Photo by Leela Rupa Le Noury
Mika Hatsushima Soleimanpour has walked runways all over the world and been photographed by the world's most iconic fashion photographers. Now she's rooted in Fort Greene where she's proud mom to two-year old Reika and serving onigiri—rice balls—and miso soup every weekend to Fleasters and Smorgers who can't find Japanese food like it elsewhere.
What brought you to the Flea?
I used to go just to eat since I've lived in the Fort Greene neighborhood. I didn't know I had to audition to get in, but luckily I was accepted.
Why rice and miso? Why everyday?
That's the food I grew up with and honestly I can eat it "every day" and never get tired of it. My 2-year old daughter actually eats them almost every day; she's the main reason I started the business. I wanted to find food that was safe and healthy for her to eat.
Can humans "survive with only rice and miso," as the old Japanese saying goes?
I think we can for a pretty long time. It's such a well-balanced diet and also fermented food like miso increases the immunity so it even makes you stronger.
Rumors are: you are/were a model?
Yes, I modeled for almost 15 years; that's what brought me to this country 12 years ago. I did many good shows like Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney. I worked with photographers like Stephen Meisel and David Lachapelle. I think working with such talented people so driven by what they are, inspired me to find my own passion. I have finally found it.
Lots of people are scared of making Japanese food at home. Words of wisdom?
We do use lots of ingredients from the ocean and also from the mountain even in one dish, which might make people think it's a little complicated to cook. There also are vast variety of ingredients which might not sound familiar: "kombu," "shiso leaves," "yuzu." Once you learn how to make "dashi" (broth) and mix the right amount of soy sauce, mirin (or brown sugar) and sake, you can be proud to tell people, "I can cook Japanese food!"
Have you served many Japanese people?
A lot. And I am proud of it. If Japanese people don't like my food I should stop selling it.
What's your oddest Flea experience?
I sold pretty good even on a 99-degree day. Lots of people discover onigiri here and they become addicted. One day, I had a boy come back for five tuna mayo rice balls in one day. I thought, how do you eat that many? It makes me very happy!