News / Economy

Johannesburg Restaurateur Creates Sushi for African Palate

Darren Taylor

Silver blades of high-tensile carbon steel flash inside the kitchen of the inner city restaurant known as The Blackanese.

Sushi chef Themba Khumalo sharpens the blades, saying he feels naked without his treasured Japanese knives.

"If you don't have a knife, you don't have sushi," Khumalo said. "You have to sharpen your knives each and every morning when you come to work."

Khumalo is perfecting the art of fusion cooking, the delicate art of combining cultural and culinary traditions. The Johannesburg chef's unique mission is to 'Africanize' the Asian delicacy sushi, to get more black people to eat it.

In front of a pitch black wall decorated with golden chopsticks, Khumalo sculpts maki: teardrop-shaped mouthfuls of raw salmon, cucumber and avocado, surrounded by sticky, white rice, in a wrap of paper-thin dark green seaweed.

Khumalo is paid to create "sushi art," as he calls it, at The Blackanese - an eatery that's the brainchild of 30-year-old restaurateur Vusi Kunene.

Kunene was raised poor, in a village in Mpumalanga Province. On special days, he says, his family would eat chicken. But mostly, they could afford only porridge and spinach on his mother's meager income as a vegetable seller.

"I don't think there was sushi at that time in Africa," he said. "I never knew anything about sushi."

After his mother died, Kunene left school at 14 and moved to Johannesburg, surviving on odd jobs, eventually becoming a waiter in a sushi restaurant.  
He became mesmerized by the process of crafting sushi and set out to learn as much about it as he could.  
 "At the time the chefs were Japanese, were Chinese, who could not speak English," he said. "And who were not willing to share the information. Then I started doing my own research, on the Internet and stuff like that, and moving to different types of sushi restaurants."
Kunene opened his restaurant two years ago with a mission to create sushi for the African palate.    
"People tend to think sushi is raw fish, which it's not," he said. "Sushi's a combination of rice and vinegar. That's why you can actually have sushi without raw fish. Raw fish is just one of the fillings."

To "Africanize" sushi, Kunene's recipes include traditional South African ingredients such as springbok and kudu antelope and biltong, dried spiced meat.
"Now, immediately when you talk to an African person and then you're telling them about biltong sushi, I think they are willing to listen," Kunene said. "They are willing to try it out. And then immediately when they get into it, this is when you sort of push them into the extremes."
When The Blackanese opened, most of Kunene's customers were white. Now he says his clientele is 50 percent black.  
At a table in the eatery, a young man dressed stylishly in a blue cashmere sweater, tucks into sushi rolls while working on his iPad.
He's Seth Mbhele, a digital strategist and one of Kunene's best customers.  He recalls the first time he tasted sushi a few years ago.
"Tuna sashimi," Mbhele said. "Once you get over the idea of what it is that you're eating, it becomes enjoyable. I'm here pretty much four times a week, I think."
Kunene is thrilled to be changing South African eating habits by demystifying sushi and giving it an African spin.

You May Like

Syrian Rebels Poised for Anti-Russia Collaboration

Forty-one insurgent groups issue joint statement vowing retaliation for Russian air offensives More

Political Maneuver Revives Export-Import Bank's Chances

Parliamentary tactic gets bill out of committee, but it faces opposition in the Senate More

Beijing Warns US on S. China Sea Patrols

Warning follows news reports Thursday that US military is planning to sail warships close to artificial islands Beijing has been aggressively building More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdrawsi
Jim Malone
October 09, 2015 12:32 AM
The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

VOA Blogs

World Currencies


Rates may not be current.