February 20, 2024

When the stalls in Madrid’s Antón Martín market (Santa Isabel, 5) close at noon, the hustle and bustle begins at the Yokaloka restaurant. It is located on the ground floor and during the week it serves one of the most popular Japanese daily menus in the city. The person responsible for this success is Yoka Kamada, a Japanese woman who settled in Madrid in 2007 and, encouraged by her mother, who did makis in his native country for a bento (carry-out) establishment, he opened a small Japanese take-out shop. She chose to do it in the market in his neighborhood where she went to buy every day because there was nothing like it. “In 2007 it was 100% a grocery store. I started without speaking Spanish and people wondered what a Japanese woman was doing in the market”, recalls Kamada.

Time and his good work answered this question. In 2009 Yoka took over the bakery next door and turned it into a bar so people could eat there. He did so well that, the following year, he expanded the space with the adjoining premises and made a larger bar. And at the end of 2019 he took over another stall in front of it where he placed some tables, some red lamps and where he papered the walls with Japanese posters. Then, his partner — the French-Japanese chef Stephan Shoji — entered the business to establish a more efficient production system in the kitchen and thus be able to accommodate a demand that did not stop growing. So much so that last December they opened another new area with low tables next to the main bar.

The main bar of the Yokaloka stall, in the Antón Martín market in Madrid, at noon, in the summer of 2022.
The main bar of the Yokaloka stall, in the Antón Martín market in Madrid, at noon, in the summer of 2022.Almudena Avalos

Lunch menus

“We began to offer menus of the day to adapt to the people of the neighborhood,” says Yoka. But soon they began to arrive from other areas, cities and even countries after Isabel Coixet was inspired by her position for a chapter of the series Foodie Love. From Monday to Thursday, between 1:00 p.m. and 3:45 p.m., they offer five menus with good value for money, ranging from 13.50 euros to 16.50 euros. With all of them they serve a small appetizer that usually consists of edamame with mushrooms, tuna cooked with chives or seaweed hihiky and a soy sauce that they prepare in the kitchen. Yoka says that they make it like in Tosa, a province in southern Japan. “It is called Tosa Joyu and it is a mixture of soy sauce with a base of dried bonito —katsuobushi— and algae kombu that we macerate for three days. The sauce that is sold in Spain is very salty and kills the flavor of the fish, which is why we decided to make it ourselves”, he explains.

The menu card is illustrated with photographs so that the clientele knows exactly what what they are going to order looks like, perfect for those who are new to this culture. It starts with the sushi set (16.50 euros) made up of a tray of ten pieces of sushi that vary depending on the market —among them is not eel, one of the house specialties—, a delicious miso soup, Stephan’s recipe to which he add the Tosa Joyu homemade and a drink. The ramen menu (15 euros) includes vegetable dumplings, four types of ramen to choose from and a drink. Yokaloka’s tasty ramen is one of the most popular in the city and can be chicken and pork (ToriButa Ramen), shrimp (Wafu Yoka Ramen), vegan without broth or even cold with albacore tuna tartare.

Toributa menu with chicken and pork ramen, dumplings and a small appetizer in Yokaloka, Madrid.
Toributa menu with chicken and pork ramen, dumplings and a small appetizer in Yokaloka, Madrid.Almudena Avalos

Another of the menus is chirashi bowl (16 euros) with a drink, miso soup and a bowl to choose between one of salmon flambé, another of tuna with egg cooked at low temperature and black truffle or that of tuna, salmon and school fish on sushi rice. The menu donburi (13.50 euros) also has miso soup and includes a donburi, a traditional Japanese dish that combines different ingredients such as sweet soy stewed beef served over rice. Vegans have an option designed for them. It costs 15 euros and contains a seaweed salad and 17 pieces of makis of vegetables or a ramen with sesame sauce and without broth accompanied by a drink. In addition, you can order a homemade spicy dish from your own recipe in which they mix Chinese and Korean spices, chives, passion fruit, olive oil and pepper.

The novelty of this year in Yokaloka is that they have started working in a Madrid garden with seeds that Yoka brings from Japan. “We cultivate edamame, wasabi either shiso organic. We still can’t provide ourselves 100% because we don’t have that much, but the idea is to achieve it ”, he assures. And, although they are not included in the daily menu, they also make traditional Japanese sweets and their own craft beer (4 euros). When making a reservation, which is important if you want to live the experience, it can be done by phone at 610 602 722 or through its website. Japanese enjoyment is guaranteed.

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