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Indian-Japanese Fusion

A talk with Sassan Tomoaki.

October 17, 2018

In the global world that we are living at, where every metropolitan city is offering endless food opportunities, the question of authenticity has to be raised. Of course, there are amazing Japanese restaurants in Tel-Aviv, but can we honestly say that they are serving an authentic Japanese cuisine? But maybe in our pursuit of authenticity, we forgot something elementary, Japanese food with Israeli ingredients would never be authentic Japanese – as the water, the soil and the climate here are completely different. And maybe, just maybe it is an excellent thing, as this new cuisine can be good, even amazing, and perhaps this cultural fusion is precisely what we should be looking for.

Veggie Burgers with tofu, potatoes, and lentils patties.

The one to introduce me to this beautiful world of fusion cuisine was Sassan Tomoaki. Originally from Japan, Sassan was born in Tokyo and spend his early years living both there and in Hokkaido, the second largest island in Japan also known as the kingdom of food. Being closer to Russia the climate in this area of Japan is much colder. And with the combination of the mountains and the shore, this island is offering its visitors the freshest seafood, dairy products, and exciting vegetables. But for the last four years, Sassan was more a citizen of the world, traveling around, meeting people and cultures and all the time cooking. Europe, America, Australia, each left a memorable mark on Sassan’s cooking, as for him the kitchen is a way to share a culture.

Meet Sassan Tomoaki and his Sushi Konus.

Sassan’s journey in the kitchen starts with the Izakaya cuisine in Japan, working in different restaurants, and at the fish market, he was always looking for adventures and even found himself working in a Japanese-Italian restaurant. Traveling Canada, he first met Indian cuisine and fall in love with its spices and aromas. Picking Cherries in Australia, of-course Sassan was the cook of the camp; he had his first catering experience. But even more exciting than that, he met his girlfriend Maya and together they decided to come to Israel and cook here, driven by the idea that food brings people together and makes them happy.

Rice, the beauty of simplicity.

Nowadays Sassan and Maya are making food at the Bascula, an Urban Circus in Tel-Aviv and a stage for different events and performances. Their idea here is to make Japanese-Indian Vegan Fusion, and they are also bringing it to a lot of fairs and markets. This Japanese-Indian Fusion started when at one of those markets, Sassan met Raji, a very talented chef, originally from India and together they established – Sasa-Raji.

Sasa-Raji, the power couple of the Indian-Japanese Fusion, and their Glass Noodle Salad.

This cultural mix is perfectly fitting Sassan’s Ideology about food. He understands the need of people to put labels on food, putting everything in proper categories, but he also tries to break this pattern and make something new outside this boundaries. Being a Japanese chef he felt an obligation to make Japanese food, but within this category, he is choosing the fusion. By working with local ingredients and instead of limiting himself to the attempt to make authentic food, that to his feeling will never taste as good as it will back in Japan, he is playing in the playground of fresh, local ingredients and making the best out of them, without being limited by the tradition.

Of course, you can find lots of Japanese imported products, but excellent Sake, really good Rice and a good Soya sauce are not easy to find outside of Japan. The most he misses a plant called Shiso, something between sesame and basil, that he used to add, chopped, to different foods for flavor, using the leaves as a herb.

When I asked Sassan what he loves to cook most, I expected to hear a name of an exotic Japanese dish and was surprised when Sassan showed his appreciation of the Italian kitchen. At home, he loves to cook Italian and will always be up for good pasta, “Italian food is all about the simplicity and having good ingredients,” Sassan says.

Sassan and his Gyoza served at the Bascula with mushrooms and tofu or sweet potatoes and parsley.

You can’t talk about favorite foods without talking about Soul Food, those sweet memories that only food can evoke. Sassan’s favorite food is a dish his grandmother used to make and reminds him of home. It is an Uniguiri with Umeboshi – a rice bowl made out of white rice formed into a triangular or cylindrical shape and wrapped with seaweed, Nori, on the outside. Don’t be confused it is not a type of Sushi, just an ancient way to eat and preserve rice. It can have different fillings, one of the most traditional ones is the pickled plum, a pickled Ume, also called Umeboshi, tasting like an apricot, sour and salty. It can also be filled with salted salmon, kombu, or any other salty ingredient that will fulfill the part of a natural preservative.

