It’s no secret that Japanese food is one of the most widely loved in the world, with a recent poll ranking it the third most popular cuisine worldwide.
In the Arab world, too, Japanese restaurants have been steadily gaining popularity around the Middle East.
However, this phenomenon isn’t limited to purely Japanese restaurants. Fusion food is winning new admirers in the culinary world, leaving an opening in the market for restaurants such as Akiba Dori to perhaps carve out a permanent place.
Akiba Dori takes its name from the Japanese word for street (dori) and the shortened form of Akihabara, the tech-and-anime district of Tokyo, known for its bright lights and frenetic atmosphere. Founder Samer Hamadeh, inspired by Akihabara’s neon lights and signage, developed the restaurant’s concept around the district’s aesthetic.
Hamadeh insists that Akiba Dori was never meant to be an authentic Japanese restaurant, but one inspired by Tokyo street food. “I wanted this place to be unconventional. I call it ‘idiot-proof’ Japanese food,” he said.
“Akiba Dori is a tribute to the backstreet food vendors of Tokyo, rather than a tribute to Japanese food per se. The place was designed to bring out a colorful and happy side of the more traditionally designed Japanese restaurants found around the world.”
The restaurant is divided into sections, and Akiba Dori utilizes its relatively small space with perfect efficiency. A bakery section offers classic Japanese snacks, such as fish-shaped taiyaki cakes, and more innovative fusion foods, such as the panko-encrusted brownie.
In a room dedicated to classic arcade games, patrons can indulge in a round of Street Fighter before enjoying their meal. A bar, DJ booth and cafe area all fit snugly into different parts of the restaurant.
Menu items are inspired by Japanese cuisine but with twist. Akiba Dori’s gyoza, which are typically filled with ground pork in Japan, are available with either a wagyu beef or a seafood filling. Chicken katsu, another popular Japanese dish, is available in either a classic style served with Japanese curry, or in a more modern fusion version, as sliders.
However, food purists can still enjoy sushi, sashimi and edamame, among other popular Japanese favorites. In the back of the restaurant, however, lies what is probably Akiba Dori’s biggest selling point — its “Tokyopolitan” pizza oven.
During the 1990s, Italian food began gaining popularity on Japanese television, and has been on an upward trajectory ever since.
Today, Tokyo is home to 12 one-star restaurants and 15 Bib Gourmand restaurants, according to the Michelin Guide. Some even argue that Tokyo is the best place in the world – apart from Italy itself – in which to find good Italian food.
Hamadeh hired Naples pizza expert Luigi Mercogliano, and sent him to Japan for six months to train him in the use of their pizza oven, which can produce a crisp, perfectly cooked pizza in about 40 seconds.
The pizzas are made with Japanese flour and salt, and are topped with ingredients that range from the classic to the experimental.
Offerings include a traditional Margherita, unique creations such as the Kabucha (pumpkin puree, smoked provola cheese and beef salami) and even a unique monthly creation put together by Mercogliano.
Akiba Dori also has a no-waste policy, which contributes to the pizza’s relative scarcity.
“On weekdays, we make a hundred dough balls and on weekends we make 150. So odds are if you show up at 10 on a Thursday night, there won’t be any pizza left,” Hamadeh said.