said that, as a general rule beers in Japan are served super cold


The Japanese do sweets and desserts of all varieties extremely well. Every department store has a large section devoted to cakes and pastries and they are works of art. When we were at the Cordon Bleu, a majority of the students in the Patisserie section were Japanese. We now know why. The Japanese love pastry and Japanese Pastry is really top notch.


Although this seems obvious, you have to visit Japan to eat the beef. It is unlike anything you will have ever eaten. The quality and marbling are unsurpassed. Wagyu literally means Japanese Cow. However Japanese Cows come in different breeds and the most desired genetically have very high fat to meat ratio. The top three Wagyu are Matsusaka Ushi, Kobe Beef, and Ohmi Beef cattle raised in the Kansai region of Japan. Eat any of them and you will never regret it.

The Electronics at Ahibara and Yodobashi Camera Umeda

If you love gadgets and electronics, Japan is the place for you. Browse the numerous stores showing off the very latest in technology. Many electronic items never make it out of Japan, so you might see some flashy new contraptions on display -- even if you're not sure what they actually do. Of course there is a small problem with a lot of the electronics. The devices only offer Japanese menus and read outs. The Yodobashi Camera stores are mega large crammed with all manner of electronics. They are entire building with restaurants inside.

Taxi etiquette

Hail a cab and when it comes to a halt, the kerbside passenger door opens automatically. When you are seated, the driver will press a lever and the door swings shut. It’s the same when you reach your designation. The doors are never to be opened or shut by you. Taxi drivers are very well dressed, often in suit and tie, peak caps and white gloves. They have a credit card machine and are more than happy to take a card.

Also, the taxi’s are spotlessly clean and in perfect condition.

People politely line up for a train

The dignity and discipline when people wait for trains is a sight to behold. Always wait till the last person alights before entering the train. No pushing or shoving, ever

Immaculate gardens

The gardens and parks are like picture postcards. Every tree, bush and shrub is perfectly manicured and not a branch is ever out of place. Everything is raked and trimmed to perfection


Any purchase be it a gift or a household item is artistically and skilfully wrapped.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Shabu Shabu - A really great meal

Cooking your meal at the table is one sure way of having a great meal. Meals like this involve copious amounts of alcohol, often involve several co-diners and result in much hilarity and merriment.

Think Cheese Fondue where you dip bread into a pot of molten cheese. Think Mongolian Hotpot or Steamboats, as they are also known, where meat, fish and vegetables are placed in a pot of boiling soup and fished out with a spider [perforated ladle]. Think Fondue Bourguignon the great meat fondue where meat is dipped in a pot of oil and then eaten with a variety of sauces. And, alas, think of the Jain, Khandelwal and Shah favourite, the Chocolate Fondue. Chocolate Fondue aside, these `interactive’ meals are always great fun and delicious.

The Japanese have their own versions. One is called Shabu Shabu and the other is called Sukiyaki. Sukiyaki is less common, I believe. The broth is sweeter and the meat and veg are cooked together in one bowl and given to you hot.

Shabu Shabu differs. You get a pot of plain boiling water, some thinly sliced beef or pork and some vegetables. Along with this you get a bowl in which you mix your condiments, invariably Sesame Paste/Sauce, Ponzu Sauce [which can simply be described as Soy with Citrus]. First you put the vegetables into the boiling water to flavour it. You keep the noodles back. You pick up the meat and swish it in the boiling water to cook it [this takes a matter of seconds] dunk it in one of the condiments and eat. You of course eat the vegetables too which by now are fully cooked. Once you are done with the meat, you add the noodle to the water which is now flavoured with the meat and eat that too.

All this sounds very simple. But the clever Japanese have raised this to an art form. You can make Shabu Shabu with some ordinary beef and pork. Fish is never used in Shabu Shabu. But no, the wonderful Japanese have much more to offer. They have Wagyu!! Japanese beef is of the highest quality. The level of marbling in their beef is simply astounding. This is not simply fat. This is something else. The fat is dispersed all thru the cut of beef not only on the outside or running in a strip or vein. This marbling is finer, much finer and all pervasive. Beef in Europe is expensive especially dry aged well marbled beef. But in Japan, it is shocking how expensive it can get. Like most Japanese food, you have grades and grades and grades, and yes, you really can make out the differences between grades. So you can order beef at many price points. A normal portion of beef is 120 grams, which is quite small. Normally, in Europe a portion of beef is between 225 to 250 grams. Of course in America it is much larger. Depending on how much you order and the quality offered [most Shabu Shabu places offer several grades] you can eat from as little as Y 2500 to Y 15,000 per person on the beef alone. Add to this the booze and you can run up a hefty bill.

This is an American Rib Eye, and, by Western standards heavily marbled. Most of the fat is on the outside with fat forming the eye.

This is Japanese Wagyu. It is the same cut, i.e. Rib Eye but look at the difference in marbling. 

