Nipo-Brazilian: Japan Meets Brazil

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Outside of Japan, Brazil is home to the largest population of Japanese people as a result of the first immigrants in 1908. Japanese Brazilian’s, or Nipo-Brazilian’s, are Brazilian citizens who have Japanese ancestry or are Japanese immigrants living in Brazil. Currently, it is believed that there are around 2 million Brazillian’s with Japanese ancestry, and just over 56,000 Japanese nationals living in Brazil. 

Initially, immigration to Brazil from Japan was limited, but after World War I there was a sharp increase in Japanese families moving to South America, thanks to incentives for international migration following the closure of North American borders. Between 1917 and 1940 over 164,000 Japanese moved to Brazil, with the vast majority choosing to settle in São Paulo, which was the best city for work. 

This is where the fusion of Japanese and Brazilian food truly began, with Japanese workers adapting their native food to include the ingredients available in Brazil; for example, using corn in place of rice. This led to the creation of a new, unique food option that brought elements of Japanese and Brazilian cuisine together, which has now started to spread beyond the borders of Brazil and into the rest of the world. 

Fish and vegetables were not a common staple of the Brazilian diet, and Japanese immigrants were introduced to beans and rice upon reaching Brazilian soil. Fundamentals of Japanese cuisine, such as preserves, were also not available in Brazil at the time – so, the Japanese community adapted to this change, and instead used local fruits like papaya, and pickled them. Whilst adopting these new elements of Brazilian food into their diets, the Japanese introduced numerous vegetables and fruits to Brazil. This saw a gradual change in Brazilian eating habits, as the two cuisines began to find harmony and its own distinct tastes.

Japanese food saw a rise in popularity in the 1980’s, and had a reputation of being healthy, balanced and fresh – as well as delicious! Sushi became such a well loved and accepted food option that it is now widely available in Brazil at supermarkets, buffets and restaurants across the country. 

By the 1990’s, the Japanese population in Brazil had created numerous restaurants throughout the city of São Paulo, including a brand new idea in the form of a fast food sushi restaurant. This was called a Temakeria, which comes from the words ‘temaki’, a type of hand rolled sushi, and ‘eria’, a place selling a specialised product. 

New versions of classic foods from both cultures were created and introduced to the population, including ‘hot rolls’, which are rolls of sushi that have been breaded and deep fried. Another includes algae wrapped sushi with a variety of different fillings, from vegetables, fruit and fish.

Europe has increasingly shown interest in this style of cuisine, and now Japanese-Brazilian fusion is seeing a well deserved rise in popularity. A small community adapting to change and a new country has grown into a unification of flavours that people around the world are excited to try for themselves.