It’s about time. The first-ever Japanese Food Week – Gastro Japo Food Week – is set to take Buenos Aires by storm from June 12-19. Restaurants, culinary schools, and delivery-only spots are firing up their kitchens and preparing special dishes, menus, and promotions to showcase the highlights of Japanese cuisine in Argentina.
Ramen, gyozas, yakitori, tempura, donburi. Sukiyaki, takoyaki, udon. There’s no doubt that Japanese cuisine is some of the world’s finest in both quality and diversity. And what better way to immerse yourself in another country’s culture than through its food? Booming tourism to the Land of the Rising Sun means that there is more interest than ever in understanding as much as possible about a place that is literally more than 18,000 kilometers from Argentina.
Up until recently, the only impression people in Argentina might have had of Japanese food was through sad, cream cheese-laden sushi rolls that were more likely to give you a stomachache than transport you to the floor of Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market. However, the two countries recently celebrated 120 years of diplomatic relations, a reminder to us all that the potential for enriching social, cultural, and economic exchange is as strong as ever. And how can we forget that the Japanese Ambassador to Argentina, Noriteru Fukushima, is one of Twitter’s biggest personalities?
Gastro Japo Week is organized in part by the Club Gastro Japo, which was created in June 2018 by a group of gastronomic entrepreneurs (primarily small family-run Japanese businesses and restaurants). Realizing that there is strength in numbers, they joined forces and started to work together; today their numbers total more than 90 around Buenos Aires and nearby suburbs. The group shares experiences, trainings, food suppliers, and most of all, passion for Japanese culture, its iconic hospitality (omotenashi), and dedication to constant improvement (kaizen).
“A boat floating aimlessly at sea can easily be capsized by a wave; however, if lots of little boats sail together, it’s much harder for them to sink. That is the team spirit that characterizes Nippon culture,” says Sergio Asato, owner of Social Sushi. Asato is joined by Naomi Kanemoto (owner of Sashimiya) and Alejandra Kano (owner of Ichisou, a legendary Japanese establishment in Buenos Aires) as the founders of the Club Gastro Japo.
So, what should you be on the lookout for during the second week of June? Read on for some of our recommendations, but remember that the Club Gastro Japo website has the complete list with all of the details you’ll need.
Located in the heart of the bustling Olivos food corridor, Asato uses the most impressive local ingredients with a strong Japanese base and technique. Beyond its impeccable Instagram game – hey! it’s how a lot of restaurants attract new clientele these days – it’s known as one of the top spots in Buenos Aires for fresh fish and high-end Japanese cuisine. The menu they’ve prepared is a teishoku (traditional set meal) with korokke (croquettes), hiyayakko (tofu salad), okonomiyaki (savory pancake), gohan (rice), misohiru (miso soup) and sashimi or misozuke (miso pickle) with sea bass. The complete menu (AR $1,200) includes dessert, a glass of wine, and miso soup to start.
Asato | Corrientes 584 – Olivos | Tel: 4711-1004/7/9 | Instagram
This traditional Belgrano eatery will offer two menu styles – à la carte or the classic teishoku – at two different price points (AR $1,100 and AR $850, respectively). If you go with the former, you’ll be spoiled for choice, picking from sashimi, agedashi karashidofu (fried tofu, stuffed with Japanese mustard, served in a soy and fish broth with turnip, ginger, and green onion), kushikatsu (skewers of deep-fried brochettes), fresh sushi, or chawanmushi (savory egg custard with chicken, shrimp, fish, scallops, shiitake mushrooms, and spinach). The set-meal option includes a little bit of everything: sunomono (cucumber salad), buta no misozuke (miso-marinated pork), nambanzuke (fried marinated fish), sashimi moriawase, takinomi gohan (rice with vegetables, dashi, and soy), takiwase, and misoshiru. Each menu includes a glass of wine or beer, dessert, sake, and green tea.
