Brazilian sushi?!

Manioka, Viale Aventino

Romans are major bandwagon jumpers. Meaning that if somebody stumbles on a good thing, before long everyone is doing it, at which point it is arguably no longer such a good thing. Here are some examples: Back in the 1990s, someone thought it would be a good idea to open an Irish pub in Rome (actually there were a couple around prior to that). Before long there was an Irish pub on every street corner. Now most of them are closed. Electronic gambling parlours, smokeless cigarette stores, hamburger joints, Dutch-type french fry joints, dollar stores (mostly run by Chinese people), late night convenience stores (mostly run by Pakistani people) followed suit. I have no idea whether bandwagon jumping is a strictly Roman proclivity (the last two examples would argue that it is not. Or perhaps it’s something in the water?) but it is definitely a thing here. So I wasn’t particularly surprised to find that Rome currently hosts no fewer than five Brazilian sushi restaurants. What surprised me was the Brazilian sushi part. 

Japanese immigrants working on coffee plantation, Brazil

It shouldn’t have. The phenomenon is akin to the myriad Cuban-Chinese restaurants that dotted Manhattan’s Upper West Side when I was in grad school. That weird combo was due to the fact that Cuba imported hundreds of male contract workers (‘coolies’) from China in the 1850s to work in the sugar fields. Likewise Brazil, which today has the largest Japanese population outside of Japan. Japanese immigrants began arriving in the early 20th Century, enticed by a labour shortage on the coffee plantations. Interestingly, the shortage occurred when Italy passed a law in 1902 forbidding subsidised immigration to Brazil. When the slave trade was outlawed in 1850, the Brazilian elite decided to offer virtually free passage to European immigrants, both as a source of cheap labour but also to ‘whiten’ up the population, which included large groups of African ex-slaves and native American. Millions of Europeans — mostly Italians — migrated to Brazil in search of a better life but once there they were abused and cheated and paid practically nothing by the Brazilians who hadn’t quite lost that slave-owning mentality. Hence the Italian law. Meanwhile, the end of feudalism in Japan caused enormous poverty in the rural areas, which led many people to emigrate. The Japanese weren’t allowed in the US thanks to a nifty little law banning non-white immigration from certain parts of the world (Yes, it is true. We have always sucked).  But Brazil welcomed them with open arms, except for the massive racism and forced assimilation part. But that’s another story.

Edamame with fresh ginger, rice vinegar and soy sauce.

Salmon and avocado with sweet and sour sauce and cassava mayonnaise.

So, Brazilian sushi. The notion confused me at first since I have always associated Brazil with feijoada and big chunks of meat from the churrascaria. But, as it turns out Brazilians eat a lot of fish– especially in the north and coastal areas — and they eat a lot of sushi. Brazilian sushi is a fusion thing, which brings together the raw fresh fish we all love with typical Brazilian tastes. Think salmon with mango, yuzu and a spicy passion fruit sauce. Or tuna with coriander, cucumber and a spicy gazpacho sauce. Or tempura shrimp with guacamole, cashews and teriyaki sauce. And samba. And caipirinhas. Trust me, it’s pretty great. And available at a rapidly growing number of restaurants throughout Rome.  The one on Viale Aventino is highly recommended.

Salmon and tempura shrimp with spicy mayonnaise.

Manioka, Viale Aventino 123. Tel: 06 5742149. Open 7 days a week, 12:00-2:30 & 7:00-11:30.

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