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

Multimedia VOA SPECIAL REPORT: US Army Turns Its Best Minds Toward Ebola

Scientists at America's premier biological research center race to find effective drugs, speedier tests and a safe vaccine amid the deadliest outbreak of Ebola in history More

Kurdish Poet Battles to Defend Language, Culture

Kawa Nemir's work is an example of what he sees as an irreversible cultural and political assertiveness among Kurds in Turkey More

Dissident Venezuelan General Resurfaces in New York

Antonio Rivero has resurfaced after nearly a year in hiding, appearing at United Nations in New York More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
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.
Filmmakers Produce Hand-Painted Documentary on Van Goghi
X
George Putic
January 29, 2015 9:43 PM
The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Filmmakers Produce Hand-Painted Documentary on Van Gogh

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Super Bowl Ads Compete for Eyes on TV, Web

Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 1) is about more than just the NFL's American football championship and big parties to watch the game. Viewers also tune in for the world famous commercials that send Facebook and Twitter abuzz. Daniela Schrier reports on the social media rewards for America’s priciest advertising.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Freedom on Decline Worldwide, Report Says

The state of global freedom declined for the ninth consecutive year in 2014, according to global watchdog Freedom House's annual report released Wednesday. VOA's William Gallo has more.
Video

Video MRI Seems to Help Diagnose Prostate Cancer, Preliminary Study Shows

Just as with mammography used to detect breast cancer, there's a lot of controversy about tests used to diagnose prostate cancer. Fortunately, a new study shows doctors may now have a more reliable way to diagnose prostate cancer for high risk patients. More from VOA's Carol Pearson.
Video

Video Smartphones About to Make Leap, Carry Basic Senses

Long-distance communication contains mostly sounds and pictures - for now. But scientists in Britain say they are close to creating additions for our smartphones that will make it possible to send taste, smell and even a basic touch. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.
Video

Video Crowded Republican Presidential Field Off to Early Start for 2016

It seems early, but the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign is already heating up. Though no one has officially announced a candidacy, several potential Republican contenders have been busy speaking to conservative groups about making a White House run next year. Many of the possible contenders are critical of the Obama administration’s foreign policy record. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.8837
JPY
USD
117.92
GBP
USD
0.6608
CAD
USD
1.2531
INR
USD
61.900

Rates may not be current.