There’s something about sushi that makes sensible people go a little bit nuts – and not just in Santiago de Chile. The ancient Japanese cuisine has become a passion for many santiaguinos, and the sushi-crazy city now boasts more than 200 sushi bars in its Metropolitan Region.
So how has this once-exotic food become such a staple for food lovers in the long and winding Andean nation?
Santiago’s first sushi
Japón was the first Japanese restaraunt to have been founded in Chile, 1978. The restaurant’s two chefs, Takeo Nahito and Kazuhiko Fusi, after having cooked sushi in New York together for around 15 years, decided to invest in a sushi bar in Chile: the Japón.
The pair are still a mainstay of the restaraunt, preparing the menu, waiting at the bar, filleting fish and advised clients on culinary choices. “Until 10 or 12 years ago the majority of our clients were Japanese,” says Takuro Tomita, the restaurant’s administrator. “It´s different now: around 90 percent are Chilean.”
When the pair arrived in Chile in 1988 “Santiago´s middle class did not exist,” they tell us. “Little by little life has changed and the people have begun to search for new and exciting ways to eat – easily found in Japanese cuisine.”
Today’s health-conscious Chileans have taken the low-fat, nutritious Japanese cuisine to their hearts. “Women take care of themselves” – Tomita gestures with his hands – “and this has brought us much success.”
Sushi´s unique flavour, known in Japan as ’umami’, comes from the glutamic acid it contains which is found in proteins such as meat and cheese. It is a key amino acid for organisms, with the stomach, intestine, pancreas and spleen consuming 95 percent of glutamic acid consumed in the diet.
The Japón way
Restaurant Japón, which has six branches and offers unique ‘tatami’ spaces to eat barefoot, is far from your typical mass-market sushi brand.
The restaurant’s owners don’t chase publicity, preferring to let the quality of their work speak for itself. They attract customers by word of mouth and maintain a simple, restrained ambiance.
Experts praise the beautiful presentation, the freshness of the ingredients – which are prepared in front of your eyes – and, above all, the quality of the food. Along with excellent sushi and nigiri, customers can try classic Japanese dishes such as Battered Unagi (freshwater eel) and Nabeyaki Ubari soup (with meat, noodles, vegetables and tofu).
As blogger-critic Jaime Landeros, of the gourmet site La Buena Vida, writes: “Honestly, I don’t think you’ll find better sushi anywhere in Santiago.”
Barón Pierre de Coubertin 39, Santiago.
Telephone: +56 (02) 222 4517