By: Supreetha Gubbala
As I casually passed by the MTN Center located in Nyarutarama city suburb, something new, red and unfamiliar caught my eye. It was a chique sign pointed off the Kacyiru main road, and amazingly read, “Sakae Japanese Restaurant.” I could hardly believe my eyes. A Japanese restaurant in Kigali?
It aroused a discussion with a good friend and long time Kigali resident, for me to realize that in fact, a new chef had arrived in town.
Opening its doors on July 1st, the restaurant already boasted a nearly full restaurant upon my arrival on Wednesday night.
Already salivating for the comforts of fresh sushi, restaurant owner Kang Su Lee greeted us warmly as we were seated and stared about in wonder.
The restaurant exuded the peaceful atmosphere of Zen with a much more simple formula. Displaying white graceful paper lanterns hanging from the high timber ceiling, and two Tepanyaki tables, the first of their kind here in Rwanda the restaurant simply had me at “Hello.”
As we excitedly flipped through the menu, we worried that perhaps like other restaurants attempts at sushi, the new Sakae may once again disappoint our fine tuned palates.
Fresh and raw fish of the kinds often required by sushi such as salmon, tuna, octopus, eel and shrimp are often difficult to obtain fresh, daily in Rwanda. But as one does in love, we took the risk. And I must say, I think we may have found the one.
Upon our first visit, we seated a table of four and ordered up a variety of Japanese sushi as well as Korean dishes.
As we awaited our food anxiously, we were provided with a fresh cabbage, avocado and tomato salad drizzled with tangy peanut sauce vinaigrette.
A perfect, light beginning to what preceded to be an equally satisfying meal.
My specific dish was number 40 on the menu the “Crunchy Prawns Roll” , which accurately created a perfect combination of crunchy tempura coating and fresh avocado, shrimp and tuna.
A close friend, ordered up the “Sakae Sushi Set”, after which she proceeded to order more pieces of the octopus and salmon sushi that were particularly good. The set contains 8 Chef recommended pieces of sushi, and 2 pieces of the special roll.
As she excitedly reveled in finally being able to eat good sushi in Rwanda, she pointed out: “I wouldn’t have dreamt of a Japanese restaurant in Rwanda but… here it is. The food is amazing, the service great and the atmosphere is simple yet beautiful.”
Other dishes ordered include the owner’s specialty and the sweet surprise of the menu: Korean food --- Customer number 3 ordered up tempura-fried pork with a sweet sauce and rice. A long description short, he patted his stomach and sighed in sweet satisfaction at a readily emptied plate.
His wife, ordered up the well-known “Teriyaki Chicken” which also arrived with rice, which is a nice plus compared to the separate orders of rice required at neighboring restaurant, Zen. Her first experience with Japanese food proved to begin at a good place.
Midway through our meal, the owner brought out a complimentary platter of Gyoza, pan-fried dumplings that come with pork or mixed vegetables. Lucky for us, it turned out to be one of our favorite dishes for the night.
Upon our second dinner at Sakae on Thursday, the warm and friendly owner, opened up as to how he came to open up the first Japanese restaurant here in Rwanda.
“I had a friend in Kigali who said come see Rwanda, because I was opening up in Nairobi another restaurant, but Nairobi has a lot of problems. There are no many restaurants, no good restaurants actually, especially Japanese/Korean they seem to have none,”
Lee praised Rwanda for its peaceful atmosphere and intimated that when he came here it really was not expected to be in Kigali. He was just acquainting himself with all the problems, but now it is completely different, it is a like a new country. “It’s truly amazing…”
Kang is Korean and had previously been living in Nairobi for over 23 years. He holds much experience in the restaurant business. In fact, his former Chinese restaurant now run by his brother is the biggest in Nairobi.
Kang and his wife have been in the restaurant business for years, and his wife has personally trained many of the current chefs at Sakae.
“Most people know Japanese, but those who have tasted Korean love it. That’s why you see all those working at the Japanese embassy, here eating the Korean food,” Lee told Igihe laughing.
When asked his favorite dish on his menu, Lee recommended the new Tepanyaki table to customers. “Tepanyaki is my favorite. Also because it’s the first ever in Rwanda!” he excitedly told Igihe.com. Tepanyaki is a style of Japanese cuisine that uses an iron griddle to cook food.
The word teppanyaki is derived from teppan, which means iron plate, and yaki, which means grilled, broiled or pan-fried.
Modern teppanyaki grills are typically propane-heated flat surface grills, and are widely used to cook the food in front of guests as they eat as a form of entertainment and fresh cooking.
Customers excitedly munching away Thursday night could hardly contain their praise for the new restaurant. The cars have already filled up the entire restaurant lot, and we were lucky to find one of the few spots left.
Candy Basomingera, a local Kimihurura resident commented, Definitely my new favorite restaurant in Kigali. A big thank you to the Owner for this truly Asian experience.”
The new restaurant is located in Nyuratarama near Gishushu and is open Monday through Saturday 11:30pm-3pm for lunch and6pm-11pm for dinner. Head over for a seriously, good Japanese-Korean experience.