Sushi's Reggae ambassadors
This time of year, it's traditional to highlight trends and best items of the previous year. Previously, Japan's best-known food would have been on those exclusive lists, but sushi in Jamaica has long passed the novelty stage. Restaurateurs Kazuhiki 'Kaz' Asonuma and wife Michiko have led the popularisation of the rice and 'nori' seaweed rolls in the country; first with Restaurant Japan in 2002 at the former Hilton, then the convenient supermarket-based Katana Express, and now with a permanent base at Northside Plaza Fuji Japan Express.
Former diplomat Kaz has not only been pleasing Jamaican taste buds, but he's been instrumental on the music scene with his One Pop studio and work with Sly & Robbie's Taxi, even scoring mulitiple Grammy nominations.
He admits that back before the opening of the original Restaurant Japan, his team was cautious, planning a menu of 80 per cent cooked food with 20 per cent sushi. He was pleasantly surprised when they began with a 50/50 split of customers wanting the raw delicacy. Kaz chuckles as he recalls forcing waitresses to try the uncooked sashimi - there were tears from some initially, but most developed enthusiastic appetites. Of course, that demand has grown, no doubt assisted by his effervescent personality and marketing acumen. Fuji Japan Express serves up all the operation's former favourites, but in a more comfortable setting, "We tried to create something more than look, more than taste," says Kaz.
The decor is clean with touches of Japan and bamboo. Michiko sagely points out the plant is one of the things Jamaica and her homeland have in common. The restaurant features a large-screen TV plus karaoke for the less timid. There's also a private Teppanyaki room where table-side, flamboyant cooking grills up your meal.
A photogenic/tasty delight is the Dragon Ball Z - the name is well known for the hit children's anime series but takes on new, delicious life as a round temarizushi sushi appetizer plate with tuna, salmon, snapper, eel and octopus. The Marilyn Mon'roe' adds a slice of citrus for extra delight to the upscaled version of a California roll. With a multitude of sushi choices, there's the usual teriyaki dishes and lunch specials alongside grilled seafood, chicken and tofu, marinated with traditional fermented Japanese sauce. There's even, as Kaz giggles, "JFC - Japanese fried chicken".
The two co-head sushi chefs (there are three Japanese and two Jamaican chefs in the kitchen here) are like their employer - crazy about reggae. So much so that when they aren't making rolls or grilling they are playing music. Pea Vei and Yuki both have downtown sound systems - Double J International and Rev Sound - and are looking forward to holding sessions at Northside Plaza.
Let the cultural fusion continue! Kaz claims the team is working on injecting traditional Jamaican flavours into their food and has been experimenting with an ackee & saltfish roll. Regardless, he is always promoting the best his homeland and adopted home have to offer. Fuji Japan Express is open seven days a week with take-out and catering available.