Darko Poljak – creator, founder and owner of the first and only sushi restaurant in Sarajevo – Sushi San
By: Medina Malagić
Tucked away on an inconspicuous street in Sarajevo near the Music Academy and Cathedral, on Musa Ćazim Ćatic 33 one can find the first and only sushi restaurant in Sarajevo. Owner Darko Poljak founded ‘Sushi San’ in 2009 and it continues to enjoy a reputation as more than just the only sushi restaurant in Sarajevo and in the entire country. Frequent visits of the Japanese Ambassador to ‘Sushi San’ and Darko’s years long involvement in promoting the art of making sushi, as part of the Japanese Embassy’s “Days of Culture” is a testament to the high-quality and delectable sushi at this restaurant. Just as Bosnian-Herzegovinians would agree that not all food that is labelled ćevapi is actually ćevapi, Japanese people are just as uncompromising when it comes to sushi. Thus, there can be no better recommendation to the quality and authenticity of the sushi at ‘Sushi San’ than Mr. Poljak’s engagement with the Japanese Embassy in promoting and making sushi.
San Francisco: Where It All Started
In an interview for ‘Sarajevo Times’, Darko spoke to us about the origins of his idea for eventually opening his own sushi restaurant in Sarajevo. He was exposed to sushi during his frequent visits to San Francisco, located on the west coast of the United States and renowned for being one of the gastro economic capitals of Asian cuisine. It was hereat the Japanese restaurant and jazz club “Yoshi’s” that Darko learned the nuances of making sushiunder the supervision of two great Japanese chefs Shotaro Sho Kamio and Sam S. Kawaguchy, where he had the opportunity to develop his skills and return to Sarajevo to open the first sushi restaurant in the country.
Popular World Trend of Japanese Cuisine Arrived to Sarajevo Nearly Three Years Ago
“Sushi is a world trend. It is a world trend of healthy food, and sushi is one of the cuisines from Japan that is at the top of the most healthy cuisines in the world’’, says Darko Poljak.
He explains that with easy accessibility to information via the Internet, people are able to acquire information on what constitutes healthy food, so people who wish to incorporate healthy eating as part of their lifestyle start to eat sushi.
Darko goes on to emphasize that there is no such thing as unhealthy sushi. The difference lies in the quality of the ingredients that are used to make sushi. Thus, sushi remains a relatively expensive food, especially in comparison to the ubiquitous presence of ćevabdžinicas and burekdžinicas that could be found on nearly every street corner in Sarajevo.
Thus, this makes Mr. Poljak a pioneer in introducing healthy cuisine to the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Focus on Ingredients
Darko places an emphasis on the quality of ingredients that go into his sushi making and draws a comparison to pizza. If the dough for making pizza is good, then whatever you put on top of the dough will be good. The same goes for sushibecause sushi in Japanese means vinegrated rice, or „su“ means vinegar and „shi“ means rice. If the rice is good, then you will inevitably make good sushi.
”There is a reason that sushi is at the top of the world in health food”, explains Darko. The ingredients that are incorporated into sushi and other Japanese cuisine consists of B-vitamins, rice, Omega 3 foods, numerous antioxidants,anti-inflamatory ingredients,ginger, algae, tuna, seaweed, and wasabi. These are all ingredients that provide our bodies with the necessary healthy nutrients, and is indubitably much healthier than consuming, for example, pizza every day.
Receptiveness of Locals to Sushi and Changing Perceptions
According to Darko, since ‘Sushi San’ is the only exclusively Sushi place in Sarajevo, we have to wait until there are at least five sushi restaurants here in order to be able to gauge whether the trend of this global healthy cuisine is fully activated here. He proudly says that in addition to the many foreigners who frequent his sushi restaurant, there are many more locals who are avid visitors to his restaurant.
However, Darko has also been witness to people who would visit his restaurant with an entrenched preconceived notion about sushi. He notes that older people do come here sometimes, and many young people bring their parents along. So, he estimates that ninety-nine out of one hundredpeople who try his sushi like it. Those who do not embrace sushi do so because they harbor the misconception that sushi is raw fish. However, Darko also says that this unwillingness is not something exclusive to Sarajevo. There are many Americans who have never tried sushi and would probably never try it.
Sushi sashimi is raw fish, but this term should not be used interchangeably with sushi. In actuality, sushi is any dish that is served with rice. Raw fish is one of the ingredients that could be used in sushi dishes. There are sushi dishes that contain no seafood, and ‘Sushi San’ offers a wide variety of dishes to accommodate diverse palates.
Darko explained to us his special technique for easing an individual’s transition into trying sushi for the first time, and especially to people who are hesitant and reluctant to taste sushi. He lists all the ingredients that are included in a selected sushi dish and asks people whether they would eat prawns, rice, and soft-shell crabs. The answer is usually yes. Afterwards, Darko would cut up the food, put some rice on it, and present it to formerly unwilling customers. This confirms to Darko that most people have the wrong idea of what is sushi, and asserts that if people eat all the ingredients that are in sushi, then they eat sushi as well.
‘Sushi San’ in Sarajevo is the place to go if you are keen on adopting healthier eating habits or if you would like to contribute to dismantling the misconception of what is actually sushi. Based on the superior quality of ingredients used in this restaurant, ‘Sushi San’ can proudly say that it is contributing to continuing the expansion of a healthy variety of cuisine in the heart of the capital city of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
You are all welcome to Sushi San to try something new or just visit Sushi San’s web page www.sarajevosushi.com to check out what they offer.
First photo of Darko Poljak in his restaurant Sushi San is by photographer Irfan Redžović