Japan has many facets and those who have been there know it very well. The idea of a leitmotiv of classicism, purity and rigour does not unite the whole country. There is a boisterous and colourful pattern of joy, for example, in Osaka, where Dotonbori is its archetype. And to find the same gaiety and the same stimuli in Milan you have to go to Poporoya, in Via Bartolomeo Eustachi 17.
Poporoya (literally “people’s shop”) is the “structure-creature” of Hirazawa Minoru called Shiro. Graduated from the prestigious Tsuji cooking school in Osaka, he arrived in Italy in Rome in 1972. In 1970, at the Osaka Expo, Japan began to open up to the world. So, Shiro moved to Milan and in 1977 opened the Poporoya store. In 1984 he opened the sushi counter and in 1987 became the sole owner. All this is well documented in the showcases full of newspaper articles of the Eighties and Nineties and photos depicting the master during the highlights of this long history. In August 2013 a major renovation of the restaurant was carried out and all the memories were well exposed to the walls. When you arrive at Poporoya, you always find a lot of people in line, the staff screaming from one side of the restaurant to the other, who call the customers shouting. Here the calm and serenity of the Rising Sun do not exist: this is the most sincere example of Japan of ordinary people and of everyday life. It’s tight, there’s no intimacy, there’s no mise en place, and waiters push to get to the exit with takeaway packages. You have to go to the menu counter, tell what you want to eat and wait outside to be called to the table. I asked Shiro what changed since he started and on this point he has no doubt:
The knowledge that Italians have about Japan has changed and I am not just talking about cooking but about traditions and customs. For me the goal is always to make real Japanese cuisine known and feed the Milanese people. My inspirations? Passion, duty and willingness to carry on a life mission.
What about the future?
That’s a difficult question. Probably some things could have changed and improved as in the lives of each of us, but overall I am very happy with the life I lived and the people who shared this piece of road with me… The future I imagine rich things as beautiful as the past was and I entrust it in the hands of my children and the staff that have surrounded me for years.
The cashier keeps saying over the phone that reservations can’t be made. She is Mami, Shiro’s daughter. Both were awarded in 2019 as “Ambassadors of the cuisine of the Rising Sun and its products in the world” by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. Mami is Poporoya’s female counterpart. She linked a strong relationship with Yamaguchi prefecture, of which she introduced Honochu tea and creations made with Natsumikan mandarin. And the prefecture itself nominated them for that award. Her figure is very interesting. I ask what it means to be a woman in a masculine and highly competitive environment such as that of meal plan and her answer is very direct:
Actually, I am convinced that even behind every man there is the presence of a woman and that therefore this world is not as masculine as it wants to seem. My personal experience was completely autonomous in a place that was on the other side of Milan compared to Poporoya. I did the come up through the ranks and every day I learned something new. I’m happy with what I’ve achieved so far but I’m always as forward-looking as my parents have been.
Shiro is particularly famous for his chirashi, considered by many to be the best in the city, if not in Italy. Every night there is a real assault to eat the famous dish of rice for sushi and raw fish, spartan and fresh. Shiro has worked this dish to adapt it to Italian tastes that more than 40 years ago did not know Japanese cuisine at all, opening a path then completely unknown, maintaining the Japanese tradition and innovating it. But from Poporoya the menu is quite extensive, in fact you can also eat hosomaki, uramaki, different types of don, sashimi, temaki, udon, yakitori, tempura, tonkatsu, unajyu teisyoku and a number of accompanying dishes, such as gyoza, tako no karaage, aghedashishi tofu. There is also a cake card (kusa daifuku, Hiroshima daifuku, ichigo daifuku, green tea ice cream, mochi green tea ice cream, dorayaki, matcha ice dorayaki). To drink, different qualities of sake, umeshu and beer.
It still remains the food department, where you can stock up on Japanese cooking products at home. Among the various products are noodles, prepared for soups, packaged sweets, salted snacks, sauces, prepared for curries, seaweed, frozen products — such as ice cream and edamame, spirits, green tea and matcha tea.
🌎 http://www.poporoyamilano.com/www.poporoyamilano.com/index.html 📍 Via Bartolomeo Eustachi 17, Milan 📞 +39 02 2940 6797 💰 $$