The New Gastronome

Indian-Japanese Fusion

A Talk with Sassan Tomoaki

In the global world that we live in, 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?

 

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’s 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 person that introduced me to this beautiful world of fusion cuisine was Sassan Tomoaki. Originally from Japan, Sassan was born in Tokyo and spent 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 offers 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 because, 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. Since he was always looking for adventures, he even found himself working in a Japanese-Italian restaurant. While he was traveling in Canada, he became acquainted with Indian cuisine and fell 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.

 

Being a Japanese chef, he felt an obligation to make Japanese food, but within this category, he is choosing this fusion.”

 

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’re also bringing it to a lot of fairs and markets. This Japanese-Indian Fusion started when Sassan met Raji, a very talented chef, originally from India, at one of those markets, and together, they established – Sasa-Raji.

 

Sasa-Raji, the powerful duo of the Indian-Japanese Fusion, and their Glass Noodle Salad.

 

This cultural mix perfectly fits Sassan’s Ideology about food. He understands the need for people to put labels on food, putting everything in proper categories, but he also tries to break this pattern and make something new, outside these boundaries. Being a Japanese chef, he felt an obligation to make Japanese food, but within this category, he is choosing this fusion. By working with local ingredients, and instead of limiting himself to the attempt of making authentic food, 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 thing he misses the most is a plant called Shiso, a cross between sesame and basil, that he used to chop and add 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 the 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.

 

Every cuisine Sassan met during his travels left an impression on his way of cooking.”

 

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 Onigiri 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’s 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, —which was very much unlike their nature started to settle down. Some of us still have that passion for moving around and searching, in our DNA.

 

Tempura Vegetables mix at the Bascula.

 

Every stop on our road is teaching us something new; the greatness is to see that and to learn from it. Every cuisine Sassan met during 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 in the mountains have a tradition of making a special tea called Emoliente. It is a mixture of different liquids, herbs, and spices. It’s considered to be a very healthy drink that helps hangovers and digestive problems. Served both hot and cold, 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’s served all around Peru by vendors on street corners, and of course, each of them have their secret recipe for the drink. Different therapeutic qualities are related to it such as improving digestion, reducing cholesterol in the bloodstream, having lots of essential vitamins, and relieving 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 have celebrated the national day of Emoliente and other traditional drinks.

 

 


 

Sassan’s Gyoza recipe

 

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

 

 

For the Dough:

  • 500 grams of regular flour
  • 250 grams of boiling water
  • ½ teaspoon of salt
  • 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil

 

For the Filling:

  • 1kg of ground beef / or chopped Tofu
  • A whole cabbage
  • 100 grams of dried Shiitake mushrooms
  • One  bunch of green onions
  • 1 teaspoon of sesame oil (optional)
  • 1 minced using different vegetables of your choice such as: sweet potatoes, spinach, carrots – just be creative!
  • In that case, you will need – 1 tablespoon of cornstarch.
  • Soy sauce-for serving

 

Let’s make some Gyoza!

 

  1. In a large bowl, mix the flour and water together. 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 rise in a warm place for about 1 hour or until the dough has doubled in size.
  4. Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface into a rectangle (about 2 cm high).
  5. Cut the rectangle into 2cm stripes.
  6. Roll each strip into a snake shape 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. Chop 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 Asian flavors to your Gyoza.
  • Squeeze out the water from the vegetables before using them for stuffing.
  1. Put your finger in water and slightly wet the outer circle of your Gyoza.
  2. Stuff your Gyoza – put a spoon full of filling in the middle of your Gyoza and fold in half.
  3. 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.
  4. Steam in the steamer or fry on a pan.

 

For a Dim Sum: steam for 7-10 minutes on hot temperature steam.

 

For a Gyoza: fry for 5 minutes in total; first on a lightly oiled pan for one 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 you make it, enjoy!

 


 

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

 

 

Halva Baozi with Matcha Sorbet.

  • Recipe for 28 big buns.

 

For the Dough:

  • Water 350 ml
  • Dry yeast 1 tbsp.
  • All-purpose Flour 700 g
  • White Sugar 70 g
  • Salt ½ tbsp.
  • Olive oil 30 g

 

 

For the Feeling:

  • Halva (400 grams).

 

For the Sorbet:

  • Coconut cream – 400ml
  • Matcha Powder – 10g
  • Warm water – 100ml at 85C
  • Sugar 75g

 

 

For serving:

Walnuts / Coconut flakes / fruits / a syrup of your choice.

 

Let’s make it:

  1. Mix all the dough ingredients together until you reach a smooth dough.
  2. Cover and let the dough rest for 1 hour (or until it doubles its size).
  3. Cut the Halva into cubes of 1 cm.
  4. Meanwhile make the Sorbet – Mix all the ingredients of the sorbet together put in a close box and place in the freezer for 1 hour. After 1 hour, mix the ingredients again and put back at the freezer until serving – at least 3 hours.
  5. Cut the dough into 28 pieces, shape each piece to a small ball.
  6. Flatten each ball with your hands, place a Halva cube inside and roll back into a ball.
  7. Place the balls on a tray with a lightly floured parchment paper to rise for ½ an hour. If the room temperature is cold, it may take a bit more – you can also use the heat of the oven and put the tray nearby.
  8. Put half cup of water in a pot and let it boil.
  9. Steam the buns in a steamer with a parchment paper for 8 minutes (don’t forget to make some holes in the paper for the steam to come through). *try the first ones and see if the dough is ready, if your steamer is small in size it may take a bit longer, even around 16 minutes.


Serve with matcha Sorbet, and decorate with walnuts / coconut flakes / fruits / a syrup of your choice or just as is.

 


Article can also be found here!   | Photo credits ©Daria Ratiner


About the author

Daria Ratiner

She's an alumna of The University of Gastronomic Sciences, a food photographer and gastronome based in Tel-Aviv, Israel. For her, food is art--a story of place, ingredients and most importantly, people. Daria and her husband live in Tel-Aviv, and together, they run photography studio, DnA Open Studio. She works as a freelancer, doing styling for photo shoots and focusing on various food projects.

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