The first Shabu Shabu place we went to was in Tokyo called Shabusen. Earlier in the day we did a recce to locate the restaurant. Shabusen is a mid level Shabu Shabu place and, quite popular. We ordered a portion of their higher quality beef and a portion of pork [three cuts, a loin a belly and a third I do not remember]. Soon everything arrived and we started to eat. I had my doubts. I was deeply suspicious of what value add, taste wise, the water would have. Should not a stock have been a wiser choice? Anyway, with some misgivings I dipped a slice of beef into the water and swished it around. It cooked in seconds. I dipped it in the Sesame Sauce and ate it. I was blown away. I have never, ever, categorically never, eaten beef as soft, melting and delicious as this in my entire 50 odd years on the planet. We have eaten at some of the best restaurants in the world, Paul Bocuse, Alain Ducasse, Michel Roux, Alain Roux, Gordon Ramsay, Joel Robuchon among others, but nowhere I we eaten beef like this. And, unbelievably, it was cooked in water, fucking water. After that, the Pork paled in comparison.

The vegetables and noodles 

3 cuts of Pork

Pot of boiling water

Connected to power to heat the water 

The sauces - Left is Sesame with some Chili Oil Right is Ponzu with some Radish 

Mind you, once you have eaten the beef you are a goner. Nothing tastes as good. The magic is because the beef itself is just so good and because they slice it so thin. You need minimal heat and minimal time in heat to get the meat cooked. Unlike Western food where beef is served in large pieces weighing in excess of 225 grams each, here each piece probably weighs just a few grams.

That first Shabu Shabu was an eye opener. We wanted more. This meal had to be repeated.

The next time we were in Osaka and we located a Shabu Shabu place, under the railway tracks. We made a reservation for the evening. Before dinner, we were looking for a place to have a drink when in the most unusual and surreal situation there was an `Oktoberfest’ being held in May in Osaka. This was complete with a German Brass Band, German `Oktoberfest’ food [sausages, Grilled chicken Sauerkraut, Pretzels] and all manner of German beer. My God the Japanese were happy. Everyone was drinking large mugs of German beer, chomping down on Sausages and sitting at tables in the open as well as under tents. It was lively, it was fun, and it was surreal. We had a mug of beer and went on to dinner.

The line to get the food

We reached Shabutei, went in and sat at the counter. This place was slightly differently configured from Shabusen. We sat at the counter and each of us had our own pot of water. In the centre was a slicing machine and as you ordered the beef was sliced, weighed and given to you. This place was even better than Shabusen. We ordered a beef plate and a pork plate. Frankly, you should not waste time, money and stomach space on pork, just stick to the beef.

The Beef

The Pork

A large grinder to grind Sesame to make the Sesame Sauce. 

A Shabu Shabu meal is a must when in Japan. And, try and get at least one portion of really good beef. You will not regret it, ever.

Eating our way thru Japan - A perspective by the Queen of Kutch

This post has been written by HRH the Queen of Kutch.

Why do people travel and what are the memories people bring back from a holiday? There is so much you can learn about a person when you hear about their travels. While for some people it’s all about the joy of meeting new people, for others it’s about the sights and attractions. Some travel to find themselves and others to escape the grind of daily life. While some travel to challenge themselves, for others it’s all about the spirit of discovery and the joy of new experiences. Unfortunately, today, there is also a growing tribe of people who travel to tick-off destinations in the trendy list. Often of course, it’s a combination of these reasons, but for me, it has always been about the chance to experience new and different food and flavours. My strongest memory of any travel will always be of a great meal or a new flavour or a new ingredient. Yes, I see the sights and yes I walk the streets and yes I do all the touristy stuff, but many years later, when I think of a place, my strongest memory will be about the food.

Our 10 day holiday in Japan held many mysteries and delights for me. A very unique culture, completely alien language, no familiarity with the people, the thrill of travelling on the much touted Shinkansen and of course, an entirely new world of food.

What really was my level of familiarity with Japanese food? Yes, of course, I had eaten Sushi on many occasions and my new favourite lunch when in London is a bowl of Ramen. I know of Tempura, Shabu-Shabu, Sukiyaki and Yakitori, but don’t believe I have ever really made a meal of any of them. I also know all about the great Wagyu, but again, have never had the privilege to taste it.

So unlike most other cuisines, this was really going to be a new world of food for me. Chinese (from all the regions of China), Thai, Italian, French, Malay, Sri Lankan, German, Spanish, Greek...I think all these cuisines are more familiar to me than Japanese.

We landed in Tokyo late in the afternoon and after a fairly efficient Narita Express ride into the city we checked into the superb Hotel Peninsula and headed off to the concierge. On learning we had just checked in and that this was our first ever trip to Japan, the concierge suggested we go to an Izakaya. She suggested Gonpachi which has achieved some level of touristy fame because a scene from the movie Kill Bill was shot there and the concierge sweetly insisted it was a ‘funny’ restaurant/

An Izakaya is basically a drinking establishment which also serves food. They are casual places mostly for after-work drinking. Think of a traditional English pub where you go for a beer and grab some pub grub! Thinking about it now, this was a gentle way to introduce us to Japanese food. Izakayas have bits and bobs of all kinds of food. You can get some Sushi, maybe a Soba noodle, a few sticks of Yakitori and a sampling of Tempura. If you have just one night in Japan and want to sample Japanese cuisine, an Izakaya is definitely the place to be. And, unlike most other specialty restaurants in Japan, the prices at an Izakaya are relatively low. Nice enough to kick start our Japanese food adventure but not the sort of food memories are made off.

