Tuna is a powerhouse of a fish which swims all over the world’s waters, and the Indian Ocean is no exception. Countless fishing boats settle at major ports such as the one in Mombasa, Kenya, providing a breeding ground for commerce, cultural exchange, and of course fresh fish.

Our reporter Go Hatori, after getting voluntarily beaten by Maasai warriors, postulated that with Mombasa’s capacity to get fresh fish, there may very well be some great sushi in Kenya as well. Go didn’t really put any research into this, but what adventure starts with careful thought and census taking?

So he hit the streets of Nairobi and started asking people “Do you know any sushi restaurants around here?” Thinking he may have found a hidden oasis of sushi tucked away on the African continent, Go was able to compile a list of three Kenyan restaurants for his sushi safari.

Restaurant #1 – Furusato

Go’s first destination was Furusato, a sushi restaurant conveniently located near downtown Nairobi. In spite of this, it had ample parking and a large yard with very nice landscaping. It was a very gorgeous sushi restaurant, and even after entering Go’s eyes were drawn to the counter display with a variety of bright seafood available.

For this evaluation, Go had decided to order only two pieces of tuna and two pieces of shrimp. This was to judge these sushi chefs on the fundamentals of the food without relying on any gimmicks or cultural ambiguity. This was simply judging how well standard Japanese sushi is crafted.

Wiping the sweat from his brow, Go’s order was met with a cheerful “Yes!” However, Go detected a bit of an accent in the way that “yes” sounded. Sure enough as he looked up he was greeted by Furusato’s chef who informed Go he was from the Philippines.

When the sushi arrived, it looked good. Go leaned in for a closer inspection but suddenly recoiled in disgust. “Gyah! Fishy!” he mentally shouted to himself while outwardly keeping his composure. He went in for a first bite but the stink infiltrated his nostrils and set his gag reflex aflutter.

Go would have given this place the benefit of the doubt and assumed something went awry as the fish was being transported from Mombasa to Nairobi. However, smell aside, the rice was also gooey and mushy, bringing an uncomfortable texture to this party of pain.

▼ The prices were pretty high as well, listed in Kenyan Shillings (100KSh = US$1)

Go was accompanied on this journey by his Kenyan driver who watched everything with all the mild disgust and fascination of someone watching a cat eat a cockroach. For mysterious reasons that Go couldn’t understand, the driver refused to eat raw food.

Anyway, Go would have to regrettably give Furusato two stars out of ten. Despite its lovely presentation, “This isn’t sushi, this isn’t sushi” was a phrase that ran in an endless loop in Go’s head as he ate.

Feeling much less optimistic about this project, he and his driver continued on to the next location.

Shop#2 – Misono

The second shop on Go’s list was also conveniently located in downtown Nairobi, this time inside a shopping center. Upon entering, Go was greeted by a Kenyan man who spoke fluent Japanese and the place had a very Asian feel to it.

However, one odd difference was that the sushi counter was tucked away in the kitchen while he was guided to a table on the second floor. It seemed the counter space was being used for storage and no one could sit there. So Go ordered his test tuna and shrimp and then went down to the sushi counter to see what was going on.

Go was startled as he was greeted by his sushi chef. This time hailing from South Korea, Misono’s chef told Go he had been making sushi in Kenya for years. “There aren’t many customers these days,” the man said. “The number of tourists has been decreasing because of Ebola or something. I don’t know why. Kenya has nothing to do with Ebola, and the security around here isn’t bad either.”

Then Go received his order of tuna and shrimp with a side of the chef’s sadness. However, the moment he laid eyes on the food alarm bells started ringing. The color of the tuna was somehow off, and the shrimp appeared crinkled and dry. Again the rice looked gooey and the fishy smell was these too. Go knew what was in store for him but he had to try.

Disgusting. It really pained Go to admit it because everyone was very nice at Misono, but he couldn’t help but think that maybe the reason customers were down had nothing to do with Ebola or safety concerns. If Furusato had gotten two stars, that Misono would have to get only one star out of ten since at least Furusato made their sushi look good.

The driver, feeling more convinced of his self-imposed sushi ban had ordered a bowl of “rice” but was given some Chinese style fried rice. Yet unlike regular fried rice this had the consistency of an old bowl of porridge.

“Is this Japanese food?” he asked Go.

Go replied “No, it’s Chinese.”

“I think I hate Chinese food now too,” said the driver.

Later on, the sky began to grow as cloudy as the mood in the car already was as the pair drove to their third and final Kenyan sushi restaurant.

Shop#3 – Haru

This restaurant was a bit of a trek to the outskirts of Nairobi in a complex called the Karen Professional Center. Walking up to the building Go couldn’t help but scoff at the name of the building which he was already sure would be ironic. Kenya was turning out to be a wasteland for sushi and even worse, the driver was beginning to think Japanese people were a bunch of lunatics for eating soggy rice and smelly fish all the time.

However, as they tried to enter a waiter informed them that Haru was closing down for the afternoon and they would have to come back later that night.

“Please! We only want a little tuna and shrimp, that’s all we promise!” pleaded Go when he really wanted to say “For the love of god, don’t make me drag out this awful idea any longer! Just let me eat your awful and leave.”

The staff then took mercy and let them in for a quick bite. Go and the driver sat down at the counter in the quiet and empty restaurant. Then four Kenyan men came out from the kitchen. The head chef greeted them with an “Irasshaimase” and the others followed with a little “Domo” each. It was very charming to Go, who couldn’t help but reply “Domo” himself.

Go ordered the tuna and shrimp. He then glanced over at the kitchen, this time expecting possibly a Laotian chef to emerge and make the sushi. Only no one came, and by the time Go looked back over, the head Kenyan chef was already scooping out the rice like a pro.

The chef’s hands moved with all the grace, speed, and confidence of a well-trained Japanese sushi chef. Go fumbled for his camera to take a video but by the time he could get it out, the chef was already serving him. “Who taught this guy?” he wondered.

It wasn’t just for show either, the sushi that came out looked really good! The rice had just the right firmness and the fish looked to be of good quality with no discernible odor. Nevertheless, Go had been twice bitten and was now about four times shy. He winced going in for the first bite, waiting for some unforeseen disaster to occur.

But it was really good! It wasn’t just an improvement over the other shops, either, but truly great sushi. In fact it was so good that Go just threw out the point system and declared Haru to be flat-out the best sushi restaurant in Kenya, and its sushi chef to be the best in Kenya, too.

Go actually didn’t have a chance to get the chef’s name. As he finished the men humbly said “Domo” again and quickly made their way back into the kitchen. It was after-hours after all. Even the driver polished off a huge bowl of Japanese style salad and declared it to be “really great.” He still refused the sushi though. There would only be one miracle on this day, and that was Kenya’s best sushi, Haru.

Original report by Hatori Go
Photos and Video: RocketNews24
[ Read in Japanese ]