The story behind Yankenpon Washoku at the San Fernando market starts like a TV joke, or at least that’s what it sounds like when Gustavo helps Osamu explain this to me: “We are one Japanese, Osamu, with ‘u’; another Japanese, well, half Japanese half Argentinian because he was born in Japan but lived in Buenos Aires for 30 years; an Argentinian, which is me, and a Spanish-Japanese woman”. Fortunately for everyone involved, their business is not a joke but a serious chance to have a street breakfast from Okinawa without leaving Lavapies.
Osamu, obviously Japanese, and Gustavo, undoubtedly Argentinian, run Yankenpon Washoku, a restaurant with an elder brother at the Vallehermoso market in Chamberí where the other two partners work: Twiggy, the Spanish-Japanese, and Akihiro, the Japanese-Argentinian. “But why only in markets?” I ask them after having all their backgrounds clear in my mind. “There is an old tradition of street food stalls in Japan; markets have a different life there and we wanted to bring the idea here,” says Gustavo while making rice balls with a green scarf tied Japanese-style around his head
Following the tradition of Japanese food stalls, Yankenpon Washoku is also a restaurant, a space that encourages us to learn about Japanese culture
“Sushi is already known here, but we also want to introduce Japanese culture in Spain,” says Osamu with a smile in an almost perfect Spanish. “Also, the stalls at markets there are cheaper,” says Gustavo while putting a piece of salmon on another piece of rice. The more Osamu and Gustavo tell me while working on the kitchen, the more interested I am about this multicultural gang.
I chose the day menu (Tuesday to Thursday, 10.5 euros), made up of seaweed salad, succulent udon noodles in broth, six pieces of sushi and iced tea. In addition to the menu (miso soup, gyoza, edamame, yakitori, karaage, wakame salad and desserts such as mochis or green tea truffles), on weekends they also have other dishes as well as seasonal fish—now, for example, they usually serve sea urchin. Besides being a restaurant-street stall serving traditional Japanese recipes and Nikkei food, the Yankenpon (the name refers to the game of Rock-Paper-Scissors) is a cultural center where you can enjoy Japanese literature, cooking workshops of different levels, exhibitions showing the work of emerging artists, and a store selling Japanese products including sake, Japanese paper and Sapporo beer). The walls are covered in national newspapers and their main stage hosts two tables for four people each. A long bar for eating reminiscent of Japanese izakayas closes the space.
Far from the safe distance people working at other Japanese restaurants keep from their customers, at Yankenpon Washoku you may find a couple from the hood chatting with Osamu about their grandchildren or a regular French customer asking Gustavo “what do we have today, is there any rare fish?” Located between a pastry shop and a homemade food stall, it positively contrasts with the genuine ambiance of the San Fernando market, which is the Madrid counterpart to London’s Brixton Village, but with vermouth. With my notebook full of names, nationalities and arrows, I ask for a chronological explanation of how this quartet was formed. “We’ve all worked in restaurants for many years,” Gustavo answers while taking an order. Osamu, drying a plate, finishes the answer: We are international, like Lavapies!”
- Timetable: M-V 10:00-21:00 S - D 10:00-17:00
- Phone: 672 88 31 39
- Type: Multidisciplinary space
- Website: http://www.washoku.es/