Cooking Japanese in Jamaica - Saba no Nanban Zuke

Published: Thursday | November 22, 2012 Comments 0
Ai Irisawa-Coney
Ai Irisawa-Coney
Saba no Nanban Zuke - Contributed
Saba no Nanban Zuke - Contributed

Ai Irisawa-Coney, Contributor

Last time, I introduced saba misoni, a casserole dish with mackerel, miso and ginger.

To my surprise, I received tremendous responses from readers. I guess it is because the recipe was simple, easy and uses one of the country's favourites, mackerel. It is great to know more people are cooking Japanese food in Jamaica. So I have decided to share another delicious Japanese mackerel recipe, Saba no Nanban Zuke.

This delicious recipe will not only provide you with all the goodness from mackerel, but also a lot of vegetables in one dish. It is suitable as hors d'oeuvres, as well as a main course.

I recommend you cook extra, as it tastes even better the following day when the mackerel has soaked up the nanban sauce.

The word 'nanban' can be directly translated as 'barbarians or uncivilised from the south'. However, in modern Japanese, nanban is not used in a derogative sense. Instead, it means "something exotic".

They began using the word when the Portuguese first visited Japan in the 16th century. Japan was thought to be a country so rich even the roads were paved with gold.

Along with guns and Christianity, they brought a new culture that was previously unknown to the Japanese. It included fashion, literature and, of course, food.

Those influences were not only that of Portugal but also of China, India, Macau, Holland and South East Asia.

Christianity, imported and preached by the Portuguese, was not well received by the Japanese leaders and it resulted into the country's closure for 400 years. However, many other aspects of 'Nanban culture' were greatly appreciated and even admired with fascination by the Japanese.

Today, you can see many nanban influences in our culture, especially in our cuisine. In modern Japanese cuisine, Nanban Zuke means marinated in Nanban sauce. Nanban sauce is more like Jamaican escoveitch sauce, but with sugar. Its basic ingredients are soy sauce, vinegar, chilli and sugar. It is this sweet, sour and hot combination that makes Nanban Zuke very exotic to Japanese and also addictive to those who've tasted it once.

Today, I will be introducing one version of Saba no Nanban Zuke. However, as usual, you can improvise with other favourite vegetables of your own including eggplant, broccoli, string beans, beetroot etc. You can also use other seafood like jack fish, goat fish, shrimp, yellowtail snapper ... etc. For vegans, you can use tofu or extra vegetables instead of mackerel.


Ai Irisawa-Coney managed a Japanese restaurant in Soho, London. She is also a founder of Epiphany Media Solutions and ACI Consultancy,, in Kingston, Jamaica. 

Christianity, imported and preached by the Portuguese, was not well-received by the Japanese leaders and it resulted into the country's closure for 400 years. However, many other aspects of 'Nanban culture' were greatly appreciated and even admired with fascination by the Japanese.

Saba no Nanban Zuke

2 tins Grace tin mackerel with brine

(200gm net each)

8 medium okra

1 medium carrot

10gm daikon radish

1 small onion

3 stems of fresh spring onion

1/2 cup of flour

Cooking oil to fry mackerel and okra

Salt & pepper

For Nanban sauce:

4tbs soy sauce (Kikkoman brand)

8tbs rice vinegar (Mitsukan brand) or apple cider vinegar

2tbs of high quality sesame oil

2 tbs brown sugar

1/4 Scotch bonnet pepper (remove seeds and chop finely)

Cooking Instructions

Drain mackerel and wipe excess water with kitchen paper. Then slice them into half, gut it (if necessary), debone and season with pinch of salt & pepper.

Sprinkle with flour and fry in shallow oil until crisp and brown. Leave on a bed of paper towel after frying to keep them crisp and dry.

Wash okra and slice in half. Then fry them with the same method as above and also leave on bed of kitchen paper.

Meanwhile, slice onions and finely chop spring onions. You may use kitchen knife to peel and julienne carrot and daikon radish. However, I prefer to use a potato peeler to peel skin, as well as to slice them for better presentation and texture.

Mix all the ingredients for nanban sauce in a cup until the sugar dissolves completely. Scotch bonnet is optional, so if you are not a big fan of chillies, do not use any, or more, if you love hot food.

Then toss everything in one large bowl and leave them to marinate for 15 minutes before serving.

Serve with slices of salad tomatoes and boiled rice (without salt or margarine) on the side. As mentioned above, this dish tastes even better the following day so you can always cook extra servings.

Cooking time: 30 minutes

Serves two persons


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