19 : Saquerinha (Saké Cocktail) and Temaki Sushi: Propagation of Japanese food and saké in Brazil

Takashi EGUCHI

Umionia Limited, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto, Japan


Brazil has the largest population of Japanese descendants outside of Japan. There, the culinary culture embeds that of Japanese. In Brazil, Japanese food including saké has been adopted and propagated. This study describes the propagation of Japanese food and saké according to the perceptual transitions. As they shifted from inedible to edible, exotic to familiar, the Japanese culinary culture went out from the Japanese immigrants' community to be embedded in the Brazillian culinary culture. Saké cocktails and localized temaki sushi are good examples in terms of its serving style and ingredients. Later, another shift revealed the realm of authenticity. It has a qualitative difference with the first two transitions.


Japanese saké, globalization of culinary culture, Brazil, sushi, temaki, saké cocktail

Introduction: rice and sake in the Japanese culinary culture

Rice is an essential ingredient of Japanese culinary culture. Saké brewed with it also plays an important role in the food culture of Japan. Saké was born as a drink to be offered to deities. It has been served and took in rituals to express gratitude for the harvest. Even after saké was democratized in the latter half of the eighteenth century when izakaya emerged (Yoshida 2019) and people started consuming it outside the context of rituals, saké has played an essential role in Japan's food culture. 

Handa (1970) describes that early immigrants endured their hard labor because they could obtain rice, which was already introduced by Portugueses. Japanese immigrants had a strong attachment to the cultivation of rice, which is “the original way of living as farmers.” About a century later, Japanese culinary culture represented by sushi and saké became totally embedded in Brazil.

Assuming that the Japanese culinary scenes in Brazil follow that of in Japan, that is, the importance of rice and saké, this study describes how the Japanese culinary culture and saké have been accepted in Brazil regarding the transitions of acceptance of the Japanese ethnic group, contextualization, and decontextualization of ethnic groups and their foods, and connection of saké with Japanese foods.



Japanese migration to Brazil

Brazil has the largest Japanese population outside of Japan. The ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan (2020) estimates that Brazil has around two million descendants. The culinary culture of Brazil consists of a variety of ethnic groups such as Italians, Arabs, Portugueses, Natives, and Japanese. At present, Japanese food is available in every supermarket of major cities, and people without connections to the Japanese ethnic group enjoy Japanese dishes in restaurants and their homes. As of June 2012, about 700 Japanese restaurants in Brazil are listed (JETRO 2012). Japan's national alcoholic beverage saké plays an essential role in Japanese food culture. It is also remarkable that Brazil is one of the earliest places where saké brewing began (and still in operation) outside of Japan.



Long's model of perceptions in culinary experiences

Lucy M. Long proposes a model of three realms of culinary experiences regarding cultural otherness. They are; exotic, edible, and palatable. The exotic-familiar realm is a continuum of "the similarity of things to our known socially constructed universe", the edible-inedible realm indicates what we can or cannot eat, and the palatable-unpalatable realm is about "what is considered pleasing within a culinary system" (Long 2004).

Figure 1: Long's realms of culinary experiences



Food and culinary culture shift their position go and fro within these realms. Long mentions the importance of transitions in the realms: "Food items can shift in their location within these realms because individuals' and society's perceptions of edibility and exoticness can shift (Long 2004)."

For edible (cognitive) and palatable (aesthetic) realms are similar with respect to possibly to eat, this study discusses with the edible realm and without the palatable realm. According to the two realms, exotic and edible, this study starts discussing how the perception of Japanese food and saké in Brazil has changed and been propagated.



Transitions of perceptions of Japanese culinary culture in Brazil

Applying Long's model, the perceptions of Japanese culinary culture shifted three times since the first immigration to the present. This can divide the one century of its history into four stages, which are labeled, in this study, as introverted, independent, embedded, and global. 

Figure 2: Transitions of the perception of Japanese culinary culture (timeline)



The first shift from introverted to independent was the process of taking the Japanese culinary culture out of the Japanese immigrants' community. It was a transition in the edible-inedible realm from inedible to edible. The second shift from independent to embedded was in the exotic-familiar realm. Then Japanese food represented by sushi became a part of Brazilian culinary culture. The third shift from embedded to global was in the exotic-familiar realm. Japanese food transitioned back into exotic again, however, there are qualitative differences with the independent stage. This is discussed later by expanding the realms of perceptions.

