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interview with Shiro and Mami from Poporoya

Milan is one of 15 Cities Around the World That Love Japanese Food the Most. This is perhaps why, among the Japanese restaurants in Milanthere are very lively brands, but also many new openings dedicated to Asian flavors, with a proposal that ranges from fusion dishes to japanese food more traditional. Among the historical addresses, which have undoubtedly contributed to the influence of Japanese culture and gastronomy throughout the territory, there is Poporoya: the first sushi bar in Italy, founded in 1977 by the master Hirazawa Minoruknown as Shiro. The mythical place of via Eustachi 17 this year it blows out 45 candles: an important birthday, which the chef celebrates with his daughter Mom43 years old, who continues with him the tradition of the local Milanese historian.

A figure, that of Mami, which represents the generational change that many old-fashioned activities are undergoing, as well as the future of Poporoya. If Shiro is always very present behind the counter, Mami is fully involved in the management of the place. In 45 years, the public has changed, as has the perception of Japanese cuisine and sushi. “As for the administration, we were the third to open in Milan: they were there before us. Endowith the previous owner, e Suntory. However, if we talk about the products and dishes we sell, we were the first in Milan,” remember Shiro and Mami.

Here is what they said Hirazawa “Shiro” and Mami Minoru Gastronomy lovers.

Tell us about your beginnings in Milan, 45 years ago: how was your place received by the Milanese public?
At the time, Japan was still a little-known country and obviously there was not much information about its culinary culture, so it was very difficult to get people to approach it. Over time, however, with the spread and great popularity of entertainment products such as manga or anime, which have undoubtedly helped to make it known and appreciated, the impact of Japan on Western culture has been increasingly strong (and not only on the Milanese) . Japanese culture is now recognized and accepted 360 degrees. Even the culinary one.

What was the main difficulty of your journey?
In the past, when the logistics systems were not yet as advanced as those of today, the supply of raw materials was certainly more complex and less immediate: a considerable difficulty for a company like ours which is strongly based on product quality and freshness. There have always been differences between Italy and Japan in ingredient management regulations, food safety laws, etc. The diversity of food cultures was felt especially at the beginning, but we always managed to find a meeting point.

On the other hand, what has been the greatest satisfaction of these 45 years?
The greatest satisfaction has always been customer loyalty: when we see that they come back, we understand that we are on the right track. Many of them have been with us for many years and we are honored to be a guarantee for them! Then there is the satisfaction of being recognized for our work in a country far from that of origin. We are here the representatives of the Japanese culinary culture: since our first twenty years, we have received the Milan Production Award of the Chamber of Commerce of Milan and, more recently, in 2019, the Gambero Rosso awarded us the Special Prize Sushi Masters, where both were included poporoya is Shiro Poporoya. In the same year, we also received the prestigious award from the Japanese government. Another great satisfaction came on the occasion of this 45th anniversary, when we had the opportunity to create a special dish for Nintendo, the number one company in Japan! For the release of the game Splaton 3we actually imagined a chirashi limited edition inspired by the main colors of the video game, on sale until September 16 in our restaurant.

Chirashi created for Nintendo

How has the clientele evolved in 45 years, in terms of demands, consumption, attitudes?
At that time, only a limited number of people came to our restaurant, and they tended to stick to what we offered: there was little knowledge of Japanese food culture. With the arrival of the Internet, and greater dissemination of information, the clientele, consumption and demands have expanded. The birth of home delivery services was also a small revolution in this direction. As well as the food needs of customers, which are increasingly diversified. Compared to 45 years ago, things have really changed.

What are the most popular Japanese specialties of Milanese?
The chirashi is very popular in our shop. This is undoubtedly the most requested specialty.

Why do you think Japanese cuisine has so many followers in Milan?
Milan is undoubtedly a cosmopolitan city, with people accustomed to trying very different taste experiences. This is probably why even “distant” cuisine like Japanese cuisine has managed to become so popular. We imagine that in general people prefer mild Japanese cuisine.

We are moving towards the contamination of flavors, starting with Nikkei cuisine, which is very trendy: is this the future of Japanese cuisine?
I think tastes change following the trends of the moment, but we also believe that fusion cuisine will remain fusion cuisine and traditional cuisine will remain traditional cuisine. In short, they are two separate things. We are coming from Poporoya we would like customers to appreciate and understand the diversity between these ways of making Japanese cuisine.

Among other things, you are among the few to have the authorization to cook puffer fish…
The important thing to remember about this particular fish is that it is essential to understand which parts are toxic, whatever they are, and to ensure that they are properly dealt with. Sometimes we are asked to try it, but unfortunately I don’t know if it will still be possible to import it for the 17, (traditional Japanese specialty made from puffer fish, editor’s note), due to European legislation. If in the future it is possible, I will certainly be able to offer new dishes to my customers. We can’t wait.

Future plans?
First of all, our goal is to always do our best. I will definitely do so looking forward to the next 50 years following this 45th anniversary.

All the pictures courtesy Poporoya

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