Little Tokyo in Neemrana
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What are Japanese restaurants doing on the Delhi-Jaipur highway?
It's lunchtime in the middle of nowhere on the Delhi-Jaipur highway and the main course includes sashimi and yakimono, and if you're lucky, warm sake — all made by a chef enticed from Tokyo.
From the paper blinds to the 'cubicles' in which tables are placed under speakers playing the lilting melodies of a zither, Daikichi Restaurant in Days Hotel in Neemrana seeks to recreate Japan's ambience. When we question the yakimono's authenticity, Sudeep Yadav, the hotel's deputy general manager, retorts, "This is not imitation food, like what is available in Delhi or Jaipur. The food here is made by a Japanese chef and the raw materials are imported."
A short drive on either side of NH-8 on which Daikichi sits throws up beguiling names — Samurai, Aju and Kyoto — all advertising genuine Japanese food. But what are they doing in Neemrana, famed for its Rajasthani culture and majestic fort? In 2006, the Rajasthan government signed an MoU with the Japanese External Trade Organization to form an exclusive zone to attract Japanese companies to the state. It allocated 545 acres of land in Neemrana, 120 km from Delhi and150 km from Jaipur, for the zone. Today, some 5,000 employees, including 350 Japanese engineers and managers, work across 31 Japanese companies in the zone, including Nissan, Daikin, Daiichi Colour, and Mitsubishi Chemicals.
"Three years ago, we were a food stall and would pack food for about 100 Japanese living in or visiting Neemrana," recalls Inder Yadav, who runs Aju Hotel, all the eight rooms of which are pre-booked for the next 12 months. Inder and his family have invested in another hotel nearby, which will have 25 rooms, and will be operational by next year.
Back at Days Hotel, Sudeep Yadav says that "95 per cent of our clientèle is Japanese, and our 45 rooms are booked around the year". As we bite into tantalising slivers of sushi, two Japanese men stroll in and summon a waiter. The men point silently at the menu, printed in English and Japanese, and the waiter only nods and walks away. "Our waiters don't speak Japanese and most of our Japanese customers don't know English. So all the items on the menu are numbered and customers need only point at what they want," says Yadav.