With so many Indian restaurants to choose from in the Tokyo metropolitan region, it can be a challenge to find a really good one. Look no further than Mumbai, which has 15 locations in Tokyo, Yokohama and Saitama. Under the watchful eye of Eatwell Co owner and president, Popi Kuroda, Mumbai promotes natural cooking and does not use any MSG or food coloring in its dishes.
Japan Today visits Kuroda at her first Mumbai restaurant in Kudan to hear more about the business.
What is your background?
I was born in Delhi but I have never really lived in India, other than for about two years. My father was in the diplomatic corps, so we lived all over the world. I ended up in Japan at the age of 19 and went to university here. For awhile, I did translating, teaching and then I was a mother and housewife. My husband was a professor at Tokyo University.
Why did you decide to start a restaurant chain?
I established Eatwell in 2005. Although I had been living in Japan for many years, I was homesick for India even though I never lived there. My mother advised me not to go back to India but to bring India here and do something connected with India. I always had a passion for food. I like cooking and I had many memories of what my mother and grandmother cooked.
So I started looking around for a place to start. The first restaurant was here at Kudanshita, which used to be a yaki-niku place. There were many Indian restaurants at the time but I thought, well, one more won’t hurt. I started it more as a hobby, to be connected with India. Fortunately, Kudanshita is next to the Indian Embassy, so that helped. Embassy people come here often and we cater for them.
How would you describe the image of Indian cuisine among Japanese consumers?
Indian cuisine has so much depth to it and that hasn’t been appreciated by Japanese customers who tend to think of it as just curry, nan and rice. We have lots of regional food and that’s something we want to promote at Mumbai.
Have you changed the taste to suit the Japanese palate?
I like to use a lot of spices but spices don’t necessarily have to be pungent or have that fiery heat, which people tend to automatically associate with Indian cuisine. Flavor is more important. Japanese prefer it not too spicy. Fiery curries are not as popular anymore as they once were. We don’t use any MSG or food coloring preservatives. For example, that fiery red color you see in tandoori chicken at some Indian restaurants comes from food coloring.
How many restaurants do you have?
Right now, we have 15 Mumbai restaurants, including one in Yokohama and two in Saitama. In the future, I’d like to open restaurants in Shinagawa and Shinjuku. Somewhere near a hotel would be ideal.
How often do you visit the 15 restaurants?
As much as possible. I go there as a customer to eat and see how the service is. Fortunately, I have good managers at each of my branches. Over the years, some staff have left but many have come back.
How often do you eat Indian food?
At least once a day, at the restaurants. At home, I usually cook Japanese food.
What is a typical day for you?
My office is here at the Kudanshita restaurant, so I come here about 11 a.m. Around 4 or 5 p.m., I go out to visit one or two restaurants. I eat, live and dream my business.
How do you like to relax?
I love reading and travelling. I’m interested in publishing books in Japanese about India, maybe even a cookbook.
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