Did you know that Brazil has the largest Japanese population in the world outside of Japan? And that in Sao Paolo, one could even find entirely Japanese neighborhoods as well as a famous weekly fair selling authentic ethnic products and foodstuffs? I didn’t, and the instant I read about this phenomenon, my thoughts were directed to eating Japanese food in Brazil. Though we did not step foot in Sao Paolo, we decided to seek out some Japanese restaurants in other cities, reasoning that the quality should at least be on par, if not better than what’s on offer in Paris. Looking back, our assumption was quite naïve, akin to assuming pizza in Texas would be as good as pizza in New York, or that New York barbeque would be of the same standard as the real Texan deal. Our Japanese food search in Rio de Janeiro and Curitiba yielded rather middling results, though if one was truly hungry for some sushi or ramen, the restaurants we visited would suffice in a pinch.
Benkei Sushi: A mini chain in Rio de Janeiro, its selling points were the convenient location and the BRL55 rodizio deal that comes with all you can eat sushi, sashimi and cooked dishes from a pretty extensive menu. Unfortunately, the raw fish, while not yet bad was nearing its sell-by date, its texture turning a little mushy. In fact, we had much fresher tasting sashimi at the churrascaria Boi Preto a week later. Cooked items were surprisingly decent, with compact and juicy fried gyozas and greaseless fried appetizers. Yes it is all you can eat, but in the end, the limited raw fish options and the middling quality of the fish rendered the deal less than worth it. Lesson learnt, no more all you can eat sushi deals for me.
Lamen House: We read about Lamen House in Curitiba on an online review, and went by faith, partly because ramen sounded enticing after 2 weeks of rice and beans, but mostly because we were eager to get out of depressingly gritty downtown Curitiba. Located in the quiet residential area of Agua Verde, Lamen House is run by a Japanese Brazilian chef, and the restaurant offers not just a choice between Shoyu and Miso Ramen, but also a list of non-sushi fare, such as Tonkatsu and Japanese curry.
Our food was pretty decent and the price was quite inexpensive for Brazilian standards. So the ramen was a little more cooked than what I like and there was only 1 slice of the authentic tasting pork. But the broth, with the addition of butter was sufficiently thick and flavorful. The katsudon had a homemade quality and was very hearty and comforting, albeit a bit too wet. Not a meal worth seeking out especially for, but it was a good break from the rich meals we’ve been eating, with the friendly service and low key ambience extra bonuses.
Benkei Sushi: Avenida Henrique Dumont, 71 – Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Lamen House: Rua Petit Carneiro, 272 – Água Verde, Curitiba, Brazil