Kanpai: Dining in Harmony

22/Mayo/2012 | 16:25

Chefs and restaurateurs offer their brand of cuisine often based upon their culinary roots and experience, influencing everything from the menu to the name of the restaurant. 


So, what would you call a restaurant whose driving force is an Ecuadorian woman with Peruvian parents and Italian grandparents who attended culinary school in the United States and later studied in Switzerland?    In this case it is hardly intuitive: Kanpai.


Kanpai is a blend of Asian flavors from Thailand and Japan with a few homegrown influences thrown in for good measure. If it does not make sense, just ask owner and chef, Diana Krebs, how she got here. 


“Puro Gusto,” she says, or pure pleasure. For twelve years Krebs has been perfecting a tradition she fell in love with as a culinary student in Rhode Island.

“When I was studying to be a chef there was a small kiosk…with long lines. It was a place with five or six tables,” she says.  It served Thai food.


“I fell in love with Thailand cuisine. As soon as I finished and graduated, I got absorbed in the food. I wanted to offer Thai cuisine.”


After working a few months in a Thai restaurant to learn their dishes and traditions, Krebs brought a Thai chef to Ecuador to help her figure out what products she could obtain, which local products offered good alternatives, what sauces she could create, and then went to work offering Quito’s first Thai/Japanese restaurant.


“The specialty is Thai and Japanese,” she says of Kanpai, “and we also have an introduction to other Asian plates or, as I would say, the Kanpai version.”


Clients have often viewed Kanpai as a sushi bar with Thai food, especially when they were located in the Plaza de las Americas in Quito, a bustling movie cinema enveloped by open air restaurants.  But now with their new location in Cumbaya, Kanpai has stepped out of the noisy enclave of eateries, accenting a broader menu of Thai traditions.




505 Fransciso Orellana and Interoceanica

(behind University of San Francisco de Quito)


Kanpai still serves a range of traditional sushi, sashimi, and rolls, along with Japanese dishes, which easily comprise half the menu. But a greater range of flavors can be attributed to the Thais cuisine.


Thai food is a mix of curries, stir fries, rice dishes, and pasta dishes and though Thailand is half a world away, surprisingly many of their products are not always strange to Latin America.  


Thailand cuisine offers such things as chili peppers, avocado, mango, and pineapple. For an exotic taste of familiarity begin a meal with the Tom Kha Gai soup.  Though perhaps hard to pronounce, it has some recognizable flavors. Tom Kha Gai is a chicken and mushroom soup with coconut and tamarind, tropical delights also found in Thailand. “Our part of the coast produces almost the same [products] as their coast,” says Krebs.


Krebs continually stresses the respect for tradition at Kanpai, but the joy of being a chef is also to experiment. “Kanpai, in essence, is a place where we maintain traditional plates as traditional.” But, “apart from this, I like in some ways to offer ‘cocina del autor’ because I am not Asian and my influences are not Asian. 


For example, Tako en salsa de aji panka y ponzu is a base of octopus, a Japanese tradition, but marinated with a sauce based on the Peruvian “anticuchos,” or kebobs, using pank, the Peruvian chili pepper. It is further flavored with a Japanese sauce known as ponzu, with a base of lemon and soy. Included are bites of breaded avocado. All of it cooked over the grill.


Ceviche Thai is made with octopus, crabmeat, shrimp and squid, and prepared with a citrus, ginger, and coconut sauce. It is a variation on the ceviche of Latin America, but also a common Thai offering. Krebs explains, “They don’t call it ceviche, but the concept is a ceviche because it uses precooked, marinated seafood with a lemon-based sauce…the recipe is just like you would eat in Thailand but I play a little with it by putting yellow chili pepper,” a native Peruvian pepper.


Thailand is best known for its curries and Krebs offers the three basic variations: red, green, and the massaman. Her Gaeng Massaman Nue dish is a mild curry prepared with beef tenderloin, potatoes, pineapple, and peanuts, but she smokes the chili peppers to leave a lingering perfume.


Though Thailand shares many products with Ecuador and Peru there are stark differences. “The variety of chili peppers is not the same and this is what radically changes the flavors,” says Krebs. This is one reason her clients often come in groups of 8-10. “It is delicious to put various plates in the center of the table as Asians do.” 


The gamma of flavors is what prompted her to offer a blind menu. Krebs says, “I want to encourage you to try things, because we have an immense variety of flavors…sometimes you do not try because you are not familiar, and you don’t know what exotic flavors you are missing.”

Her blind menu is essentially a tasting menu of 6-8 plates, small versions of regular menu items that she chooses. Each dish comes with an explanation from the server and she offers new combinations each month that showcase her favorite flavors. “It is Thai, it is sushi, it is Kanpai.”



Dinners at Kanpai average $20 per person plus drinks. The blind menu is $62 per couple, taxes included. Kanpai is located at 505 Fransciso Orellana and Interoceanica in Cumbayá. For reservations call 204-0957.  Visit the website at www.kanpaiecuador.com



In the tradition of Asia, where much importance is given to health and equilibrium, Kanpai is offering events throughout the year to complement their culinary approach to harmony.   Call Kanpai for a schedule of yoga classes, fung shei, wine pairing, tea tasting, table arrangements, and other themes such as jewelry, make-up, and theme parties.


Membership cards

Be sure to ask about their membership cards for group discounts. Sign up and benefit when you dine with groups of 4 more or more persons. Call for more details.



KANPAI Cooking Classes (2 times monthly)

$25 per class, 3-4 hours each

9 am to 12pm / 3:30 to 6:45pm

Culinary themes include:


Ciudad Quito

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lbrashear - en Diario HOY - Noticias de Ecuador.