Rockower describes gastrodiplomacy as an “act of winning hearts and minds through stomachs”, something that “introduces culture through the sense of taste” (Rockower 2012:235). As Curtis summarises, it can be perceived, then, as “a form of cultural diplomacy and nation branding” (Curtis, 2017).
The birth and growth of Brazilian sushi can be regarded as just that. The website of a Brazilian sushi restaurant in Rome provides an useful brief historical background: “The biggest Japanese community outside of Japan began forming in Brazil in the early 1900s, that’s how the 日系ブラジル人 culinary tradition was born” (Sambamaki).
The encounter between the Japanese expat community and the local Brazilian culinary tradition created a rich cultural exchange that eventually prospered and mushroomed overseas introducing the world to another vibrant aspect of Brazilian culture, which prides itself for being the result of the meeting of the most diverse cultures. Restaurants can be found as far away as in Italy, the UK and the US (Sushisamba).
Sambamaki, the restaurant in Rome attempts to explain the result of such culinary encounter: “Maki becomes bigger, they contain new ingredients such as mango, avocado and papaya, sushi is served with tasty sauces, sake becomes the base for cocktails as it meets maracujá and other tropical fruits” (Sambamaki). Other changes include the creation of fried “hot” sushi and dessert-like sweet sushi with ingredients such as strawberries or banana and chocolate.
The cultivation of the art of sushi making by Japanese-expat Brazilians is recognised. A remarkable prove of that is the Japanese-Brazilian chef Celso Hideji Amano winning, last year, the sushi world championship in Tokyo in a competition with 27 chefs from France, the US etc. (G1, Presse, 2016).
However, it would be misleading to consider the Brazilian sushi culinary tradition as merely the importation of a Japanese tradition with the addition of a Brazilian taste. It would, rather, make more sense to see it as an independent Brazilian cultural tradition based on the culinary expression of its big Japanese expat community that eventually took on a life of its own. A funny remind of that comes from the following video of a (non-Brazilian) Japanese trying Brazilian sushi for the first time (Youtube).
He seems not to have particularly enjoyed the experience and, in the best cases, remarks that “this is good but it’s very different”.
Brazilian sushi, can therefore, be considered to have produced some results as a gastrodiplomacy tool: It has certainly at least began to introduce the world to a different aspect of Brazilian culture stressing the idea of a rich culture based on the meeting of several cultures, as Brazil is proud to claim. The opening of several Brazilian restaurants dedicated to such tradition can be regarded as an evidence of it. On the other hand, the recognition of its differences with the Japanese culinary tradition, expressed by Japanese people themselves, prove the birth of a distinct cultural phenomenon, based on a Japanese tradition but not limited in replicating it within a different culinary environment.
Rockower P. (2012), Recipes for Gastrodiplomacy, Place Branding and Public Diplomacy.
Curtis S. (2017), Gastrodiplomacy, London.
Sambamaki, available at http://www.sambamaki.it/info.
Sushisamba, available at https://sushisamba.com/.
G1, Presse F. (2016), Chefe Brasileiro Vence Mundial de Sushi em Tóquio, available at http://g1.globo.com/mundo/noticia/2016/08/chef-brasileiro-vence-mundial-de-sushi-em-toquio.html.
Youtube, Japonês do Japão Prova Rodizio Japonês do Brasil, available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h7b5bjKnr1o.