At first glance, the above photo taken in a Tokyo restaurant might appear to show a fairly routine assortment of curries with some rice and naan bread. But do you notice that the two pieces of naan are different colors? That’s because the paler one in the background is ordinary naan, while the one in the center of the photo is vegan naan.
I took this picture at the Ginza branch of Nataraj, a vegetarian Indian restaurant whose 1,100 yen lunch buffet I partake of about once a month.
And if you zoom in on the curry near the rear of the photo, you’ll notice something amazing: It’s made with black-eyed peas. These are so rare in Tokyo that all the Japanese people I’ve asked for the name of these lovely legumes—including the wait staff at the only other place I know of that serves them—have been stumped. But thanks to the signage at Nataraj’s lunchtime buffet, I now know black-eyed peas are called “robia mame.” Googling this term led me to the anticlimactic discovery that they are also known as “kurome mame.”
The Nataraj buffet consists of rice, four different kinds of vegetarian curry, the two kinds of nan, a token salad, coffee and tea, and kheer rice pudding for dessert.
The four curries have been different on each of my visits, and I’ve always enjoyed at least three of them. Usually all four. There always seems to be a soupy lentil curry, and on one recent visit it was intensely garlicky – which I mean as a compliment. There’s often one dish spicy enough to make me sweat, while the rest are milder. Sometimes there’s a sweet curry, such as creamy korma made with nuts and fruit. Other featured ingredients include peas, beans, mushrooms, onions, potato, cauliflower and chewy vegetarian “meat.”
As tends to happen at all-you-can-eat buffets, I often eat more than I intended to. But since it’s all veggie, it’s easier for me to tell myself that this is OK.
Address: 7th floor, 6-9-4 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-0061
Phone/Fax: (03) 5537-1515