As a now Tokyo-based resident who originally hails from good old ‘Blighty’ (England for the uninitiated), I have shed many of my previous Eurocentric cultural understandings and knowledge of those norms. However, much like the rest of the British population crammed onto my Home Island; there are still specific foods and pastimes that are held close to the heart. English afternoon tea? Not really. Enjoyment of the English national team playing sport? Nope! Celebrating Her Majesty The Queen’s birthday? Absolutely not! But, eating delicious food from India? Absolutely, yes!
Tokyo does not disappoint when it comes to supplying food for my all-too-regular need to visit curry houses. The options for aromatic meals, originating from many regions in India, are numerous and prolifically spread across this vast metropolis. Since arriving in Japan; I enjoyed visiting ‘Nirvanam’ in Toronomon, ‘Raj Mahal’ in Shibuya, ‘Tom Boy’ in Shibuya and ‘The British Indian Cafe’ in Omotesando, to name but a few.
Recently, two friends and I went to ‘Nataraj’ in Ogikubo (location link – Japan Tourist Guide) which I now rank as my favourite option from the restaurants that I have personally visited.
Unlike the other locations mentioned, it is a specifically vegetarian restaurant and has a very clear vision. It claims to be the first of its kind and has a successful history dating back to 1989. The company website places a keen emphasis on healthy living and on choosing food based on ethics, yet without sacrificing taste or enjoyment. Indeed, organic ingredients are sourced from 3 sets of farmland which are owned by the restaurant chain (Official Nataraj website) and the menu is chosen thoughtfully, even containing natural yeast for breads, GMO-free oils and a range of soy or tofu options (Healthy Tokyo).
While Nataraj is proud of its vegetarian and ethical foundation, even pairing this with an Ayurvedic approach (specifically selecting spices in order to promote good health), the experience is by no means an arduous example of worthy philosophies over a satisfying end product. The interior of the cafe is pleasantly decorated with well set tables (100 in the Ogikubo part of the chain) and pieces of Indian art. The food, meanwhile, is sumptuous.
I chose a set meal and found each of the small dishes to be packed with flavour and presented in mouth-watering fashion. The naan bread was giant, fluffy and delicious. Clearly, the chef is a wonderful judge of spice, seasoning and salt levels. Even the side salad (often so overlooked in curry houses) was fresh and, simply, oishii desu! My friends are proud meat eaters, and even they found the food on offer to be a delight. They devoured paneer based curries; similarly large naans and sticky rice with a hungry approach only associated with Englishmen deprived of a good curry for…a few hours!
Though we clearly caught the restaurant on a quiet night – we were the only table for most of our meal – we were made to feel welcome and were clearly valued by the staff. They were attentive in their service and fluent in both English and Japanese. Later, we sat and enjoyed the pleasant atmosphere while drinking cold beers and rich lassi.
This link in the Nataraj chain is also set in an ideal location. Ogikubo is a lively and affluent area of Tokyo, 8km west of Shinjuku. Here you find bustling department stores and the familiar bright lights of the more commercial parts of the city. It is most famous for being the birthplace of Tokyo ramen and the name actually means reed (Ogi) and hollow (kubo). That said, if you visit Nataraj then your visit will by no means be a hollow one! Give it a go – your taste buds will thank you later.
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