The certification program of Japanese Food and Ingredient Supporter Stores Overseas
Interview of Suppoter Stores Restaurante Aizomê
A Japanese restaurant that also serves as a center for promoting Japanese culture
Sao Paulo / Brazil
A center for promoting Japanese culture
Restaurante Aizomê (main branch) is a restaurant with a hideaway atmosphere that opened in a residential area a few streets away from Paulista Avenue in 2007; it originally started as an authentic Japanese restaurant targeting Japanese people only. It gradually became acknowledged by Brazilian gourmets, and is now a famous restaurant that has won numerous national awards. In addition, in 2019, Aizomê opened the "Aizomê Japan House Restaurant" (JH Restaurant) in "Japan House," which is a facility for the promotion of Japanese culture opened under the initiative of the Japanese government in 2017.
On a daily basis, Japan House hosts exhibitions and seminars on Japan’s leading edge technology and traditional culture, and it bustles with large numbers of business people and Brazilian visitors who want to know more about Japanese culture. "Fusion Japanese cuisine," which incorporates local tastes and food presentation, is popular in Brazil, but the JH Restaurant, as an establishment that targets Brazilian people, acts as a center for promoting Japanese culture that involves the tastes and techniques of pure Japanese cuisine, together with traditional hospitality.
Encounter between Japanese and Brazilian ingredients via "one soup and three side dishes"
The chef is Telma Shiraishi, who is a non-Japanese person of Japanese descent. She is appointed as the chef at the official residence of the Japanese consul general in San Paulo, and as a Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries "goodwill ambassador for the promotion of Japanese food."
The set meals made by chef Shiraishi follow the "one soup and three side dishes" basis used in Japanese cuisine. While using Brazilian seasonal fish, vegetables and fruit, etc., as the basic ingredients, she applies the techniques of Japanese cuisine to create Japanese set meals. For this reason, Chilean salmon, which is very popular with Brazilians, and can be said to be a main ingredient of "fusion Japanese cuisine," is not used at Aizomê.
The soup stock, which is the basis of the Aizomê taste, is made with Japanese kombu and Brazilian shiitake mushrooms so that it can be offered to vegans. Soba or udon noodles, etc., and—depending on the meal—soup stock made with Japanese katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes) are also provided.
"Even Brazilians notice that Aizomê’s miso soup, soba and udon noodles have 'something different' to those of other restaurants. Our serving staff are trained to be able to explain what that 'something different' is," says chef Shiraishi.
Starting point for expanding export of Japanese-made food ingredients
Aizomê is certified as a "Japanese-made food ingredient supporter store," but is committed to creating Japanese food that makes good use of Brazilian ingredients. However, in order to offer better Japanese cuisine, and especially with regard to the basic seasonings in Japanese food, many of the ingredients used are not from Brazil, but are produced in Japan. In addition, the restaurant improvises in a number of ways, such as the vinegar used for sushi rice being a mixture of Japanese and Brazilian vinegars. Owner Marcelo Shiraichi says, "Every time I visit Japan, I come across good ingredients that are well matched to the Aizomê concept. There are many ingredients we want that cannot be made in Brazil, such as quality vinegar, mirin containing alcohol, wasabi, Japanese mustard and nori, but Brazil’s high taxation and complicated system are a barrier, and it is difficult to actually get things imported. I hope that Aizomê can become a starting point and create of a virtuous circle in which 'restaurants use good ingredients, Brazilians recognize the value of good ingredients, and importers increase imports of good ingredients.'"
Enjoying the "heavy responsibility" of promoting Japanese food culture
"At Japan House, a Japanese culture promotion center created under the initiative of the Japanese government, the role and responsibility of promoting correct Japanese food culture is extremely heavy," says owner Mr. Shiraishi; however, chef Ms. Shiraishi says, "I like both learning and teaching," and she seems to enjoy the "heavy responsibility." At Japan House, the structure of JH Restaurant’s menu and its food presentation is changed in accordance with the regularly changing exhibition content, and the restaurant cooperates with sake suppliers to hold sake/cuisine pairing events, etc.; "I feel like I’m playing a lot," laughs chef Shiraishi.
"'Fusion Japanese cuisine' is not bad, but the fact is that, in Brazil, a Japanese food culture has formed that is different to that in Japan. Recently, the number of ramen restaurants and izakayas has increased, and increasing numbers of Brazilians are interested in Japanese food that is not 'fusion Japanese cuisine.' At the important center that Japan House represents, we want to promote correct Japanese food culture to consumers, and contribute to improving Brazil’s overall food culture," says owner Mr. Shiraishi, expressing his hopes.