Figure 3: Transitions of the perception of Japanese culinary culture (realms diagram)



Introverted: Japanese culinary culture in inedible-exotic realm

Since the first immigration of Japanese to Brazil in 1908, the perception of saké and Japanese food has continuously transitioned, reflecting the social position of them and their descendants. The core of the Japanese culinary culture is fermented food such as miso, soy sauce, and saké. Some immigrants brought soybean and kōji mold with them and soon began to brew miso (Mori 2010). Eitarō Kanda started brewing soy sauce in around 1913 (Handa 1970). Although some importers dealt in saké, the distribution was minimal. The Nikkeis celebrated New Year's Day as in Japan; however, toso, or new year's beverage was port wine or diluted pinga, a distilled beverage made with sugar cane juice (Mori 2010).

In 1934, Indústria Agrícola Campineira (Campinas Agricultural Industry) in Fazenda Monte d'Este (Tozan Farm) started brewing saké (Sakano 1980). The motivation for the saké brewing was to maintain the healthy lives of people in the Japanese community who suffered from harmful effects of pinga with higher alcohol content (Akagi 2014). Ryōtei, or luxurious traditional Japanese-style restaurants in São Paulo, served its saké. At the same time, saké supported the culture of ryotei (Mori 2010). 

In this way, Japanese food and saké were consumed in the Japanese immigrants' community which was relatively closed in comparison with the other ethnic groups. The perception of the Japanese culinary culture along with the Japanese community is described as exotic in this period. 

There are groundworks and precursors to the next shift. Koichi Mori describes the exchange of culinary culture between Japanese, Okinawan, and Italian immigrants in the coffee farms of São Paulo outskirts in the 1920s. Okinawan immigrants taught the Japanese how to process and cook pork. Italian immigrants that were also the largest population outside Italy had a significant influence on food culture. The Nikkeis adopted tomato to kinpira, a traditional Japanese home cooking, and an Italian cuisine macarronada (spaghetti with tomato-based sauce) was a standard Sunday afternoon home dish (Mori 2010). 



Independent: Japanese culinary culture turns into edible-exotic realm

Until the 1970s, Japanese ingredients, food, and dishes were consumed within the Nikkei community. In the 1970s, non-Nikkeis, mainly middle-class and health-conscious Brazilian people began to approach Japanese cuisine (Mori 2000). Mori describes the efforts of a sushi restaurant, such as the removal of fishy flavors, which contributed to the acceptance of raw fish (Mori 2010). This signifies the shift of perception of Brazilians to the Japanese food: inedible to edible. However, in the realm of exotic-familiar, still in exotic position, as Mori describes that the sushi restaurants were well-liked as a place, one can express the familiarness to the ethnic cultures (Mori 2010). 

There are also groundworks for the transition. A descendant of a Japanese immigrant, Lesly Watanabe, narrated her culinary exchange experiences with non-Nikkeis in the 1980s. In the interview by the author in August 2020, she described the adoption of her non-Nikkei friends when she entertained them with maki sushi or sushi roll. They showed their perceptions that it was strange to them, but soon accepted and enjoyed it. One of them appreciated it, describing it as pneuzinho (tiny little tire), for the sliced maki sushi with black nori, or dried laver, looked like a tire. She also told that her grandfather entertained his non-Nikkei friends, mostly Italian descendants, with saké. At his home parties, people enjoyed pinga and beer besides saké.



Embedded: Saquerinha and Temaki, Japanese culinary culture goes familiar

In the 1990s, chefs and business owners without any link to the Japanese culture entered the Japanese food industry. It happened coincidently with the absence of Nikkei chefs who went dekassegui as migrant workers to Japan. They invented "tropical sushi" with local ingredients, such as mango, strawberry, pineapple, melon, and kiwi (Mori 2010). These variants of sushi were consumed as appetizers in churrascarias, or steak houses, and fast-food restaurants in shopping centers. 

Saké cocktail called saquerinha (and its synonyms such as saquerita and saquepirinha) is a variant of caipirinha, a national cocktail of Brazil, which was born in 1918 in the state of São Paulo (Almeida 2018). It is a mixture of pinga; a spirit distilled from sugar cane juice, sugar, and lemon. Since pinga has a higher alcohol content (50-60% and higher), health-conscious consumers began to adopt a variation with saké (15% alcohol contents), to make the cocktail softer and healthier.

On the 19th of February, 1995, Folha de São Paulo, the largest newspaper of São Paulo, introduced saké and saké cocktails in a review of a bar. This article is the first case found in newspapers that Non-Japanese restaurants or bars served saké. This can be regarded that saké had been decontextualized out of the Japanese context in the form of a cocktail.

