East meets West at Wa Cafe

Wa Cafe is bijou and bright, a 15 seat sushi restaurant tucked away down by the docks that was opened by Yoshimi Hayakawa on 8/8/2008. This date is no coincidence, the number eight is considered a very lucky number in Japanese culture. It was indeed lucky for us. At Wa the rice is soft, sticky, and delicious, and the food is authentically Japanese, from sushi rolls, miso soup, and bento boxes to green teas. The menu is short with a rotating choice of specials ensuring there is always something new, with a good choice for vegetarians.

Yoshimi opened Wa Cafe at 13 New Dock Street eight years ago and this taste of Japanese life is now a firm fixture on Galway’s dining scene. The cafe has a very loyal following from both locals and visitors to the city. Wa, which means harmony, brings a fusion between East and West and now Yoshimi does exactly that too. Just last year, through her connection with the Back to Education Centre, Yoshimi enrolled in the culinary school at GMIT. Wa Cafe had provided a platform for work experience through the education centre and through this relationship, Yoshimi found herself heading to school for the first time in Ireland.

With no knowledge of traditional Irish cooking methods, she spent six months immersed in learning new skills. "I have enjoyed so much learning how to cook an Irish fry, baking bread and even an apple tart, these are things I would never have experienced, only for I am in Galway and am taking these opportunities,” she says. As part of this course Yoshimi had to complete 70 hours' work experience in her friend Jess Murphy's kitchen at her restaurant, Kai, on Sea Road. Through this journey of food and culture, Yoshimi has updated and changed her own menu at Wa Cafe to incorporate more flavours and seasonal produce to suit Irish diners. “After going back to school and working in Kai, I felt that tradition is important but also transition is important too. Studying nutrition, menu planning, and food trends are also to the forefront of my mind and interests."

The new menu includes Connemara miso soup bowl and riceballs using seaweed from Mungo Murphy's, sticky Friendly Farmer teriyaki chicken, and vegetables from the market. "The world is changing fast, becoming more diverse and people mind more about food. You can find a harmony in the Wa cafe new menu, harmony of tradition and transition as well as harmony of East and West. For dinner time, you can still enjoy traditional style of nigiri sushi made with local and seasonal fish. Do not be surprised when there are no tuna and no salmon on the menu, Wa cafe will use only sustainable fish," explained Yoshimi. The Wa Cafe lunch box includes panko pollock, traditional tofu cake, chicken combined with miso soup, mama’s hand rice balls, and market salad of quick pickles. You can also chose from the sushi roll selection that ranges from a Wa ginger and wasabi, Achill Island smoked mackerel, chicken or mushroom turnip roll. There is a reduced price for the busy takeout trade of these dishes also, important when you have only 15 seats.

The fish comes fresh from the best that Gannet Fishmongers has to offer whether that be bluefin tuna from Cork or scallops from Kilmore Quay. On our last quick visit we feasted on udon noodles with calamari tempura, deep patterned bowls of thick noodles in salty, savoury, dash soup with crisp squid rings served on the side. At €13.50 it was filling, comforting, and set us up for the day. The service is unobtrusive and gracious.

Yoshimi Hayakawa is a well known figure in Galway and is credited with playing a large part in introducing Japanese cuisine to the food scene. In Japan a chef must train for many years to become a professional sushi chef or 'shokunin'. She had done her sushi training in Tokyo when just over 14 years ago she came to Ireland to learn English and to visit Galway. Like so many before her, she has never left. She fell in love with the City of the Tribes and began her culinary career serving traditional sushi in Galway’s famous market, captivated by Galway’s cosmopolitan vibe and the warm and engaging spirit of its people.

There is a rich exchange of cultural influences and food traditions from far and wide that comes with each of the many migrant populations that chose to settle here and call Galway home. These exotic, complex, cuisines are creating a food culture that continues to evolve. Yoshimi Hayakawa's story is a story about food, community, and culture, one more very welcome voice in Galway's global village.

Wa Cafe, 13 New Dock Street, Galway city. Tel 091 895850. E-mail [email protected].

Wa Cafe is open Monday to Thursday from 12 noon to 3pm for lunch, and from 5pm to 9pm for dinner; and from Friday to Sunday from 12 noon to 9pm. Wa also has a stall at the Galway Market every Saturday and Yoshimi runs sushi workshops teaching traditional sushi making methods.

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