Searching for Japan in Cape Town

Recently it was decided in my household that the next destination to which we would travel would be Japan. Beautiful, distant, mystical Japan. Think misty mountains, blooming blossoms and tables so full of sushi it cascades off the edges. Too far on the stereotypes, right? Seriously though, when we talk about visiting new and exciting places food always comes into the equation doesn’t it? Author Scott Westerfelf famously said in his novel Afterworlds, “The best way to know a city, is to eat it.” As humans we get excited by the ‘newness’ of a place through the local food, turning me to think about what I really know about Japanese cuisine.

(Image: Sharon Ang)

(Image: Sharon Ang)

In researching various ways of seeing Japan, most websites talked about the Japanese food culture, in that the Japanese are the most enthusiastic and passionate people in the world when it comes to their own traditional delicacies, as well as testing and learning about other countries through food.

I’ve amended my resolutions to be like that too.

Since its widely known that Chow Mein and Bunny Chows aren’t local foods of either China or India, just like the trendy food served at Mexican or Italian restaurants would make any local eat the insoles of their mother’s worn-out sandals. So what is real, authentic food to represent a country then, and in my case, what is real Japanese cuisine? What makes Japanese food fun to research is its relationship through the centuries to certain social and political changes. In this sense, you can actually taste history through different dishes.

(Image: Sayama)

(Image: Sayama)

Starting at the basics, Japanese cuisine is essentially based on rice, miso soup and side dishes made from seasonal ingredients. Once used as a currency, rice has been the Japanese staple dish for over 2000 years. Then the fun begins in the middle with the methods in which the rest of the table is prepared. Here we are talking about fish vs meat vs vegetables vs pickling vs grilling vs poaching vs deep-frying. From each phase of political regimes or noble and royal powerhouses, these methods of cooking were adapted and changed to fit the political landscape. It was in fact only from the 1880s, with the modernisation with Japan that meat dishes became a common occurrence.

Then when we are talking a different staple to rice, there’s noodles, soba and udon. This is where my heart skips a beat as ramen is is my go-to food for anything from comfort to trying to impress friends and colleagues. Fun fact, did you know ramen is actually not quite Japanese? It is rather a take on foreign food, particularly Chinese food.

Feeling a drop peckish after the brief lesson? Don’t fret, here are the tastes hangouts in Cape Town that serve Japanese and Asian fusion cuisine. It might not be the same as the authentic versions you’ll find in Japan, but it’s more than enough to bring about some travel inspiration.

(Image: Ruthie Prasil)

(Image: Ruthie Prasil)

Top Japanese-Asian fusion hangouts in Cape Town:

1. Go to Downtown Ramen for noodles galore

At a small hideaway hidden above popular bistro/bar Lefty’s in District Six, you’ll find Downtown Ramen, a perfect beginner’s guide to ramen. Expect big bowls of rich broth, gloopy noodles and the softest pork belly in town. The menu is found on their signature chalk board wall with two to three variations of bao (steamed bun) foldovers and ramen. Their drinks menu is limited but has wine, beer and sake enough. If you’re looking for something more crafty, Lefty’s is happy to help below. The restaurant itself, hidden away up a narrow stairwell and decorated with plain wooden benches, floors and walls also add to the magic of the restaurant. You feel as though you are in some enchanted little place far away from the hustle and bustle from District Six below. Add delicately delicious comfort bowls, this could very easily become your favourite hangout in town.

Where? 103 Harrington Street, Cape Town

How much? An average meal will cost you about R80


Fun and quirky with a view to die for over Sea Point Promenade, Manga is the place to go if you’re in the mood for an experience. The wine list is extensive, the whiskey even more and then we’re not even talking about the sake. Manga specialises in a form of playful fusion, think poke bowls, tuna carpaccio and guacamole and wonton crackers. If you’re a lover of sushi, you’ll walk out amazed. They serve everything sushi from the humble hand roll to octopus carpaccio to surf ’n turf tempura topped with bacon. They do everything fun with food and if the menu doesn’t invoke excitement, the manga comicstrip covered walls will. Arrive for drinks and a sunset, stay for a five-course dinner.

Where? Corner beach Road and Rothesay Place, Mouille Point

How much? An average meal will cost you about R120


After legendary sushi chef and restauranteur Hatsushiro Muraoka (locally famous as Papa San) closed Takumi on Kloof Street, Obi Restaurant appeared on Long Street and the food is greater than ever. Muraoka partnered with chef-partner Ben Bettendorf to create elegantly simple Japanese cuisine. Open for lunch and dinner, Obi has become a much-loved spot for the inner city and it isn’t difficult to see why. The sweet and soft nasu miso (aubergine with honey-miso dressing) and agedashi (deep-fried tofu in broth with bonito flakes) are house favourites from Takumi and a must-try. Then you have the shōyu ramen that is so comforting you’ll feel your troubles melt away with the light, fragrant broth and creamy noodles. The ambience of Obi also reflects the elegant simplicity of the food with crisp, clean lines and light touches. Honestly, Obi Restaurant is a spa for foodies.

Where? 14 Long Street, Cape Town

How much? An average meal will cost you about R100

Article originally written for and published by More Than Food on 11/02/2017

8 thoughts on “Searching for Japan in Cape Town

  1. Thea says:

    Awesome post! I have been craving Japanese food and didn’t know which restaurants in Cape Town would be a good choice. I’ll definitely look into these ones. 🙂


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