Preceding it, on the 6th of August, 1960, Journal Paulista, a newspaper for the Japanese community, reported that a saké brewery Azuma Kirin handed out saké cocktail recipes to their customers in an exhibition in a department store. This firm also advertised in Folha de São Paulo recommending the saké cocktail multiple times in 1975.

Figure 4: saquerita (saquerinha) in Temakeria & Cia. (São Paulo, November 2018)



With these prior occurrences, finally, in the 2000s, the boom of saquerinha arrived. This resulted in higher demand for saké. Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun (27th of August, 2006) reported that Azuma Kirin doubled its capacity in 2005. According to Hideyuki Ozaki, the president of Azuma Kirin, in an interview held in November 2018 by the author, this firm contributed to the saquerinha boom by distributing recipes and special glasses to restaurants and bars. Currently, saké cocktails are not widely accepted in Japan. Nobuhiko Mukai points out that the reasons are that cocktails are regarded to be made with distilled drinks, and saké was not used historically (Mukai 2005). 

The raise of saké cocktail is an innovation that happened because saké in Brazil is free from Japan's context. On the other hand, Azuma Kirin brews saké with Japanese traditional method with yeast and kōji mold imported from Japan, and Japanese Akita Komachi rice cultivated in Uruguay. The company gives its personnel training in Nihon Jozō Kyōkai (Brewing Society of Japan) in Hiroshima, just as brewers in Japan do.

Temaki, a Brazilian popular fast food, is a derivative of temaki sushi or roll sushi. The dish served in restaurants first appeared in Folha Guia, a guidebook section of the Friday edition of Folha de São Paulo, on the 18th of April, 1997. Temaki in Brazil became ready-made in restaurants with local ingredients. Customers, most of them are younger generation, drop in at the temaki restaurant before going out. Temaki restaurants are already a Brazilian restaurant and not a place to experience exotic foods.

Figure 5: Temaki in Temakeria & Cia. (São Paulo, November 2018)



The photo of saquerita (fig.4) and temaki (fig. 5), shows how sushi is localized. Temakis here are larger than the Japanese ones. The large size on the menu weighs 150g and even smaller size, 80g (one in figure 1 is small size). Besides salmon and tuna, the temakis in these restaurants have a variety of localized ingredients such as cream cheese, almond, onion, avocado, and other fruits. The drink (fig. 4) is saquerita of standard flavor, lemon and sugar. Besides, strawberry, pineapple, and kiwi are popular flavors. The food here is prepared in accordance with the Japanese style, however, the ingredients are entirely localized. The fact that temaki and saquerinha are widely accepted shows that they are edible and palatable, and the occasion people enjoy temaki indicates that this already has a familiar perception.



Global: Going back to exotic

 In the 2010s, Brazil received the izakaya boom and is being totally established in the 2020s. Izakaya Issa serves the standard izakaya menu, such as yakitori (a Japanese type skewered chicken) and tamagoyaki (Japanese omelet), along with home dishes cooked by the owner Margarida Haraguchi. According to Haraguchi, in the interview in November 2018 and March 2020 by the author, nineteen percent of customers are non-Nikkei since its opening in 2010. They are enthusiasts of Japanese culinary culture, and some of them visit Japan and enjoy authentic restaurants such as world-famous sushi restaurant Sukiyabashi Jiro. 

The popularization of izayakas indicates that customers are already familiar with Japanese dishes. They have to select Japanese dishes from the menu, which means they have to know what they are. This shows a contrast to the all-in-one-dish Japanese food combinado in the 1980s. Many izakaya owners and chefs introduce Japanese menus of which they experienced in Japan in the 1990s. Fernando Yoshinobu Kuroda of Bueno, an izakaya in São Paulo, was active as a sumo wrestler in Japan and introduced to Brazilian customers chanko, Japanese nabe stew commonly eaten by sumo wrestlers as part of a weight-gain diet. (Takahashi 2014). 

Unlike temaqueiras (temaki houses) and fast food sushi restaurants in shopping centers, such izakayas are run by people with the background of the Japanese community and its culinary culture. The dishes served in such izakayas are based on the history of Japanese immigrants' culinary culture, and at the same time, is an updated version with the dekassegui movement.

