Nishi-Kasai: A little taste of India in Tokyo

Nishi-Kasai: A little taste of India in Tokyo

We head to Tokyo's most predominantly Indian neighborhood to check out the masala dosa, nutmeg chicken korma, potato samosas and more.
Masala dosa is a Southern Indian specialty and available only at Spice Magic Calcutta's Minami-guchi property.
When Tokyo's Indian immigrants get hungry for real Indian food, they head straight for Nishi-Kasai. Over the last ten years, this Edogawa neighborhood has become home to the largest Indian population in Japan.

"There used to be only seventeen Indians in the area," says Manoj Dewan, who manages both branches of the popular restaurant Spice Magic Calcutta. “Now, there are around 2,400."

With the influx of arrivals came the need for places catering to the tastes and culture of the growing community. Dewan, along with the members of a volunteer group called the Indian Community of Edogawa, also organizes events featuring Indian food and performances to celebrate important holidays such as Diwali, the spectacular festival of lights. The association is planning its next event for Holi, the Hindu color festival, this March.

"It'll be fun. Good food and free hugs for everyone," he laughs.

Spice Magic Calcutta Kita-guchi

In 2000, community leader Jagoman Chandrani opened Spice Magic Calcutta's first branch (Nishi-kasai 3-13-3, Edogawa-ku, tel. 03 5667 3885) as a take-away counter for homesick IT engineers in search of authentic Indian fare. Although most of Spice Magic's regulars are Indians in the IT industry, the restaurant has gained a following among Japanese locals as well.

The simple interior reflects the unfussy home-style cooking that has made the restaurant famous. A large notice board announcing rooms for rent and language lessons recalls its beginnings as a culture center.

The Kita-guchi branch serves food from northern India -- flaky potato-filled samosas, nutmeg-infused chicken korma, and salty paneer cheese floating in creamy sag spinach curry. Among the house specialties are tandoori chicken and gooey cheese naan.

While the restaurant sources local vegetables from a farmer's collective in Chiba, they use spices and other ingredients directly from India, most of which are available at the Spice Magic Bazaar grocery store upstairs.

Nishi-KasaiManoj Dewan and the crew from Spice Magic Minami-guchi offer a very special dosa.Spice Magic Calcutta Minami-guchi

Located five minutes from the south exit of the station, Spice Magic's sister restaurant (2 Coastal Bldg #201, Nishi-kasai 6-24-5, Edogawa-ku, tel. 03 3688 4817) offers a taste of southern Indian cuisine and a touch of relaxed 'dhaba' (roadside eatery) atmosphere. Cricket plays on the wide-screen TV near the entrance, while the cooks at the back sing Indian songs sotto voce.

On weekends, the restaurant fills up with Indian expats who come for the coconut-simmered Chettinad chicken curry, donut-shaped fried vada breads and tamarind-scented sambar vegetable stew. It's the only place in town to find dishes such as Masala Dosa -- a paper-thin, buttery crepe made from rice flour, stuffed with spiced potatoes and served with fresh coconut chutney and piquant tomato puree.

Dewan hopes to open two more branches specializing in Eastern and Western cuisine: "India is a very diverse country, and we want to welcome all, from all parts of India."

Swagat Indian Bazaar

Hidden on the second floor of a nondescript building in Nishi-Kasai 5-Chome, this tiny shop (Nishi-Kasai 5-11-11 2F, Edogawa-ku, tel. 03 3680 9490) sells everything from 10 kg bags of Basmati rice to giant strips of cinnamon bark. The metal shelves are stocked with several varieties of dried lentils and beans, jars of ghee and brightly colored packages filled with spices.

The clientele is almost exclusively Indian, but the friendly staff welcomes everyone with hands clasped in greeting and, during quiet times, a hot cup of chai.