It is not from today that Japanese cuisine is successful in Brazil. In São Paulo, for example, a long time ago Japanese restaurants left the limits of the Japanese neighborhood of Liberdade, and spread to all corners of the city. Now, however, the Brazilian know-how in the preparation of sushi and sashimi has reached the Arab world.
Since early this year, the Cairo neighborhood of Zamalek has hosted two points of sale under the Mori Sushi brand, established 15 years ago in São Paulo by a son of Japanese parents, Francisco Morita Filho.
One of them, on Gabalaya street, is a fully-fledged Japanese restaurant, the other is a sushi bar in Sequóia, a popular restaurant in the Egyptian capital that mixes aromas and flavors from various parts of the world.
The Sequóia, incidentally, is something else. Located on the banks of the Nile, with a beautiful view, the environment is ample, lofty, with modern decoration and has an international menu that ranges from sushi to Lebanese specialties that are very well known in Brazil, like kibbehs and leaf rolls.
There it is also possible to lie back in the comfortable low chairs and smoke a shisha, choosing among tobaccos of various aromas, which range from apple, to banana, peach, orange and coffee, among many others.
Morita Filho, whose father was the owner of ancient supermarket chain Supermercados Morita, met his Egyptian partner, businessman Hossam Fahmy, last year, in São Paulo. Fahmy operates in the shoe sector and was in Brazil on business.
"He had a meal at our restaurant, liked it and proposed the opening of a branch in Cairo," said Morita. "At the time my business here was doing fine so I decided to go through with the new experiment," he added.
At the invitation of Fahmy, the Brazilian businessman went to Cairo to visit the city and proceed with the deal. Apart from licensing his brand, Morita also transferred know-how in the preparation of Japanese dishes. His sushiman, Aldo Aoyagi, spent three months in Egypt training his Arab colleagues in the art of making Brazilian-style sushi.
"They knew the traditional sushi, not the ones we have here, invented in Brazil," stated Aoyagi, a son of a Japanese father and a nisei mother, born in Brazil from Japanese parents. During his stay in Cairo, he introduced ingredients to the recipes, like breaded shrimp, cream cheese and fruit like strawberry and mango.
The inventiveness of Brazilian sushimen may be compared to that of contemporary cuisine chefs, but also includes the simpler rice cakes accompanied by typical ingredients like raw tuna and salmon, ranging to traditional Brazilian fruit and also including foie gras.
Aoyagi's stay in Egypt and his salary over the period were covered by Fahmy. "I prioritized the training of three sushimen, who had some experience, and they are supposed to pass what they learnt on to others," he said. "I was very well received there, they treated me very well, I visited the homes of my colleagues and met their families," he added.
With the experience, Aoyagi and Morita changed their point of view on the Arab world. Used to seeing television news about the conflict in the Middle East, they found in Egypt a friendly and hospitable people.
"In the personal aspect, the experience served to diversify the image I had of the Muslim religion," stated Morita. "On arriving in Egypt we meet friendly people. You can, for example, walk in the street with a camera hanging round your neck without fearing being robbed. People stop you to talk, they even seem like Brazilians," he added.
According to Morita, the agreement with the Egyptian businessman has not involved financial gain. "In the long-term, the experience – the acquisition of knowledge – is more valuable than the financial gain," he added.
Thus, in the same way as Aoyagi went to Egypt, Fahmy sent to Brazil one of his employees, called Abdul Kareim, to spend a period in São Paulo learning with the daily life at Mori Sushi, which has two restaurants in the city of São Paulo.
Although the Arab and Japanese cultures are very different, their presence in Brazil has similar characteristics. Brazil has the largest Arab community outside the Arab world, and also has the largest Japanese community outside Japan and, in both cases; São Paulo has the largest communities.
The start of the Japanese immigration to Brazil is going to complete one century next year. The first Japanese arrived in Santos on the Kasato Maru, in 1908. The Arabs, in turn, started arriving in the country in the late nineteenth century.
In the beginning, the representatives of both groups worked in different fields, the Japanese mainly in agriculture and the Arabs in trade. Today, however, the descendants of these immigrants are present in practically all segments of the Brazilian society.
Another similarity is the cultural presence. There are various organizations and groups of Arab and Japanese origin. In the same way as it is possible to eat kibbehs, sfihas, hummus and kafta anywhere in São Paulo, it is also possible to flavor sushi, sashimi, tempura and yakisoba anywhere, even at street seller stands.
If you want to buy a shisha, all you have to do is go to 25 de Março street, in downtown São Paulo, to find one. But if you want to prepare a sukiyaki, a traditional Japanese dish, all you have to do is visit Liberdade, also in downtown, and get the ingredients.
Tel: (+55 11) 3872-0976
Rua Melo Palheta, 284, Perdizes, São Paulo – SP
Mori Sushi Jardins
Tel: (+55 11) 3898-2977
Rua da Consolação, 3610, Jardins. São Paulo – SP
Mori Sushi Cairo
Tel: (+202) 135-0206
19, Gabalaya street, Zamalek, Cairo
Tel: (+202) 735-0014
Abu El-Feda street, Zamalek, Cairo
Anba – www.anba.com.br