A Japanese Woman who Cooks for Cubans and Tourists

Vicente Morin Aguado

Noriko-CocinandoHAVANA TIMES — Noriko Shingaki arrived in Cuba five years ago from Osaka where she was born: “I decided to offer my cooking to whoever wants to try it, I make family meals, the kind that can be eaten daily at any Japanese home.”

The small Nippon Shoku Dou cafe opened on April 22, 2016 on Bernaza St, near the intersection with Obispo St., behind the famous Floridita restaurant, and across the street from the La Moderna Poesia bookstore.

“Old Havana has no equal,” emphasizes the Japanese woman while she defines her vocation. “It’s family food, homemade dishes, all traditional. When I can’t get fresh sea fish, the Sushi disappears from the menu no matter how much people ask for it. ”

The conversation included the difficulties of cooking Japanese in Cuba: “It is difficult and expensive if you respect our sacred customs. It’s hard because even the imported better quality rice, Brazilian, Argentine or Vietnamese, still doesn’t make it; there’s no rice like in my country. Fresh fish runs short and I have to import some of the seasonings directly from Japan.”

HT: Do you have problems with the government?

Noriko Shingaki: So far none other than what’s expected under the circumstances.

HT: Past experiences?

NS: I had a bar in Osaka, called Orishas, which I closed when coming over here. I don’t think doing business here is such a big problem, outside of the distance when it comes to some products.

Restaurante-japonésHT: How do you organize the work?

NS: I hired six workers per shift, mostly women, plus I cook while I train the assistant cooks.

The restaurant menu offers six to eight dishes every day, they all start from white rice, there is always a bowl of vegetable soup, an egg omelet, along with meats chosen by the customer, pork, chicken or mutton. The full service costs between 4.50 to 5.50 CUC, equivalent to US dollars, while accepting regular pesos at the official 25/1, exchange rate.

The exception is fish at 7 CUC and lobster for 8 CUC. I tried a Katsudon based on strips of pork, fried and breaded, lightly spiced with sweet and sour sauce. I ended up requesting a plastic container to take the leftovers home. Then new questions arose:

I took a minute to speak with one of the employees, Niuska Juliet Celse Viera: I asked her if she feels motivated to work at the café? “I was a teacher; here I make in two days what I earned in a month at the school. Besides, Noriko helps me with my studies because I aspire to graduate college in the program for workers.”

HT: What are your plans to attract customers?

At night, while maintaining the restaurant menu, we change the atmosphere to that of a tavern, with music, drinks and what you call here “snack dishes.” We become a night in Osaka.

The evening menu adds sausages fritters, fried eggs, plantains on a type of hamburger (Banana jasami ague) and small croquettes (Coro coro corokke). There’s also no lack of Sake, cocktails and beer.

“Starting next week we will have Sushi daily, in addition to Tempora, both based on fish. At night the musical entertainment will be supported by what you call cartoons. The Japanese have a strong tradition of world-renowned animes. It will be sensational.”

Noriko opens her home from 11 am to 11 pm. When asked about the probable success of her entrepreneurial project, she emphatically replied: “We are a family of the best Japanese style, we need promotion, we work hard, persevere, we respect the traditions and we are convinced we will succeed.”

18 thoughts on “A Japanese Woman who Cooks for Cubans and Tourists

  • Well then we’ll agree to disagree. You claim that somewhere in Cuba paladars are only legally allowed one employee. I’m saying that not only is that not true, but it has never been the case in any province anywhere in Cuba. So one of us is mistaken/confused about the situation.

    I guess it’ll just remain a Havana Times mystery, no big deal.

    All the best to you.

  • No, I speak of paladars. I am never specific about where our home is, because I am protecting my wife and family. Remember that criticism of the regime is an offence.

  • I have a fair amount of experience with paladars in Cuba and I am not aware of any province that limits paladars to one employee, could you be more specific?

    Are you sure you’re not confusing mobile/temporary street vendors with actual paladars?

  • “… Oh! I thought the subject was paladars and Noriko Shingaki’s success…”

    Yes, that’s precisely what the subject is. Not the many tangents in your long and off-topic lecture.

  • Oh! I thought the subject was paladars and Noriko Shingaki’s success. I thought her business was in Havana. I thought that you suggested in your post that my views were out-of-date. That’s not correct? You may be more up-to-date than I am, how was it in Cuba last week?

