Other Feature Writing
A New Kettle of Fish
“When I first opened, I served only American food,” says Kyong Chong, owner of the Homeport Café, a cheery pink-walled restaurant hidden at the back of a Falmouth office park. “There is not much of a Korean community” on Cape Cod, Chong explains, and among Cape locals, “a lot of working people wanted sandwiches at lunch.”
But now, after five years, Chong’s dinner menu is 100 percent Korean. While a few sandwiches remain for the lunch crowd, even most midday patrons are choosing bulgoki or jabchae.
The Cape may still not be the first place that comes to mind when looking for the cuisines of Asia, Latin America, or even the Mediterranean. Yet a growing number of ethnic restaurants serve both the local and tourist communities. In some cases, it’s changing American tastes that are motivating new restaurants; in others, it’s an increasingly diverse Cape population.
The sushi generation
When Yuji and Alda Watanabe launched their first Japanese restaurant on the Cape in 1989, “there was nothing here” for diners who wanted authentic Japanese food, Alda Watanabe recalls. “It was new, but people were very receptive.”
The Watanabes now own Inaho in Yarmouth Port, which they opened in 1992. It’s a Cape-style cottage, but the interior, with its blond wood and shoji screens, feels serenely Japanese.
The 2000 U.S. census estimates the Asian population of Barnstable County at less than one percent, but American tastes have evolved. As Watanabe explains, “We have a range of age groups coming in. The older people may prefer a cooked dish,” such as tangy soy-marinated eggplant or a deep-fried fish garnished with snow peas and peppers. “The younger ones,” Watanabe says, “will eat sushi.”
The story is different, though, for Brazilian food. It was the burgeoning number of Brazilian inhabitants on the Cape that helped inspire the Brazilian Grill, which Maximiliano De Paula and Walter Witt opened two years ago in Hyannis. Although estimates of the Cape’s Brazilian population vary, a casual drive through Hyannis turns up plenty of Brazilian influences. As Kelly Ayer, manager at the Brazilian Grill, notes, “There are Brazilian-owned clothing stores, markets, money transfer businesses, translation services.” And now Brazilian restaurants.
Americans eat early, Brazilians eat late
“At lunch time, we have more Brazilians. Early evening, it’s Americans. Then late evening, Brazilians.”
According to Ayer, the clientele at this authentic churrascaria – Brazilian-style barbecue – varies by day and time. Friday and Saturday nights, lots of non-Brazilians come in, while Sundays, she says, “We’re full with Brazilians,” since that’s the traditional day families and friends in Brazil dine out together. Overall, she calculates that about half the customers are Brazilian-born, as are owners De Paula and Witt, who both came to New England as young adults.
You certainly hear plenty of Portuguese in the dining room, where waiters circulate with long skewers of meat – several different cuts of beef and pork, plus chicken, linguiça, lamb, quail, and chicken hearts. To accompany the meats, a bountiful buffet table includes salads, side dishes, and stews: farofa, yuca, plantains, rice, black beans, greens, and salt cod.
Ethnic food as health food
At the Homeport Café, meat plays a much smaller part in the menu. In fact, Chong, who was born and educated in Korea before moving to the Cape about 20 years ago, attributes the increasing interest in Korean food to a growing health consciousness. The many vegetables used in Korean cuisine make it more nutritious, she notes.
Even the meat-based dishes at Homeport have plenty of vegetables, as in the mandoo udong, a mild clear soup with delicate pork dumplings, plump noodles, fresh spinach, bean sprouts, and carrots. The mandoo (dumplings) come in a vegetable version as well.
Teas, too, are increasingly popular for their perceived health benefits. Homeport sells ginseng, green, and jasmine varieties, as well as a pungent ginger tea, served either hot or cold, that certainly feels restorative, regardless of its actual health-giving properties.
A melting pot family
Like their adopted homeland, the Watanabe family is a melting pot. Yuji grew up in Japan, and after spending a year bicycling across Australia, he moved to the United States. Although Alda has lived in the U.S. for about 30 years, she’s originally from the Azores. They met, she recounts, when Yuji was working as a sushi chef in Newport and Alda would eat at his restaurant.
Their sons, ages 10 and 5, like to eat all kinds of food, Watanabe says. And living on the Cape, they can – now that maki, kimchi, and linguiça are all just up the street.
Brazilian Grill: 680 Main St., Hyannis. 508-771-0109. Homeport Café: 316 Gifford St., Falmouth. 508-540-0886. Inaho: 157 Route 6A,Yarmouth Port. 508-362-5522.