Dabbling with crab

Seafood sojourn

Dabbling with crab

With his roots in Sri Lanka and Japan, Chef Dharshan Munidasa uses his rich experiences to dish out the best food from both countries. Combining the best of Sri Lankan ingredients with traditional Japanese culinary techniques to provide a delectable dining experience, Dharshan is known for his restaurants ‘Nihonbashi’ and more recently, ‘Ministry of Crab’, which is also co-owned by well-known Sri Lankan cricketers Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara. The renowned chef, who is now based in Sri Lanka, was in the City recently as part of Conde Nast Traveller India’s first edition of its brand new concept ‘Hot Tables’.

“I have come to India a few times,” he says, “I have been to Mumbai twice and Delhi once. I had come to Bengaluru ten years ago but it has changed a lot since then and I didn’t have much time to see the City this time. But I do hope to take a look around and enjoy the ‘dosas’.”

Dharshan lived in Japan till he was seven years old before, moving to Sri Lanka, where he has some great memories of relishing on seafood.

“I was just a hungry and greedy child,” he exclaims. As his younger years were spent playing with crabs in Sri Lanka or using his grandmother’s 1,000 yen to buy live prawns, he was developing a culinary finesse that would soon spread its wings across the world.
“I studied computer engineering at Johns Hopkins University in the USA and international relations in the UK. I graduated in 1994 and started ‘Nihonbashi’ as a low-key Japanese restaurant in 1995. So if you look at it, I have never worked in any other restaurant or under any chef or been to any culinary school. There are certain things that you don’t learn at a culinary school,” says the chef. He even picked up many of his skills visiting the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo and interacting with fish merchants who not only sold their sea urchins and crabs to him, but also showed him their techniques.

‘Ministry of Crab’, which started in 2011, is now known all over the world. “Sangakkara and Jayawardene are good friends of mine and we decided to start the place together,” he says.

Ask him about the differences in the food scene of Sri Lanka and India and he says, “I think Sri Lanka was ahead in terms of foreign cuisine but now India has taken over. Good restaurants are popping up aside from five-star hotels too.”

Dharshan has also made his presence felt on the small screen with the show ‘Culinary Journeys with Dharshan’ and is happy with the surge of cooking reality shows on television, like the ‘MasterChef’ series and ‘Hell’s Kitchen’. “I have always believed that anyone can cook. You just need to choose good ingredients,” he says. “However, in South Asia, people give menial jobs like catching, cutting and cleaning the fish to others. Cooks have to realise that they have to do more themselves.”

The foodie enjoys digging into Sri Lankan street food in Colombo, steaks at the London Grill and Café Français and relishes stingray and frog legs.

He also loves heading to ramen joints like ‘Choka Soba Inoue’ in Tokyo and ‘Waku Ghin’ and ‘Iggy’s in Singapore. Is there any place that he hasn’t been to and would love to explore for its food? “I haven’t been to Italy yet, although I believe I will be going there in November,” he informs.  

As someone whose philosophy is to keep it simple, is there any tip that he would like to give home cooks when it comes to preparing crabs? “India has good crab. Just make sure that it’s fresh and not frozen and your dish will not go wrong.”

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