The Icelandic restaurant landscape is always shifting. These days, Reykjavík seems to be experiencing an injection of international cuisine. The last couple of months have seen the opening of Syrian café Aleppo, the Moroccan restaurant Kasbah, and the Afghan restaurant Afghan Style, to name just a few. One of the most exciting restaurants to form out of this multicultural big bang is the brand-new Japanese-Spanish tapas house Makake.
Helmed by Erna Pétursdóttir, who is also one of the brains behind the beloved Ramen Momo, the restaurant was joined by chef Mayela Armas, who shares Erna’s Spanish roots and her passion for Japanese cuisine.
Erna dons a bright headband and the playful grin of someone eager to surprise the meat-and-potato-loving Icelanders. “Makake [or macaque, in English] is a Japanese wild monkey that are also known as snow monkeys,” she says. “They live in matriarchal societies that are all about sharing and caring. They even love bathing in hot springs and rolling snowballs like Icelanders. We thought it was a great fit since tapas are made for sharing and, at Makake, we want people to share, be playful and have fun.”
With Ramen Momo, Erna carved out a niche, but Makake takes her for a deeper plunge, infusing the Barcelona vibes of Erna’s youth with the herbal aromas of mochi ice cream and the sweet smell of grilled pork belly.
A special cultural blend
The walls of Makake are emblazoned with manga-like images of macaques at play. Red paper lanterns frame a recreation of Japanese street dining; tables are made of beer crates and lights from old Bundaberg ginger beer bottles.
The fusion between the culinary traditions of Barcelona and Tokyo is not as strange as it may seem at first glance. The Japanese Izakaya restaurants are bustling after-work bistros with casual small plate dining built around sharing much like Spain’s tapas tradition. And those shared Iberian roots run even deeper, as many Japanese dishes were influenced by traditions brought over by Portugese travellers in the 16th century. One of the best known among those being the tempura.
“When I was a kid, I’d love to visit the Chinese-Venezuelan social center to see their markets and restaurants,” chef Mayela chimes in. “I ended up in charge of Barcelona’s only Asian cooking school and Erna and I originally met there during an intensive Ramen course. Shortly after, she invited me over to help develop the menu at Ramen Momo and now Makake. It’s funny how these things can happen.”
The ever evolving Grandi
“Makake is a dream we’ve had for five years,” says Erna. “As much as we love what we have created with our tiny ramen lunch place. We’ve been dreaming of opening up something bigger.”
Makake is located in the black, white and blue building that used to house the Kumiko café, over in the Grandi area which has seen a massive explosion of new restaurants and food businesses during the last five years.
“The food scene in Grandi, has changed a lot since the beautiful people from Coocoo’s Nest started to rework the energy of the area. Now Grandi reminds me of an area in Barcelona called Poblenou; both are industrial areas that have been reshaped with interesting projects that would otherwise have a hard time making rent in the current rental market. The corner of Grandi where Makake is based is still developing but the building is beautiful and spacious and it allows us to work freely and express our vision.”
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