Bistro Tokio | Virrey del Pino 2551 1st floor – Belgrano | Tel: 4786-6959 | Instagram
Buri will be offering a ramen night on Wednesday and an omakase night on Thursday and Friday. What’s really cool is that on Monday, Tuesday, and Saturday, you can sign up for special cooking classes, tackling sushi, ramen, and fish (you obviously get to eat what you prepare). If you book for the ramen night (AR $950), expect to start with pork or shrimp gyozas or onigiri stuffed with kimchi, squid, and shrimp. For the main course, there are three options available: tonkotsu kare (pork), shoyu (soy), or tori (chicken). But if you’re game for omakase (AR $1,600 – AR $1,900 if you do the wine pairing), you’ll be in the hands of the sushiman – 14 courses of both cold and hot dishes, and lots of sushi – basically, whatever is the most fresh and available at market, you’ll be eating. Note that the ramen menu includes dessert and a bottle of wine, water, and a pickled veg salad, while the omakase includes dessert, water, a bottle of wine (or the complete pairing if you upgrade).
This iconic Japanese restaurant – which has been in business for more than 50 years – developed (count ’em) five menus for Gastro Japo Week, ranging from AR $900 to AR $3,000 (! – this is the extra-special option, for two people). Menu 1 includes tai no Kabuto ni (besugo cooked in a sweet sauce), zarusoba (cold buckwheat noodles), and kurimanju (sweet chestnut cake) for dessert. Option 2 kicks off with ika no nattou ae (raw squid with nattou and quail egg), 10 pieces of sashimi and 12 pieces of seafood and fish nigiris, and kurimanju for dessert. The third menu starts with eight maki and eight pieces of sashimi, moving on to an oden (traditional one-pot meal that typically includes boiled eggs, daikon, konjac, and processed fishcakes), and a red-bean pancake for dessert. The fourth menu is entirely vegetarian, starting off with hiyayakko (chilled tofu), vegetarian futomaki with tofu and shiitake, and a red-bean pancake for for dessert. The final menu option – meant for two people – pulls out all the stops. You’ll start with 18 pieces of sashimi, then dive into a sukiyaki, which is a one-pot meal with vegetables, meat, tofu, and noodles. Choose between the red-bean pancake or the chestnut cake for dessert, and polish it all off with some umeshu (liquor) and green tea.
Ichisou | Venezuela 2145 – Balvanera | Instagram
Social Sushi Izakaya
You’ve probably spotted this hip little gastropub on Instagram, if you haven’t already been lucky to eat there yet. Run by the Asato family, Social Sushi has prepared menus (AR $2,400) for nearly every day of Gastro Japo Week, all designed to be shared by two people (or maybe just you if you’re really, really hungry). Each option starts off with tsukemono (pickled veg), gyoza, yaki onigiri (grilled rice balls), or karaage (fried chicken), but the rest of the menus are totally different. Monday, you can nibble on katsudon (rice topped with deep-fried pork, egg, vegetables, and more), followed by a 12-piece sushi omakase. On Wednesday, it’s switched out for an oyakodon (chicken and egg bowl), while on Thursday you’ll get kare raisu (Japanese curry), and on Friday the dish is butadon (pork bowl). If you make it to Saturday, you’ll get shogayaki (ginger pork) – and remember that all of this is followed by the 12-piece omakase, so you’ll be eating plenty of treats no matter when you go. Wash things down with a couple of Asahi beers or glasses of wine and leave room to toast with a glass of umeshu to close out the night.
Social Sushi | Ciudad de la Paz 2478 – Belgrano | Tel: 4783-7226 or 4783-8917 | Instagram
It wouldn’t be Japanese food week without some yakitori, now would it? This teensy Barrio Norte outpost is known as Argentina’s first official yakitori restaurant, making it reason enough to go. The menu, priced at AR $750, starts with pickled veg (tsukemono), moving on to a variety of vegetable side dishes, chicken and spring onion skewers (negima kushi), fish with miso skewers, beef skewers (sukiyaki), duck, and pork belly. Your dessert comes in the form of a black sesame treat and a matcha cookie (yum!). Note that Tori Tori really is small, so definitely book to avoid disappointment.
Tori Tori | Ecuador 1175 – Barrio Norte | Tel: 4961-7978 | Instagram