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A taste for sushi made in Myanmar

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YANGON--Compared to the other sushi booms around the globe, the one that's budding in Myanmar (Burma) promises to be different.
That's because the sushi restaurants here are not targeting Japanese or other foreigners. And the Burmese chefs, who once toiled faithfully in Japan, don't mind tossing in some local flavor.
In the former capital of Yangon (Rangoon), which is home to roughly 500 Japanese expatriates, there are at least 10 sushi restaurants. Some supermarkets have set up sit-down and take-out sushi counters.
Shoda-zushi, in the city's central China Town, opened in January. Its six tables, seating four people each, are always crowded.

Few Japanese residents in Yangon, however, know about the restaurant. The owner of the shop, Maung, 46, says his targets are locals, not Japanese.
"We aim at local guests. Since we apply Burmese flavor, I don't think Japanese will like our sushi," he said in fluent Japanese.

Maung worked in sushi shops in Tokyo and elsewhere for 15 years. He named his restaurant "Shoda" after the Japanese name he used when he was making sushi in Japan.
After returning home in 2002, he tried to start up a mobile sushi bar in preparation for opening a business.
(Takeout sushi is available at this supermarket in Yangon.)

"I thought sushi would be popular here since Burmese like new things," he said. "But they weren't familiar with the food, so I had to bring out a flavor to match their taste."
Maung uses local rice, which is seasoned sweeter than Japanese vinegared rice. He said locals prefer sushi rolled in seaweed and with mayonnaise. A plate of several pieces is priced at about 1,000 kyat (about 90 yen, or $1), not so reasonable compared with the prices for noodles, which cost 200 to 300 kyat per bowl.

The origin of sushi's new popularity here can be found at Samurai-zushi, which opened in 2006. With authentic nigiri (hand-molded sushi), the store initially attracted only foreign tourists.
But two years later, it opened a sister shop with a capacity of more than 100 seats. Now half the customers are Burmese.

Japanese Restaurants in Yangon

Tokyo Bar
2nd Floor, The Grand Meeyahtar Hotel, No.372, Bogyoke Aung San Road
Pabaedan Township, Yangon.
Ph: 385101, 256355~6 Ext: 2201, 2202

Japan Japan
No. 239, Pansodan Street, Kyauktada Township, Yangon.
Ph: 095130016

No. 357, Shwe Bon Thar Street
Pabaedan Township, Yangon.

Its operator, Htay Aung Kyaw, 42, lived in Japan for 12 years from 1989, working for sushi restaurants in Tokyo's Shibuya and Shinjuku wards. As an apprentice, he had to wash dishes and cook the rice before learning to prepare the ingredients and to make nigiri.

"I was often yelled at by my boss," he recalled. "But I worked 12 hours a day. Sometimes I was in tears."
Cheap kaiten (conveyor-belt) and franchised sushi restaurants increased dramatically in Japan during the gourmet fad of the 1990s. Low-paid foreign workers, including those from Myanmar, were hired to support the boom.

Htay Aung Kyaw said obtaining ingredients was difficult at first. But he found a supplier in the port town of Sittwe near the border with Bangladesh. It takes him 10 hours by bus to get there. Of the nine workers at his two restaurants, five have worked in Japanese sushi restaurants.

By J.S. on Sep 13, 2010

tag : Sushi Booms in Yangon



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