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SALMON

The Filipino who became Norway’s sushi master

Roger Asakil Joya has helped popularize sushi in Norway – can he do the same for Filipino food?

The Filipino who became Norway's sushi master
I first met Roger Asakil Joya at one of Alex Mossige’s Filipino food pop-ups in Stavanger, Norway. He, his wife and their four-year-old son had just finished eating Kare-Kare, a thick oxtail stew in peanut sauce, when Alex suggested I interview him. “He’s from Sabi Sushi,” she said.
 
Sabi Sushi is a well-known chain of sushi restaurants in Stavanger. It grew from one small take-away outlet to nine restaurants within a span of five years. In my family, Saturday is Japanese food day. Every week, we would either dine in at, or order take-out from, the nearest Sabi Sushi restaurant.
 
“At which Sabi restaurant do you work?” I asked Roger.
 
Overhearing my question, a Filipina seating at the table cut in, “He’s the owner, you dum-dum!” (Well, she didn’t say “you dum-dum”, but I surely felt like one :-))
 
“I’m the one who mops the floor,” Roger replied, eliciting laughter and diffusing the embarrassment caused by my silly question.
 
Roger and his son. Photo: Jacqueline Lauri
Roger and his son. Photo: Jacqueline Lauri
 
Roger Asakil Joya, originally from Cavite, Philippines, is a sushi master, co-owner and founding partner of Sabi Sushi and the head chef of Sabi Omakase. He immigrated to Norway when he was 18. He is one of the few sushi chefs in Norway accredited by the All Japan Sushi Association (AJSA).
 
In August 2015, Roger competed at the Sushi World Cup in Tokyo and snatched second place in the Edomae sushi category and fourth overall. As the top three winners were Japanese, Roger, can affably claim the world’s best non-Japanese sushi chef title.
 
Sabi Sushi, conceived as an Everyman’s sushi diner, played a big part in converting sceptic raw fish eaters into sushi enthusiasts in Rogaland in southwestern Norway. Ironically, decades ago, it was the Norwegians who tried to convert the Japanese to eat a particular type of fish raw – salmon.
 
 
Salmon sushi, now a world favourite, was unheard of in Japan until the Norwegian salmon industry reintroduced it to them. Salmon fished in Japan bred parasites and was considered repulsive to serve raw. It took a clever campaign by a Norwegian to change the Japanese’s perception of salmon sushi. 
 
Sabi Sushi's Newbie, a favourite of the author's son. Photo: Jacqueline Lauri
Sabi Sushi's Newbie, a favourite of the author's son. Photo: Jacqueline Lauri
 
Salmon also played a big role in popularizing sushi worldwide due to the threshold fish’s mass appeal. In fact, Sabi Sushi’s Newbie, a set my son craves for every week, consists of mostly salmon. As you know, Norwegian salmon has that buttery, melt-in-the-mouth quality and a universally-liked taste that even children love.
 
Which provides us with some food for thought: What would it take for Filipino food to crossover in Norway and the world? How can we change the negative perception on our cuisine and re-label the “unhealthy” tag slapped on it into “healthy yet exciting?” What’s our takeaway from the Norwegian salmon sushi story?
 
Can Roger Asakil Joya help popularize Filipino food in Norway just as he helped popularize sushi in the region?
 
What do you think is the reason for the absence or lack of Filipino food establishments in Norway? What can be done to boost the visibility of Filipino cuisine in the mainstream?
 
Most Filipinos do not have a business mentality. They are more focused on getting a secure job so that they can help their family in the Philippines, which I think is understandable.
 
In terms of Filipino food, I think we don’t have a distinctive or easily identifiable gastronomic style. Most of our food is diluted with European, Chinese, and Malay influences. To give it a boost, I would recreate a native tropical paradise atmosphere, like a restaurant with a nipa hut type of motif inside.
 
Have you ever thought about starting up a Filipino restaurant? Why or why not?
 
