eat in my kitchen

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Tag: Japan

Meet In Your Kitchen | Roll your own Sushi at Kyoto’s Awomb

Awomb

Kyoto shares a kind of peace with its visitors that immediately takes control over body and mind. It answers all your questions and makes you speechless.

The city has two faces, the busy modern one of concrete, glass, metal, and noise, and then there’s the quiet side, when Japan’s old capital unfolds its true beauty. It’s not superficial, this beauty touched me deeply. You can see it, smell it, and taste it. Natural materials and clear lines create a compelling minimalist aesthetic dominated by dark wood and coal colored roofs shimmering silvery in the misty light. Silent stone gardens, temples, and shrines erase the noise in your head and fill it with serenity.

If this feeling could manifest itself in a restaurant, this would be the wonderful Awomb. The restaurant is in an elegant traditional house, hard to find in a narrow side alley in old Kyoto. You sit on the floor, on Tatami mats made of rice straw, in front of a low wooden table. The room is filled with natural light, golden warm as honey. The subtle sound of the floors creaking and birds hiding in the tall pine tree in front of the window break the gentle melodies of the traditional Koto music playing in the background. It sounds a bit like a harp, melodic yet hard, pure as single water drops.

The food created here is quite a new concept. Owner Ujita Hiroshi brings hand-rolled sushi, which is usually served at home, to the restaurant table to share with friends. A bowl of white rice, a teapot filled with steaming dashi broth, and a black lacquered tray full of little plates filled with stunning delicacies are the center piece of this culinary experience: you come to Awomb to roll your own sushi in one of the prettiest rooms that I’ve seen on my trip. The food itself, each little plate, looks like a piece of art. Seafood and vegetables can be mixed and combined according to your mood and refined with various seasonings, like fresh wasabi, grated ginger, plum sauce, salted vegetables, dried shrimp with mayonnaise, or tasty soy sauce jelly cubes. You can either add the ingredients to the rice bowl and eat it with chopsticks, or you can go for sushi in seaweed – rolled in your hands.

There’s no chance that I’ll ever have such a vast variety of ingredients to choose from in my own kitchen, but it’s so inspiring, I tried totally new combinations. I’ve learned that you shouldn’t be shy, just try not to use more than 4 to 5 main flavors and you’ll be rewarded with astonishing results. I got a bit excited and went overboard – the German girl came through – but my first “sushi in a bowl” made with pink grapefruit, salmon, fried sweet potato, square bean, gari (pickled ginger), and finely cut green matcha crepes tasted fantastic. Then I combined purple potato mash, octopus, and Ikura (salmon roe) and rolled it in seaweed, which turned into such a delicious beauty that I have to share this recipe with you.

The quality of each ingredient used at Awomb is outstanding, which isn’t a surprise, Ujita Hiroshi comes from a family that has been in the sushi business for decades. However, the young man didn’t want to follow his parents’ footsteps, he decided to start his own food adventure. His vision, to make hand-rolled sushi a delicious and fun experience for friends outside their homes, is a huge success. Long lines and waiting lists call for a well-planed reservation.

In the next months, I’ll share many Meet In Your Kitchen features with you that took me to California, Italy, France, and Japan. Thanks to Zwilling for sponsoring these features for our culinary trip around the world! Thank you, my man James Hickey, for joining me on these adventures and helping me take pictures!

Awomb

 

Awomb

Build Your Own Sushi:

Hand-rolled Sushi and Sushi in a Bowl inspired by Awomb

Serves 2

For the mashed purple potatoes

100g / 3.5 ounces boiled and peeled purple potato, cooled
1-2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon butter
Fine sea salt
Coarsely ground black pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg

For the hand rolled sushi

Dried seaweed, cut into squares
Sushi rice (recipe below)
Octopus, boiled and cut into bite-sized slices
Ikura (salmon roe)

For the sushi in a bowl

Sushi rice (recipe below)
Pink grapefruit, peeled and cut into segments
Raw salmon, sushi grade, cut into bite size slices
Fried sweet potato
Boiled Edamame beans
Gari (pickled ginger)
Matcha crepe, very finely chopped
(if you make your own crêpes, mix 1 tablespoon of cooking grade matcha powder with 90g / 2/3 cup of plain flour)

Seasonings (optional)

Freshly grated wasabi
Freshly grated ginger
Plum sauce
Soy sauce

For the mashed purple potatoes, purée the potato, heavy cream, and butter in a blender or food processor until smooth and season to taste with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.

