5 Places to Please Your Fifth Taste
March 19, 2014
Scott Haas tours Asia in search of the science confounding, flavor-astounding, taste-abounding sensation of umami.
Published on Mar 19, 2014
Going beyond sweet, salty, sour and bitter, umami breaks down the boundaries of cuisine. Discovered in 1908 by Kikunae Ikeda, a Japanese chemist, this elusive, savory flavor is, to put it simply, the natural version of MSG. There’s a lot of scientific jargon to explain the make-up of the mysterious taste, but the only thing you need to know is that it makes food taste really good and many of the world’s most acclaimed chefs experiment with it to churn out divine dishes. Umami-rich ingredients include aged cheeses, dried and fermented foods, meats, and vegetables such as tomatoes and mushrooms. Here are some hotel restaurants across the region serving up umamiintense plates.
In New Delhi, go to Bukhara (+91 11 2611 2233; itchotels.in; dinner for two Rs6,750). Try the umamirich grilled paneer and the tomato-infused sauce on the stewed lamb, and wash it down with a cold draft beer.
Inside Bukhara, Delhi
Going further east to Chiang Rai in Thailand, visit Latest Recipe restaurant (+66 53 603 333; lemeridienchiangrai.com; dinner for two Bt940). Whether it’s grilled prawns or braised snow fish, nam pla (fermented fish sauce) lends an umami-rich flavor to everything it touches. This is cuisine defined by ingredients and tradition.
In Siem Reap, Cambodia, there’s no shortage of restaurants that vie for your attention and while there are a few standouts, like Wat Damnak and FCC Angkor, one of the best in town is inside The Heritage Suites Hotel (+855 63 969 100; heritagesuiteshotel.com; dinner for two US$60). Try the Mekong lobster for a delicate entreé into the world of umami.
One of the calmest dining experiences is found in Saigon at Square One (+84 8 3824 1234; saigon.park.hyatt.com; dinner for two VND2,000,000). The menu features dishes so umamicentered that fans of the flavor will be spoiled for choice—think Australian beef, Mekong lobster, tanks of live fish and shellfish in pristine salt water.
Finally, conclude your umami adventures in the city where it was first discovere —Tokyo. Go to Sushi Sora (+81 3 3270 8188; mandarinoriental.com/tokyo; dinner for two ¥50,000) where Yuji Imaizumi, the head sushi chef, allows the freshness of the simple, but often rare, ingredients to unleash the umami within. Sora means “sky” in Japanese and the flavors from the deep blue sea combined with the skyscraper view high above Tokyo seem to elevate the captivating essence of umami to nearly unthinkable heighs.
Sushi unleashes the power of umami at Sushi Sora in Tokyo