I was going through the old pictures of Banaras I have clicked over the years and stumbled upon a bunch of pictures of this quaint Japanese cafe and restaurant from our visit two years back. Yes, I had planned to share a review but something or the other kept me occupied and this experience could never be shared.
Better late than never. This cafe is called i:ba and has a rustic zen to it's decor. We were actually taken in for a surprise when we entered at lunch time that day. We were the only guests in the restaurant and settled down quickly, claming all the space to ourselves. One look at the menu and we understood they have a fairly good Japanese spread but they do serve some pasta and chow mien fare as well, they even has some Indian meals back then. Not sure whether they have changed the menu in the last 2 years since we were there.
The decor definitely appealed to us. Comfortable couches and low tables mostly but a few dining tables too so one can choose what suits better.
Rustic Indian murals, woodwork and some cane baskets etc paired really well with a calming blue sky painted along the roofing. Well air conditioned and well kept I must add, though I felt the servers could be more presentable.
We had gone there with a good mind to try Japanese food in Banaras. Had heard about the owner who is a Japanese and had married a local girl to settle down in the city. Such stories of romance between foreigners and locals is not new for the city but it is always great to witness if it brings something good to the city too. I would want the society to be more open to new ideas and changes but we can do with a cafe where we can get to eat some Japanese food for now.
It would be even better if they get fish suited for sushi and sashimi too and if they get to serve all types of meats some day.
We could get an idea that the menu was designed to cater to the city folks more than the tourists. I feel more youngsters and students go there for experimentation and may be for a quite date. The pricing can pinch a student's pocket in the city though, but they can always decide to eat just one filling dish and not eat many courses.
We ordered Pan fried gyoza, Miso soup, Curry Udon, Mutton Yakiniku don and a set Japanese meal platter. For the two of us this was quite a lot of food but we wanted to taste as much as we could.
I liked the use of local vegetables in every dish we tasted. There is not much option to get fresh variety of mushrooms, imported greens and sea food in the city and I don't mind local ingredients being used for the food.
i:ba uses good quality Wakame, dried Shitake and Miso paste etc to bring flavour I could see. Miso soup was spot on, perfect.
They import many Japanese ingredients and the taste of miso paste and pickles (on the side) was impeccable but the use of local vegetables lends a taste that gives it a local twist even if it is not intentional. I must add that the taste of local vegetables grown in the Gangetic plains is different from anywhere else and we do notice the change of taste even when compared to Delhi.
The use of mutton and chicken only in the non vegetarian dishes is understandable as serving Beef or Pork in the city wouldn't be possible. Not sure if it is allowed but most people wouldn't go to places where these meats are served as much I understand.
I am glad there is a Japanese restaurant in the city which is a great respite from the chaats and street food for a traveler. There are many more gems in the city that I have been planning to write about. A nice bakery called English bread that serves wonderful Bagels apart from other breads and pastries, another Lebanese cafe that someone runs in his courtyard and many tea shops and cafes that cater to the foreign travelers more than the desi ones, but worth a visit to understand how so many people keep coming back to Banaras.
It is not just the spirituality, there is something more to the culture and lifestyle that attracts travelers from all around the globe.
How to reach i:ba Cafe?
Take a rickshaw from anywhere in the city towards Shivala and ask the rickshaw guy to take you to Agarwal Radio if coming from Nagwa or Bhelupur. The narrow lane just before Agarwal Radio is where you have to take a turn to your left, keep looking at your left and you will see i:ba cafe after a few meters.
If coming from Vijaya cinema (towards Shivala) you have to keep looking towards your right to find this cafe just before you reach Shivala tiraha.
Remember Agarwal Radio is an old shop and your landmark. People are generally helpful and will tell directions if you are lost.
Note that i:ba cafe is market on Google too.