40 years later I am still running after slices of premium fish laid on top of cooked sushi rice. After so many years I have something to say to my readers about sushi so here we go.
There are thousands and thousands of sushi restaurants spread across Tokyo, many for the most part serve mediocre sushi, affordable sushi. There’s nothing wrong with eating affordable sushi is there? Not really and it is all relative, and for the most part, the majority of Japanese would rarely if ever have a chance to try high-end sushi.
These days fish is just not the same as before, it has improved through fishing technology. I spoke about this is recent articles, the bottom-line is most fish served are fresh frozen, cut frozen, shipped frozen and are “Bananas” strung up for sale.
In the old days when the Japanese fish market was open to the public, there were several decent sushi restaurants. Daiwa was one of the well-known sushi restaurants that had lineups with a minimum wait of 45 minutes to 1-hour depending on the time of day.
I remember when I first came with my wife to Japan at the time she was still my girlfriend. We would have terrible jet lag so we would wake up 03h00, take the car and go to the fish market. Walk the market and then go to sushi Daiwa, drink a beer come back and crash. [awesome]
In those days you could easily have a fantastic experience but over time more people became attracted to the fish market. It became a tourist attraction for just about anyone, and busloads would go. This encouraged a great populace of people, and just too many Chinese and others bombarded the market.
The end results of the new market Toyusu doesn’t permit foreigners into the market anymore because they interfered in the routine of workers, taking their knives and making the most ridiculous things. This is a sign I photoed 5 years ago at Tsukiji.
I believe the quality went downhill because the supply and demand could not be synced, yet a decent experience at the fish market was always possible. But for sushi connoisseurs definitely not, and after I realized the difference between “wet market” sushi and a high-end sushi counter, I changed my mind about what I would eat. The elegance of Kubei, a capable respected chef Hisaji Imada eventually turned it into a tourist trap but 15-years ago it was still well respected. It sold eventually to a Japanese group.
The fact of the matter is the demand was just too high and what we see in places like Venice we see here. The expansions of global economies have to lead to a crushing of our local culture, and now with Covid-19, we have a chance to take back what once was only possible in the past.
When I first came to Japan in the early 1980s, I used to go to a sushi bar in Shibuya-ku. It was really old-fashioned and the chef was middle-aged, I was in my twenties. I frequently asked for sea urchin and tuna, o-toro, etc, little did I know at the time, the fish quality was crappy and given my knowledge was very limited, and my budget too, it seemed delicious. I look back, and I really had no idea what I was doing, I was eating something I thought was immense and I ended up with vitamin A poisoning – I was yellow like a banana.
Eventually, I graduated after so many experiences to discover a higher quality of experience. What I realized, sushi is not just fish and rice and it’s not about fulfilling your belly with yummy fatty o-toro fish. It is a culture and tradition in Japan, their tribal food – the roots take us way-way back.
I think of sushi as a portion of food that represents different geographic territories. For example, Edomae sushi is where we say street vendors evolved sushi using local ingredients. All about the origin of the fish coming from Tokyo Bay, it was local.
Later on, sea urchin and some other fish were introduced but generally speaking, Edomae is the Tokyo bay area, the sea directly off of this small coast.
Probably the single most important ingredient in sushi is the fish and in order to understand you really need to have a good understanding about the origin of the fish their migration and season, their diet and how they are fished, caught and transported. Homogenous is the best way to describe the process from beginning to end and there is very little compromise.
Japanese fish with surgical precision, and use the utmost care in everything they do. It is meticulous and their process ensures the finest quality and whether it is fresh or frozen it doesn’t matter.
And of course, white rice and the preparation are so important but there’re other smaller details, for example, the sauces such as nikiri or Tsume:
These are all conjured up by each individual chef who uses the same parameters but has kept their mixing details a secret. But at the end of the day, the focus must be on the balance between the size shape. Of course, many ingredients are all brought together the uniqueness of sushi is the incorporation of those individual ingredients and the final single bite.
There aren’t too many foods similar to sushi because it incorporates so much effort and so little technology because most of it is handwork with simple tools.
Sushi is great when a chef understands the importance of his clients and not himself. Young chefs, we know today are mostly showing off, taking advantage of social media, using rating systems to promote their prowess. The overdone yucky rice over-sweetened, akasu, fatty fish substitutes and fancy techniques using fancy knives.
It makes little sense when food amateurs rank the best chefs – we end up with a land of confusion.
Categories: Sushi Styles