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A delivery man striding through the door of Wasabi on Tuesday morning carries a large box of salmon from a Chinese business.
He passes through the Japanese restaurant, past the brightly lit bar, and toward the open kitchen at the back of the restaurant.
There Helcler Gutenberg from Brazil, the sushi chef, rolls the raw salmon around rice as might be expected at a sushi restaurant.
However, he also adds some unusual ingredients – ones that hint at the journey some of these dishes have taken from Japan through Brazil before they reached Dorset Street in Dublin’s north inner-city.
Japan and Brazil
More than a hundred years ago, people from Japan started moving to Brazil to work in the coffee industry in the state of São Paulo, according to the Oxford Encyclopedia of Latin American History.
Immigration from Japan to Brazil peaked in the late 1920s and early 1930s, “in the face of growing anti-Japanese sentiment in Brazil”, and soon a backlash began, culminating in 1942, when Brazil stopped allowing Japanese people to immigrate.
By then, the number of Japanese immigrants had reached 188,986. Over time, people of Japanese descent living in Brazil moved to citizens and “joined the urban middle class”.
Immigration has gone both ways since then, with Japanese Brazilians moving in large numbers to Japan during the mid-1980s when Brazil’s economy wasn’t doing well, and some of them and their descendents returning to Brazil during the most recent recession, the book says.
And today Brazil has the largest number of people of Japanese descent outside of Japan, according to Rafael Hygino Meggiolaro, a high school history teacher from Brazil.
Nowadays the number of people of Japanese descent numbers 1.9 million.
“There are whole neighbourhoods of Japanese descendents from São Paulo. They usually have their own restaurants, but now there are lots of [other] Brazilians doing Japanese foods,” Meggiolaro says.
Wasabi, the Japanese restaurant on Dorset Street, is run by sister and brother Fabiana Ribeiro and Alexandre De Jesus. Ribeiro’s the owner, and De Jesus is the director. Both are from Brazil.
De Jesus greets me with a wave when I enter. The restaurant is open only two months, he says.
Before, they had a much smaller premises about a 100 metres up the road. That’s still there, but it focuses specifically on sushi. Here they also have a bar and grill.
Ribeiro had run a small Brazilian restaurant in Rathmines a number of years ago and was looking for a new business opportunity.
She was thinking fish and chips, says De Jesus.
De Jesus, though, had studied back in Brazil and when he moved here four years ago, he told his sister about how popular Japanese food had become there.
“Before there was just rich people that could eat sushi,” he says. “Then it became cheaper and everyone wanted to try and everybody liked it.”
Sushi with a Brazilian Twist
In the kitchen, Gutenberg, the sushi chef, rolls raw salmon around rice. The first customers should soon arrive once the restaurant opens at noon.
He’s is making “Joi”, he says. It’s sushi with salmon rolled around rice, topped with cream cheese and shaved spring onions.
The cream cheese, he says, is the Brazilian twist. “Japanese sushi is not common with cream cheese.”
He puts one of the “Joi”s on a plate and hands over a set of wooden chopsticks. The cream cheese doesn’t overwhelm the salmon. In fact it reminds me of a cream cheese and salmon bagel. A staple of Saturday brunches. It’s a great combination.
De Jesus puts a hot roll in the deep-fryer, another Brazilian take on Japanese food.
Sixty percent of his customers are Brazilian, but many others are coming too, due to word-of-mouth, he says.
De Jesus drops down three hot rolls to the table. They’re similar to the “Joi”s, but this time, are deep fried in panko, Japanese breadcrumbs.
They’re crunchy with the velvet texture of the salmon escaping with each bite.