HomeWhat are Japanese Food and Ingredient Supporter Store?Voices of Supporter Stores OverseasKicsi Japán Sushi:Budapest sushi restaurant works small to go authent

Interview of Supporter Stores Kicsi Japán Sushi

Budapest sushi restaurant works small to go authent

Budapest / Hungary

Rare culinary enterprise Kicsi Japán Sushi

Budapest’s Corvin Quarter (Corvin negyed), known in recent decades for its dilapidated buildings and downbeat atmosphere, has undergone a remarkable transformation. Now, thanks to an extensive revitalization project, the neighborhood offers a thriving community and modern commercial facilities. It also attracts a diverse crowd, including college students and middle-class locals.

Carefully tucked into this urban revival is a rare culinary enterprise: Kicsi Japán Sushi.

Yoshihito Hirose, owner and chef of Kicsi Japán Sushi, sees huge potential for development in the location where he opened the restaurant in May 2019. He knows spending levels were not high at the time, and that there were already plenty of upscale sushi restaurants in the city. Undaunted in the face of adversity, Hirose wants to create a place here for everyone and to introduce new, authentic flavors to people open to trying them – and he appears to be succeeding.

Step into a real Japanese experience

Kicsi Japán means ‘Tiny Japan’ in Hungarian. True to its name, the restaurant is indeed quite small – but also very striking. Several handpicked posters cover the walls, creating a lively, festival hall atmosphere. If you’ve ever been to Tokyo, you’ll feel as if you’ve stepped into the bustling vibe of the Shinbashi Train Station.

Much of the bustle and vibe comes Hirose’s team of chefs – but try to arrive early. The restaurant sits just 30 people, and counter seats are the best if you want to see up close how this amazing team makes the best sushi in Budapest.

Enjoy a wide range of delectable choices, expertly prepared

This little gem of a restaurant offers a surprisingly extensive and diverse menu. When it comes to sushi options, there's a wide variety on offer, including salmon, tuna, sea bream, turbot (flounder), squid, scallops, salmon roe, shrimp, octopus, Hokkaido Sea scallops, eel, marinated mackerel, and Japanese Wagyu beef. Additionally, with an advance order, customers can savor delicacies such as sea urchin, king crab, scampi (red shrimp), abalone, live oysters, fatty tuna (ohtoro), bonito, and conger eel, among others. In addition to the seafood options, they also serve local specialties, such as foie gras.

Customers can enjoy their sushi in the form of nigiri (hand-pressed sushi rice topped with seafood) or donburi (a rice bowl dish). Meanwhile, the seared salmon and onion slices of the ‘Salmon Sushi Platter’ make for a visually appealing and delightful experience.

Hungary, being landlocked, obviously lacks the available sources of seafood found in Japan. To address this formidable constraint, Hirose distinguishes his restaurant from the local competition by taking two key approaches towards replicating the traditional Edomae-style sushi taste found in his native country. The first is meticulous control over the freshness of ingredients; second is the use of specific cooking techniques tailored to each type of seafood.

Moreover, he pays close attention to the taste of sushi rice, adding sushi vinegar to small quantities of rice at a time instead of preparing a large amount at once: this helps to maintain the right temperature and flavor. When forming the sushi by hand, he adjusts the applied pressure to create a texture that is firm outside but slightly loose and airy inside. Additionally, to enhance the flavor of murasaki (soy sauce), he adds mirin (mildly sweet Japanese rice wine used for Japanese cooking) and reduces it, resulting in a taste that is smother than commercially available soy sauce.

"The little details are what take our sushi to another level," Hirose explains.

First-time visitors tend to order bowls and rolls, he adds, but regulars tend eventually to opt for the authentic sushi plates. The customer base comprises approximately 20-30% tourists, while the majority, about 70-80%, are local residents, evenly split between Hungarians and foreigners. The age range of patrons is diverse as well, spanning from students to septuagenarians.

Local sourcing of distant flavors

Hirose sources the majority of his sushi toppings from Hungarian wholesaler Attimcom Kft. The Hokkaido Sea scallops and Miyazaki beef (a kind of Wagyu) come from Asian food supplier TAKO Foods. He goes online to locate exotic items like sea urchin, abalone, and herring roe – still quite rare offerings in Budapest – and acquires them from vendors across Europe.

The JFC Group in Vienna supplies ingredients like miso, nori, ginger, and Japanese dessert items such as daifuku. Japanese sake and other alcoholic beverages come from Intercooperation Zrt., a Hungarian alcohol beverage importer. Karatanba and Gassan are varieties of dry sake that are popular with locals, Hirose notes.

In 2022, the inflation rate in Hungary soared at one point to more than 20%, leading in turn to a significant surge in both raw material and transportation costs. Like other restaurants in town, Kicsi Japán had no choice but to raise its prices, but Hirose says that procurement costs more or less stabilized by mid-2023. The “real challenge” in running a business in Hungary, he observes, lies in the differences in culture and business practices. Complex tax procedures and small inconveniences – such as lack of confirmation for orders – can be quite difficult for a foreigner working alone to navigate.

Concentrating on sushi

Hirose ventured out on his own to open Kicsi Japán after acquiring experience on a gourmet conveyor-belt sushi restaurant in Osaka and while working at Japanese restaurants in China and Budapest. Just six months later, he opened another restaurant in downtown Budapest: Izakaya. At the time, he had plans to expand through a variety of specialty restaurants, including an izakaya-style eatery (a type of casual Japanese bar/pub that serves alcoholic drinks and food) and a yakitori joint.

A year and a half later, however, Hirose closed Izakaya. Though the restaurant was not lossmaking, the decision was driven by the challenges of managing both establishments single-handedly. He decided instead to prioritize Kicsi Japán until business stabilized.

Now that Kicsi Japán is on a stable path to success, Hirose plans an expansion near the Lehel Market, slightly north of the city center. The new restaurant will also primarily offer sushi and rice bowls.

"The shortage of manpower makes diversification a challenge, so I want to focus on sushi," he explains.

At the same time, Hirose intends to cut back on collaboration with food-delivery service Wolt in favor of in-person dining. At the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, revenue through Wolt accounted for 50-70% of the total, but now accounts for only about 10%. Hirose mentions that he intentionally trimmed the menu offerings for Wolt, as the number of customers dining in the restaurant significantly increased after the pandemic.

"Sushi’s at its best when it's made right in front of you. I truly want people to come and savor it at the restaurant," he concludes.

Kicsi Japán Sushi
Üllői út 40 Budapest 1082
+36 30 856 7925