São Paulo, while located in Brazil, is one of the largest Japanese cities on earth. From the first immigrants 102 years ago to the current business men expats, São Paulo has a very Japanese soul. Over one million people of Japanese descent live in the city, with many more around the state and country. Interestingly, San Francisco, even having fewer people overall than the Japanese community of São Paulo, has roughly the same percentage of Japanese, about 1.5%. Like San Francisco, São Paulo’s Japanese community was once centered around a specific neighborhood, Nihonmachi in SF, Liberdade in São Paulo. Now, in both cities, Japanese cuisine and Japanese culture have spread out to other neighborhoods.
Opened in 1989, Shin-Zushi is located in Paraíso, traditionally a Lebanese neighborhood, though home to many of the city’s diverse ethnic groups, including many Japanese expats. The staff all speak at least a few words of Japanese, and the customer is greeting by a loud “IRASHAIMASU!” (a traditional welcome) upon entering the sliding Shoji screen doors. Unlike many of the more “modern” Japanese eateries here, this one truly has an authentic feel. Bottles of imported Sake and Shochu, (a clear Japanese spirit similar to Vodka), line the walls. Posters from JAL and Japanese tour companies feature images of snow-encrusted Mt. Fuji. NHK Japanese television broadcasts news, weather, and bizzarre Japanese TV content from a flat screen mounted on the far wall. Small wooden tablets announce the choices of fish in Hiragana script. And then of course, there is the food.
Head Sushiman Edson (named after Edson Nascimento, aka Pelé, and not the inventor), although born and raised in Brazil, trained and worked in Japan, speaks fluent Japanese, and handles fish with the keen sense of knowledge that has been cultivated by Japan’s people for centuries. He and the rest of the staff, however, also impart the famous warm smiles and friendlness that is so common in Brazil, and Japan is, well, not so well known for.
The sushi served at the bar is placed on Haran leaves, alongside fresh Gari (marinated ginger), and on request, wasabi (Japanese horseradish). In general, wasabi is added to the sushi during preparation. The best choices are the Toro, or fatty Tuna, Harasu, or Salmon belly, and the Ika, or squid, which is juliennned and held together with a small ribbon of seaweed, and doused with lime and salt. There are also delicious Udon, Ramen, Tempura, and Donburi options, and daily specials like Arani (Boiled fish in soy and ginger broth).Oishii! (Delicious!)
The only downside to a dining experience at Shin Zushi is the salty aftertaste one may experience upon receiving the bill. It is important to bear in mind the attention to detail and quality of the ingredients at this time, as they are reflected in the price. But having a meal at Shin Zushi is like taking your palate on a trip to Japan, with Brazil awaiting you at the exit. And that is worth paying a few more Reais.