In the Michelin Guide of 2019, 6 out of 12 starred restaurants in São Paulo were Japanese. According to the chef (at that time), Satoshi Kaneko of Michelin starred Japanese restaurant Kinoshita (November 2018); they serve genuine Japanese ingredients. They are; oysters from Hiroshima cultured in the southern part of Brazil, wagyu Japanese beef, and Koshihikari Japanese sticky rice variety cultivated in the Southern part of Brazil. There was no difference in the cooking style and ingredients from the restaurants in Japan. There, the majority of the customers are non-Nikkeis. Kinoshita serves a variety of imported saké from standard to premium in Riedel wine glasses, which are usually used in high-end occidental restaurants to serve wines. The customers are of wealthy class and order saké bottles, which costs five to ten times compared to Japanese retail prices. "They even buy extra bottles to take home," Kaneko observes. 

The import of saké from Japan is increasing since 2011. In 2019 it was reported the highest on a trade value basis (JETRO 2020).



Extended realm: authenticity (localized-authentic)

The rise of izakayas and high-end Japanese restaurants in Brazil can be recognized as a re-shift from edible-familiar to edible-exotic. However, there exists a qualitative difference between independent and global, which both are in the same position as the two realms, i.e. edible-exotic. The customers seek Japanese culinary culture in the context of global gastronomy, and there is less connection to the Japanese community in Brazil. Izakayas, along with ramen houses and sushi restaurants, are now in major cities of the world. Sukiyabashi Jiro became world-famous by the American documentary film "Jiro Dreams of Sushi." It has a difference in quality because Brazilians visited Japanese restaurants inside the Japanese community in the 1970s for exotic culinary experiences. 


Figure 6: Transitions of the perception of Japanese culinary culture with an extended realm



The perception went back to exotic but at the same time, the customers are seeking more authenticity than localization. Thus, it is appropriate for applying an extended realm of authenticity. Izakayas of the 2010s had chefs of nikkeis who received training and adopted the trends in Japan. High-end Japanese restaurants serve high-quality Japanese food with the same ingredients used in Japan. Japanese food culture in Brazil was, from the beginning, a localized one. The immigrants had to adopt the local ingredients to realize their Japanese foodway. Early immigrants fermented miso with local feijoão beans instead of soybeans (Mori 2010). In the embedded stage, the chefs used not only substituted ingredients but introduced completely new ingredients to the Japanese context. The perception shifted from local to authentic in the stage of global. The latest Japanese culinary culture was re-introduced by the dekassegui experiences that supported the quality of izakayas, and the global supply chain sustains the high-end Japanese restaurants. The shift back to exotic occurred along with the transition from local to authentic.

Figure 7: Transitions of the perception of Japanese culinary culture with an extended realm (timeline)



What is remarkable is that the embedded and global stages exist concurrently but separately. Although it requires further sociological surveys to argue, these two foodways seem to represent a social divide. The price range is significantly different and some informants of this survey, especially professionals to the culinary field, tend to regard the Japanese food of the embedded stage in a negative perception as non-authentic. The first two shifts can be evaluated as democratization, inclusion,  and a symbol of multicultural symbiosis, and the third, divide. 




Saquerinha, a saké version of Brazil's national cocktail, and temaki, localized sushi with its local ingredients and the consuming style are good examples of propagation and adoption of Japanese culinary culture in Brazil. Cultural exchange of the Nikkei community and other ethnic groups of Brazil helped the adoption of the Japanese cuisine and culinary culture. In Brazil, Japanese culture is a foreign culture but, at the same time, included within the culture of Brazil. In such a situation, Brazilian people adopted saké as cocktails, which is apart from the Japanese context of serving saké. Temaki was popularized when sushi restaurants were run by non-Nikkeis and enjoyed rather as weekend leisure experiences than coming across the Japanese food culture. The Japanese culinary culture was adopted and embedded in Brazilian culture while getting out of the Japanese context. However, demands for more authentic Japanese cuisine are emerging in high-end restaurants and saké imports. This shift of perception back to exotic is qualitatively different. The edible-familiar perception remains, and the new shift back to edible-exotic cannot exist without the edible-familiar perception. The newest shift to global is qualitatively different from other shifts. It requires an extended realm of authenticity and it seems to represent the social divide whereas the first two multicultural symbioses.

Further research is required to analyze the current shift to Japanese cuisine seen in izakayas and authentic restaurants. A comparative study of Brazil and Taiwan is a possible study. They both have around one hundred years of history of Japanese culinary culture. In Taiwan, where the first saké brewery was established in 1914, and currently, national saké is available in every convenience store, there are two different consuming styles of saké: one is traditional enjoying domestic saké, and the other is appreciating imported sake, usually premium, in izakayas.


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