Little Japan in Paris

‘Okito Wok, Grillade Japonais’ is a buffet restaurant in the 15th arrondissement. The first time I heard about it, I thought, ‘a Japanese restaurant in the 15th? That’s… odd’ – a fitting response for those familiar with the Parisian neighborhood structures. It’s a quiet, family-oriented area that remains conservative and traditional – with its open-air markets and excessive number of Boulagéries. The neighborhood, although the biggest in the city, has no real monuments and does not really attract tourists, except if you count the la Tour Montparnasse and the Eiffel Tower (which is really in the 7th). In retrospect, the 15th arrondissement is what we would call, “the Parisians’ Paris” – the Parisian here referring to a person who was both born and raised in Paris. First of all, France is known for its food so naturally, foreign food can only survive if it can cater to French people. For example, KFC in Nigeria offers local specialities like Jollof rice and fried rice and our Zinger burger is very spicy, while here, KFC doesn’t offer any spicy food and bacon has found a permanent seat  on the menu. Similarly, there are several Chinese and Japanese eateries all over place who have Parisified themselves to pull up bills. But to have an authentically Japanese restaurant in the most exclusive part of the city that doesn’t attract much tourists? That requires a lot of balls.

My decision to go to the restaurant came with another: to be open-minded. I’d eaten Japanese food before, but always made sure whatever I was eating was “very well done” (kind of defeats the purpose, no?) So, I decided to try sushi. Before this, I’d rejected every sushi invitation with “I’m Nigerian” – a response that was not only a declaration, but also a legitimate justification to rejecting raw food. In Nigeria, we do not eat raw food – you’re eating meat with blood? You might as well travel around with a drumstick and a magic wand because only witches drink blood. In fact, I’ve only accepted one such invitation. However, when waiter brought me a platter of rice and raw salmon, I politely asked if it was possible to get “very well done” instead. Needless to say, he declined. But if it’s a buffet restaurant, then it really didn’t make a difference whether or not I ate Sushi and so as my journey began, my determination rose.

Okito was not disappointing. My friend told me they opened for dinner at 19:00 and by the time I reached the eatery (around 19:05), about 5 tables were filled already. Ten minutes later, all the tables were filled and by 19:45, people were standing at the door because even the basement was full. The buffet was smaller than I expected, but it served the essentials – very well done meals: chicken wings, chicken nuggets, spring rolls, dumplings, and chicken, duck, beef, fish sauces. And then of course, a wide variety of Sushi (there are different types!) The buffet table also offers raw foodstuff – fish, chicken, and beef – that you could have the chef at the kitchenette cook for you with your preferred sauce.

The restaurant took advantage of the quietness of the 15th arrondissement because if it were in a different neighborhood – say, le Marais – the atmosphere will be very different. But being in the 15th, Okito Wok is able to provide a cozy, comfortable place to cater to different types of meetings without them disturbing each other. On the table next to my friend and me sat a small Japanese family enjoying a quiet dinner on a weekend, the one across us was filled with a group of friends who seemed to be catching up after a while and next to them, two elderly men seem to be in a meeting. A few diners appeared to have been on a date, but nothing fancy (make-up, dress and heels); just a casual get-together in jeans and a rock-and-roll t-shirt. It offers an affordable lunch of 13 euros and dinner of 18 euros 7 days a week, and like many places in France, encourages family dining as children of 8 years and below get a discount (9:80 euros for lunch and 12:80 for dinner).

Once again, I chickened out of Sushi (because I’m Nigerian), but after the canard larqué and chicken cooked with sauce saté, even walking was difficult. I’m definitely visiting the restaurant again, and would recommend it to everyone looking for a nice, quiet dinner in Paris.

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