The next day at lunchtime we stumbled upon a little Ramen shop. This first bowl of Miso Ramen I ate at this unknown little shop has come to represent the taste of Japan for me. Rich, salty, meaty, intensely umami and completely delicious. Comfort food to beat most other comfort foods.

We soon realised that unlike the Izakayas, all other food in Japan is served in specialty restaurants. A Soba restaurant served just Soba, a Shabu-Shabu restaurant did just that and so on. 10 days in Japan and so many different dishes to try. In Tokyo, after the first two Izakayas, we ate our dinners at a Tempura restaurant, a Shabu-Shabu restaurant and at a specialty Soba noodles restaurant. Lunch was mostly different types of Ramen and occasionally Sushi, the exceptional one being at Sushizanmai at the Tsukiji market.

Of the dinners, the absolute stand out for me was Shabusen, the Shabu-Shabu restaurant in the Ginza Core Building. You could get either the beef or the pork set. We ordered one pork set and one wagyu set. The Wagyu set came with thinly sliced beef and assorted vegetables for the base. Each table had their own hot copper pot of boiling water and you could add in the ingredients as you go. While waiting for the water to boil, you were invited to make your own Shabu dip, which consisted of sesame based sauce, some chilli oil, mashed garlic and coarsely chopped scallions.

When the water starts to boil, you add in the vegetables, mushrooms and tofu to make the soup base. The meat is sliced so thinly, it cooks in a flash. Just a swish in the boiling liquid was all it required. The Wagyu was a revelation. Melt in the mouth tender and full of flavour. A meal to remember.

Next stop, Kyoto. If I shut my eyes, Kyoto for me is the Golden Pagoda and the taste and smell of Yakitori. The wonderful, smokey barbeque smell and the skewers upon skewers of deliciously moist and tender chicken meatballs, chicken skin, chicken liver, chicken wings, sausage and green peppers all washed down with copious quantities of beer. This meal stands out for the bonhomie and laughter and also the generosity and kindness of the chef and his wife at the small and lovely Yakitori Torikaku.

Kyoto was also my first Tonkatsu or breaded pork cutlet at Katsakura. Perfectly nice, but not a memory that will linger.

The Japan food trail ended on a high in Osaka. 

First we had an Okonomiyaki for lunch. An Okonomiyaki is a savoury pancake indigenous to Osaka. The word is a combination of okonomi which means ‘what you like’ and yaki which means grilled (as in Yakitori). With a base of plain flour, yam flour, baking soda, Dashi and egg, an Okonomiyaki is a mix between an Indian 'Chilla' and a frittata. The Osaka version necessarily includes cabbage. Besides that you are invited to add shrimp, potato, bacon, noodles and pretty much anything you can dream of. Once you place your order, the mixture is cooked to order on a huge griddle right in front of you. From there it is transferred to a hot plate in front of you and you are given a small sharp spatula to cut pieces and serve yourself, while the rest of the pancake stays warm. This is eaten with lashings of HP sauce and Japanese mayonnaise. Not the stuff dreams are made of, but interesting enough for me to try and cook it soon after we got back home.

Osaka gave us another Shabu Shabu dinner at Shabutei (probably better than Shabusen in Tokyo), with a far cosier atmosphere and great service. The Wagyu here was absolutely exceptional and the sesame sauce was freshly made on the premises.

At the famous Shimsaibashi we enjoyed a weird and entertaining Kushikatsu lunch at Kushikastsu Daruma. This was in all honesty more fun than it was tasty. Katsukashi is basically Japanese deep fried kebabs made of chicken, pork, seafood, and seasonal vegetables. These are skewered on bamboo kushi; dipped in egg, flour, and panko; and deep-fried in vegetable oil. The meal itself was fine but not inspiring. Who doesn’t like a well cooked pakora, but it is a little much to make a meal of pakoras! The fun part was a little train that brought the food to your table complete with a chugging sound and whistle.

If Mac Donalds can have a mascot so can Kushikatsu Daruma

The menu

Instructions on how to eat

Every table had a screen on which you could directly punch in your order

The Train on which your food arrived

The Kushikatsu

Our last meal in Japan was at what is perhaps more a Korean than Japanese grill place, called Wagyutei, which specialises in Matsusaka beef. Matsusaka beef is black-haired Wagyū (Japanese beef) also known as Kuroge Washu or "Japanese Black", the cattle come from the Matsusaka region of Mie, Japan. It is one of the most famous beef types within Japan and is known internationally for its high fat-to-meat ratio. The beef is absolutely first rate and ranges from rib-eye, fillet and chuck to tongue and gibblets. A few seconds on the grill and the meat is ready to eat. If you like beef, Wagyutei is beef heaven.