I’m open to it.  If there are Filipinos who can give me a viable proposal and ask me to be their partner, I would seriously consider it.
 
If an aspiring entrepreneur comes to you and asks you for advice about putting up a Filipino restaurant in Stavanger or anywhere in Norway, what would you say?
 
Prepare a business plan and I will consider financing it.
 
What are your goals in the next few years?
 
Invest in the Philippines. I love our country.
 
Find more about Roger Asakil Joya on the Sabi Omakase and Sabi Sushi websites or on Facebook
 
This article was written by Jacqueline Lauri of My Food Beginnings – a Filipino food anthology project. My Food Beginnings can be found on Facebook and Twitter.

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DISCOVER NORWAY

Where are Norway’s Michelin star restaurants?

Norway is home to four new Michelin-starred restaurants following the recent publication of the Nordic Countries Guide for 2022. These are all the Norwegian restaurants to receive a star in the Michelin Guide. 

Where are Norway’s Michelin star restaurants?

Four new Norwegian restaurants received Michelin stars when the Nordic Countries Guide for 2022 was published this week. 

Scandinavia’s cooking elite gathered in Stavanger on Monday to award this year’s stars and individual honours for chefs in the Nordics. 

Three of the new stars awarded were given to restaurants in Oslo, while the other star was given to an eatery in Bergen, taking the number of Michelin-starred restaurants in the city on Norway’s west coast to two. 

One of the newcomers, Hot Shop, named after the former sex shop the building used to house, is located on Københavngata street in east Oslo. The canteen-style bistro serves tasting menus based on seasonal, local ingredients, which the Michelin Guide describes as “elegant, vibrant and technically adept, with delicate touches and real depth of flavour”. 

Schlägergården in Lilleaker, on the eastern outskirts of Oslo, was also awarded its first star. However, it was the fourth time restaurant manager Bjørn Svensson had received a star for one of his restaurants. The restaurant is in a converted 18th-century farmhouse with a set menu consisting of local produce, some foraged, grown, or preserved by the eatery’s staff. 

Michelin describes the food there as “pure, expertly crafted dishes which have bold, emotive flavours”.

Located right on the border of Grünerløkka and St. Hanshaugen in central Oslo is Hyde, the third restaurant in the capital to receive its first Michelin star this year. The guide credits the service and “laid-back, lively atmosphere” as major pulls for the restaurants.

Over on Norway’s west coast, Lysverket in Bergen was awarded a Michelin star. The eatery serves up creative, modern takes on Norwegian dishes accompanied by craft cocktails. The restaurant is housed in an art museum with the menus showcasing “intelligently crafted, balanced dishes”. 

The other restaurant in Oslo, boasting a glowing review from the Michelin guide, was Maaemo, which retained its three Michelin star status. The new Nordic cuisine behemoth focused on organic and biodynamic produce is located in the heart of Oslo on Dronning Eufamas gate street.

A few other chefs and restaurants received accolades at this year’s presentation. Heidi Bjerkan took home two awards, the first for excellent service at her sustainable Michelin-starred restaurant Credo. One of her other restaurants, Jossa Mat og Drikke, won a green star, given to eatery’s that excel in sustainable operations. 

A Norwegian, Jimmy Øien, scooped the award for the best young chef. Øien is the chef at Rest located on Kirkegat in Central Oslo and holds a green star for sustainable practices. The menu heavily emphasises using imperfect produce, which other places may otherwise discard. 

Several restaurants also retained their status. Renaa, with its kitchen located in the heart of the restaurant, has two Michelin stars and is commended by the guide for the quality of its Norwegian seafood dishes and the bread it produces at a nearby bakery. 

The 2022 guide also includes Kontrast (Oslo), Statholdergaarden (Oslo) , Under (Lindesnes), the biggest underwater restaurant in the world, Sabi Omakase (Stavanger), Bare (Bergen), FAGN (Trondheim), Credo (Trondheim) and Speilsalen (Trondheim), which all have one Michelin star.

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