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  • Writer's pictureMark Vogel

Papaia Kosher Japanese Restaurant, São Paulo, Brazil: A Taste of Tokyo in Brazil

Kosher sushi restaurant in São Paulo, Brazil

Papaia Kosher Japanese Restaurant in São Paulo, Brazil
Papaia Kosher Japanese Restaurant in São Paulo, Brazil

As evening approached in São Paulo, Brazil, I left the chic confines of the Hilton São Paulo Morumbi to grab a meal with a friend before heading to the Italian Building Observation Deck.

While the city's kosher culinary scene boasts a plethora of choices, there was one establishment people recommended repeatedly – Papaia Kosher Japanese Restaurant. Touted for its inventive blend of traditional and contemporary Japanese cuisine, this restaurant promised an experience to remember.

“Kosher Japanese food isn't just about marrying two culinary worlds; it's a beautiful, tangible representation of how cultures can come together, innovate, and create something utterly delectable.”

The first time someone mentioned "Kosher Japanese food" to me, I found myself blinking in surprise. Having been well-acquainted with the art of Japanese cuisine, as well as the meticulous dietary laws of kashrut from Judaism, the concept of merging the two seemed both fascinating and mysterious. How do you merge the delicate, seafood-heavy nature of Japanese culinary arts with the stringent regulations of kosher laws? The journey to find out took me to the heart of fusion, and here's what I discovered.

At first glance, the two traditions may seem worlds apart. Sushi, sashimi, and seafood broths are staples in Japanese cuisine. Meanwhile, kosher dietary laws, rooted in the Old Testament, have specific mandates on which fish can be consumed (only those with scales and fins) and completely prohibit the consumption of shellfish. But where there's a will, there's a way, and the intersection of these dietary worlds is nothing short of delightful.

The most iconic representation of this fusion is, of course, sushi. Traditional sushi might contain shellfish or mixtures of fish and dairy, making it non-kosher. However, Kosher Japanese restaurants have masterfully maneuvered through these challenges. Salmon, tuna, and other kosher-friendly fishes take center stage. Cream cheese, often a popular sushi filler, is swapped out in favor of non-dairy alternatives when paired with fish. As for rolls that require eel sauce (traditionally made with mirin and eel), creative kosher chefs have formulated alternatives that provide the same sweet and salty punch.

But the union doesn't end with sushi. Think about tempura – light, crispy, and oh-so-delicious. In a kosher setting, the batter is made dairy-free, ensuring it can be enjoyed with kosher fish or meat. Broths, essential to dishes like ramen, are crafted without any non-kosher seafood, focusing on depth from vegetables, kosher fish, and sometimes meat.

Another adaptation I've come across is the exclusion of mirin, a rice wine crucial to many Japanese dishes. Instead, kosher chefs might employ grape wine or other alternatives to ensure the dish remains both authentic in flavor and kosher in practice.

What I love most about kosher Japanese food is its testament to the innovative spirit of chefs and food lovers. Bound by a set of stringent rules, these culinary artists have not seen them as limitations but rather as a challenge to be innovative, while still paying homage to ancient traditions.

Located in the heart of the stylish Higienópolis neighborhood since 2009, Papaia Kosher is supervised by the rabbinate of the Beit Yaacov. Stepping inside, I was welcomed into a casual yet stylish ambiance. I was seated and soon after I was presented with an appetizing fresh bowl of the house salad which comprised of cabbage, carrots, and lettuce, topped with a tasty sauce.

While I eagerly looked over the menu, the diverse reviews I had read about Papaia Kosher played at the back of my mind. Each review celebrated a different aspect of the eatery, from its top-notch sushi to the tantalizing Brazilian delicacies like Pastel and Churros. Yes, a Japanese restaurant serving Brazilian delights, the fusion had me intrigued!

I ordered the Salmon Caeser Salad, which had American lettuce, carrot shavings and grilled salmon strips. My friend was also in the mood for salmon and opted for the Ceviche, which was salmon marinated in lemon juice, olive oil, pepper, and shoyu, with red bell pepper and red onion slices. We also shared a plate of Shitake Cream Croquettes made of shitake mushrooms. It was deliciously crispy on the outside and soft and creamy on the inside.

The restaurant was very busy when I was there. I noticed the patrons at the table next to us were enjoying a huge plate of sushi rolls and I wondered if I should have ordered that instead. Anyway, I stuck with my order and decided I would have that next time.

My meal at Papaia Kosher was most enjoyable. Kosher Japanese food isn't just about marrying two culinary worlds; it's a beautiful, tangible representation of how cultures can come together, innovate, and create something utterly delectable. With a full stomach, I headed to the Italian Building Observation Deck to check out the beautiful views of São Paulo from high above the city.


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