On the Menu, from left to right – Indian salad, tofu patty sandwich, and vegetable curry.

At the beginning of humankind, the ancient human tribes lived as hunters and gatherers, moving around all the time in an endless search for food and better living conditions. About 10,000 years ago, with the agricultural revolution, the humans, much unlikely to their nature started to settle down. Some of us still have in our DNA that passion for moving around and searching.

Tempura Vegetables mix at the Bascula.

Every stop on our road is teaching as something new; the greatness is to see that and to learn from it. Every cuisine Sassan met at his travels left an impression on his way of cooking. One of those experiences happened far away in the mountains of Peru. The tribal people up in the mountains have a tradition of making a special tea called Emoliente. It is a mixture of different fluids, herbs, and spices. It’s considered to be a very healthy drink that helps hangover and digestive problems. Served both hot and cold, both in the morning and at night, Emoliente is usually made out of a herb mix that contains roasted barley, dried horsetail, flax seed, plantain leaf, alfalfa sprouts, and other medicinal herbs. The bottles on the cart are different liquids made from the natural plants of the Andes mountains. Nowadays It is served all around Peru by vendors on street corners, and of course, each has its secret recipe for the drink. Different therapeutical qualities are related to is such as digestion, reducing cholesterol in the bloodstream, lots of essential vitamins, and relieve in cold symptoms. In fact, It was first introduced to Peru in the colonial era as a medicine. It became so popular that every year on February 20th the locals celebrate the national day of Emoliente and other traditional drinks.

Gyoza Recipe

To leave you all with a good taste, Sassan shared with us the recipe for his amazing Gyoza.

Sassan’s Gyoza.

For the Dough:

500 grams of regular flour.

250 grams of boiling water.

½ teaspoon of salt.

1 teaspoon of vegetal oil.

For the Filling:

1kg of ground beef / or chopped Tofu.

A whole cabbage.

100 gram of dried Shitaki mushrooms.

A bunch of green onion.

1 teaspoon of sesame oil (optional).

1 minced clove of garlic.

Other option can be using different vegetables of your choice: sweet potatoes, spinach, carrots – just be creative.

In that case, you will need – 1 tablespoon of cornstarch.

For Serving: 

Soy sauce.

Let’s make some Gyoza – 

  1. In a large bowl mix together flour and water, use a spoon at first as it will be hot.

2. Add salt and oil and keep kneading the dough with your hands.

3. Shape into a ball, cover and let it sleep for about 1 hour at the refrigerator.

4. Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface into a rectangle (about 2cm high).

5. Cut the rectangle into a 2cm stripes.

6. Roll each strip into a snake and slice into small balls.

7. Press each ball with your thumb and flatten it with a roller (be careful not to make it too thin as it will tear apart while stuffing).

8. Chope all the hard filling ingredients and mix them all in a separate bowl. Use the tips below to achieve a mass of a pate texture.

  • If you are using meat for your filling, season it with a bit of salt and pepper.
  • If you are using vegetables, use cornstarch to make the mass thicker.
  • Root vegetables must be cooked first before used for stuffing.
  • The use of garlic and sesame oil will add Asain flavors to your Gyoza.
  • Squeeze out the water from the vegetables before using them for stuffing.

9. Put your finger in water and slightly wet the outer circle of your Gyoza.

10. Stuff your Gyoza – put a spoon full of filling in the middle of your Gyoza and fold in half.

11. Closing the Gyoza is the only complicated part here, what we want to do is to fold it like an accordion or a Plisse fabric, moving in the same direction from edge to edge or changing the folding direction in the middle, keep going until your Gyoza is closed and sealed.

12. Steam in the steamer or fry on a pan.

For a Dim Sum – Steam for 7-10 min on hot temperature steam.

For a Gyoza – Fry for 5 minutes in total, first on a lightly oiled pan for a minute, then add water to the pan to have steam around and fry for 4 more minutes.

Congrats you have made yourself a Gyoza (or a Dim Sum as it is the same thing), anyhow, enjoy!

Sassan’s sweet Halva buns with matcha and coconut sorbet.

A penny for your thought