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Daruma Japanese Restaurant

Why not try it? Just beware the strange green stuff

One of the greatest challenges of Japanese food for Westerners is simply ordering it. You can be confident that nothing served at Daruma Japanese Restaurant is going to kill you, though, so when the waitress randomly asks if you would like some salmon sashimi, you might as well take a 'why not' attitude. You then get the added surprise of waiting to see what turns up.

The main attraction of the establishment on Second Road, between Sois 5 and 6, is the shabu-shabu and sushi buffet. Indeed, the building's very Japanese-styled interior (which matches the equally styled exterior, leaving customers under no illusions of what national cuisine they will be enjoying) appears to be designed around this as practically the only attraction.

Sushi is well enough known around the world and the small dishes with colourful combinations of raw fish, vegetables, rice and seaweed wrappings trundle around the restaurant on the conveyor belt in the well-known way. Once you have chosen the buffet, anything on the conveyor is fair game for you to pluck off as it goes by. You can even get a pictorial guide so that you can tell the nigiri from the maki (nigiri are the ones with something laid on top of a lump of rice; maki are the ones which look like a colourful, rice-filled Swiss roll). If you want something specific from the list or a serving of sashimi (lumps of raw fish), the sushi chef is hard at work right in the middle of the room.

Shabu-shabu is a less common experience in the West, but those familiar with Thai-style barbecues will see some similarities in the table layout, with its recessed hot plate and dish of boiling soup in the centre. You will be provided with a selection of vegetables, noodles and raw sliced beef, pork, bacon, fish, shrimp and squid which, just for a change, you actually eat cooked in the soup.

You will also be provided with a couple of condiments to dip the results in. For any who have never really tried Japanese food before, beware the strange green stuff. Wasabi is otherwise known as Japanese horseradish, but it bares a greater resemblance to a .44 Magnum than it does to the peppery white sauce of its namesake – it'll blow your head clean off!

As previously stated, nothing at Daruma is going to kill you. Indeed, all of the food is perfectly prepared and tastes great. One of the major fears amongst Westerners, with regard to sushi, is the stories about the potentially lethal delicacies like pufferfish. Even though such creatures are actually relatively abundant in the Gulf of Thailand, such an expensive dish – which requires the expertise of a sushi chef with years of experience to prepare properly and safely – cannot be found in Pattaya and certainly not at a buffet which costs less than 500THB.

Despite such a low price – which is even cheaper for children – the quality of the sushi is excellent. Dishes include such fine meats as tuna and salmon, alongside tekka (a Japanese vegetable), tamago (grilled egg) and ebiko (prawn eggs). The sauces in these preparations are also very rich and flavourful. It takes a surprisingly small amount of sushi to fill you to capacity.

Given that Daruma is right on the corner of a small side-road with a perpetual flow of Japanese tour buses going down it, it is not that surprising that diners are generally given a pair of chopsticks and then left to their own devices under the assumption that they know what to do. For those who don't know all of the lingo, a menu full of Japanese names for weird-looking foods can be quite jarring and about as useful as a menu written entirely in Japanese characters. However, the buffet here offers a great and inexpensive way to explore and enjoy this fantastic and often surprising cuisine.