By Abdulaziz Almasaabi
Japanese food is known worldwide for being some of the healthiest of any world region. It is known for its inclusion of fresh seafood, and in Yemen it is included a delicacy. In order to better understand the appeal of Japan’s dishes, I decided to visit Yemen’s only Japanese restaurant.
Sana’a’s source for Japanese food is Manuabu, and its chef/owner has been in Yemen for five years. He first worked as the ambassador’s chef at the Japanese embassy, but when he learned of Yemen’s rich resources and location between two fish-laden seas, he began developing his idea to open a Japanese restaurant.
While we were drinking delicious, hot brown rice tea, we discussed the favorite meal of Yemeni visitors to his establishment. First visitors often begin with tempura and sushi, though he says his restaurant offers much more. Their rich menu also includes sashimi—fresh slices of raw fish with soy sauce and garnish—as well as daily options that feature anything from lobster hotpot to teriyaki.
The restaurant offers an array of hot beverages, including roasted green tea and brown rice tea served with honey and lemon. They also offer cold drinks and a bevy of salads and appetizers.
As the owner says “it’s more than a restaurant; it’s a place where you can interact with Japanese culture and your friends, too.”
As we were talking to each other, he mentioned how happy he and his coworkers feel when they see Yemeni people try their food. He expressed pride over the sushi they make, as this is a central dish in Japan and the main food served by the restaurant at parties and festivals. You can also enjoy a view of Sana’a from the restaurant’s interior.
“We are trying to make something Yemeni in a Japanese way” the chef said, and added that wherever he goes he is met with kindness from Yemeni people. This, he says, is one of the main reasons he loves to work in Yemen. He also enjoys the large number of Yemeni visitors his restaurant receives as this makes him feel that he is drawing closer to Yemeni society.
I asked how today’s political situations impacts his business. He told me that the restaurant remains open, and he believes in the Yemeni people and their ability to make a difference.
Regarding the time needed to prepare the customers food, Akiko the chef assistant responded, “we take time to make a perfect dish for our customers, because our chefs want to craft every single dish in the perfect way.”
At the end of our interview, the owner mentioned how glad he and his coworkers were to be in Yemen. He praised the beauty of this country, and we ended our meeting with several photos taken around the restaurant.