  • My point is that your comment is confined to Havana, where the tourists would object to regime intervention. Where I live, people are only allowed one employee.

  • Carlyle, I appreciate the long post but it has nothing whatsoever to do with the discussion at hand.

    My ONLY point was that your insinuation that the, “… regime might intervene because of the number of employees…” was incorrect and that has been the case for years now.

    All the best to you.

  • Eden, you will find elsewhere in these pages a response I gave today to bjmack. In it I explained that my knowledge of Havana is limited because I don’t live there, we only make the occasional visit. Secondly, we don’t live in a tourist resort – those places that offer the inclusive four ‘B,s’ of Beach, Bed, Buffet and Booze. But the same applies to the bulk of Cubans.
    As I responded to bjmack, does Washington represent the average American community?
    I ‘trot out’ the position that I observe daily and it is up-to-date. Nothing has changed in the income of Cubans, there has been no improvement in living standards, public freedom of expression if critical of the State still results in the CDR reporting and imprisonment.
    The main source of information remains TV and for relatively few Granma, and both are reported to by perodistas who are loyal to the regime – as typified by Randy Alonso Falcon with Mesa Redondo at 7.00 p.m. when it occupies 4 of the TV channels and which is supposedly a program for discussion. I am at the moment not in Cuba, but it is less than a month since I left home. So, you may claim that I am about a month out of date.
    As I live in a substantial community well away from the fleshpots of Havana and the tourist resorts, we have few paladars as those we do have are dependent entirely upon Cubans. I know of three only and each is a family operation and they charge in pesos. That’s the Cuba that I know! I know the Cuba where we wait up to 40 minutes for the next batch of 200 gm loaves at the panaderia, where we are unable to buy toilet paper, Cuban beer, coffee and numerous other ‘normal’ requirements for up to months at a time. I know the Cuba where we purchase many of our daily requirements on the street and I know the Cuba where parents instructing their own children in their own home anything which is contradictory to communism can be jailed for up to three years. But that is the law!

  • Nope, not just Havana, I’m speaking about paladars anywhere in Cuba that tourists frequent. None of them are shutdown any more by the government and this has been the case for years. You need to get up-to-date.

    La Guarida was shutdown briefly by the government a few years ago, the backlash had it re-opened shortly.

  • I think Eden that you are speaking of paladars in Havana. The regime is good at having a blind eye when a business in in an area frequented by tourists. What happened to La Guarida?

  • The fears voiced by Carlyle and yourself were certainly true years ago. Start up a successful paladar and you placed yourself firmly in the cross-hairs of a jealous, vindictive, petty government. It was absolutely disgusting how the government forced some of those businesses to close.

    Those days are over, thank goodness. I wish that Carlyle who is so diligent in attacking the government at every opportunity (and rightfully so) would at least get up to speed with the present day situation instead of trotting out the same old, out-of-date news from years ago.

  • Let’s hope so. I don’t know her, or her establishment, but plan to seek her out next time I visit my in laws there.

  • I can’t imagine that happening in present day Havana. Noriko’s operation is very small compared to many others, especially in her location. Also the government is keeping a very hands-off approach to messing with paladars, especially since the La Guarida fiasco a few years ago.

    And not to get too detailed, but one does not open up a paladar in Old Havana on a whim… you need existing connections… if you know what I mean…

    Noriko is not some naive foreigner dumping hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars into a Havana club/bar/restaurant. The city is full of those dummies who a few months later are on the verge of losing everything.

  • I think this woman is amazing. I only fear it’s a matter of time before the regime interferes, if only because this type of success, and the income generated, makes the regime look bad.

  • “… It illustrates the benefits of private enterprise and apparently to date
    the regime hasn’t intervened despite the number of employees…”

    Noriko has far, far fewer employees than many other paladars. Only 6 workers per shift is miniscule compared to some operations.

  • I know Noriko. She runs a fine establishment and I wish her the best.

  • As a card carrying capitalist, I love this woman!

  • I wish this lady continued success. As a teacher in school the staff person quoted in the box, would earn about 650 pesos per month ($26). She is quoted as saying that she earns that in two days – so Norika is paying proper wages. It illustrates the benefits of private enterprise and apparently to date the regime hasn’t intervened despite the number of employees. Shows what can happen when they get out of the way!

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