Chef's Thoughts on Tokyo:
Indian Restaurant Owners on Finding their Forever Home in Tokyo
A Long Time Coming
Jeetendra Khemlani has worked in the hospitality industry his whole life. Starting his career at a hotel in Mumbai, he then went on to help a relative open an Indian restaurant in Jakarta, eventually deciding to stay and run the business for three years. While running the restaurant, he caught the attention of a regular customer from America who invited him to take the next step in his career by opening an Indian restaurant on the large island of Sakhalin, Far East Asia. During the eight years spent in Sakhalin, he would take regular business trips to the nearby island of Hokkaido, and, after familiarizing himself with the island, decided it was the best next stage for him and his family.
Sending his sons to an international school in Sapporo, Hokkaido's capital, was the impetus for the move, but their early impressions of Japanese people and the way of life there made the decision to move easy.
"I really wanted my kids to grow up in Japan. My wife and I believed that if our kids grew up in this country, they would definitely become well-rounded human beings."
Having grown up in the major city of Mumbai, Jeetendra's heart was set on moving to Tokyo after the completion of his boys' schooling. When the time came, filled with nostalgia for big city life and the excitement of a new challenge, he began the search for a new restaurant location in Tokyo. Eventually finding it in Tokyo Square Garden, a commercial and business complex next to Kyobashi Station in Chuo City, he opened Bombay Sizzlers in 2021.
Tokyo Supplies an Authentic Taste
While there are numerous Indian restaurants in Tokyo, the Khemlanis distinguish themselves by providing Tokyo residents with an authentic taste of India. Jalpa designs the menu, and Indian chefs are brought in to ensure it meets her high standards. "She's my boss," Jeetendra states. "She does the recipes, trains the staff in the kitchen... a lot of things." Though he may have found the space, he asserts that it was Jalpa who made it into the restaurant it is today.
The Khemlanis have had little difficulty finding everything they need for their food here in the city. "Most of the ingredients are locally available, there are so many stores and shops," he tells us. Despite the availability of produce imported from India, he often opts for domestically-produced ingredients such as curry leaves from Okinawa and flour from Hokkaido. The latter of which he declares makes the naan here even better than in India, explaining, "The quality is better."
The restaurant's consistent reputation for exceptional food ensures a steady stream of loyal patrons. Bombay Sizzlers remains bustling, serving more than 200 set meals to the lunchtime office crowd and catering to a diverse and varied dinner clientele. A mixture of Japanese and international residents, including many Indian residents who come for a taste of home. "We are blessed. Well, obviously they like the food, I'm happy they love it."
For the Khemlanis, making sure that their customers leave happy is more important than making money, "It's about serving good food to people, serving authentic Indian food, what you get in India, to our customers."
Plenty of Room for Expansion
Though the Khemlanis themselves are not in any rush to expand their business, they know that Tokyo is only getting started when it comes to international cuisine. Jeetendra encourages anyone considering launching their own international restaurant in Japan's capital, "They should come! It's a great place to live and experience." He goes on to exalt the virtues of Tokyo, such as the efficiency of its public transport, the cleanliness of its streets, and the organized nature of daily life. Still, the biggest reason he gives is that "The people are so nice... for me that is the main thing."
When asked about future plans to move, he tells us, "We're not moving to any other country because this is the best place."
As for their own restaurant, the Khemlanis invite everyone to come and try their food at Bombay Sizzlers, leaving us with the message, "We are here to serve you."
Photos by Laura Pollacco