For the hand rolled sushi, place 1 tablespoon of sushi rice in the middle of a sheet of dried seaweed. Add 1 teaspoon of the mashed purple potatoes, a slice of octopus, and half a teaspoon of salmon roe. Roll like a cigar, add seasonings to taste, and enjoy.

For the sushi in a bowl, add about 2 tablespoons of sushi rice to a small bowl and stir in seasonings to taste (add just a little bit). Add 1 grapefruit segment, 2 slices of salmon, 1 crumbled slice of fried sweet potato, 2 Edamame beans, and a little pickled ginger. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of the chopped matcha crêpe and enjoy!

For the sushi rice

2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon mirin (rice wine similar to sake)
1 tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
180g / 1 cup short-grain sushi rice
240ml / 1 cup cold water

In a small bowl, heat the vinegar, mirin, sugar, and salt, over low heat, stirring until sugar and salt dissolve; let it cool.

Rinse the rice 4-5 times with cold water, then drain in a colander for 15 minutes.

In a medium saucepan, bring the rice and water to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and simmer the rice for 15 minutes. Take the pot off the heat and let it rest for 15 minutes, don’t lift the lid. Transfer the rice to a large glass bowl.

Sprinkle the warm rice with the cold vinegar mixture and stir gently, you can fan the rice while mixing, that will help it to dry if it’s too sticky. Cover with a damp kitchen towel while you prepare the sushi. Sushi rice is best served at body temperature.

Awomb

 

Awomb

What inspired you to open a sushi restaurant? 

My parents ran a sushi restaurant that was very traditional but I wanted to do something different, something unique to me. I decided to focus on the idea of customers making their own sushi in an enjoyable way, and I started my own place.

Is that popular in Japan?

Hand rolled sushi (temakizushi) is popular now but it’s basically something that’s not eaten out. Everyone eats it with their families at home or at house parties. I thought that people would probably enjoy it if they could do something different and eat it at restaurants.

Which ingredients do you serve for the sushi creations?

Please let me tell you about aezushi, it’s sushi that you mix and prepare yourself. Firstly, we have vegetables and fish, we have sashimi – grilled conger eel – and turnip. There are vegetables from Kyoto that we often use, and this is yuba – a delicacy made from soybean milk. Further we have mackerel, which is served pickled in vinegar and Japanese scallop. Then we have shirae, a salad with white sesame, tofu, and white miso. We have aemono, which is vegetable, fish or shellfish dressed with miso, vinegar or sesame. Here is squid and fish roe. When you’re preparing the dish, you mix the seasoning with the other things and then eat it. We have lightly grilled skipjack tuna with deep fried tofu. Pickled ginger. Broccoli. There’s also octopus. Conger eel. Salmon. Pumpkin. Pak Choi and Kyoto taro root.

And we also have the soup. I’ll light the flame, once smoke starts to come out, it’s done. Then you mix it with small boletus mushrooms and eat it.

Thank you, Ujita Hiroshi!

Awomb

 

Awomb

 

Awomb

 

Awomb

 

Awomb

 

Awomb

Meet In Your Kitchen | Taka’s Japanese-Italian Fusion Cuisine in Kyoto

Taka Kyoto

Eating at Taka‘s restaurant in Kyoto feels like having a Japanese feast celebrated with your exuberant Italian family. The place is tiny, it’s in a narrow old house tucked into a small secluded alley right in the old city’s busy heart. An L-shaped counter separates the celebrated chef from his hungry guests, however, there’s a lot of interaction going on. The kitchen is open so you can follow all of Chef Nishimura Takashi’s steps, how he grinds the fresh wasabi in smooth circles on a shark skin-covered wooden board (the only proper way to grind the green root as I’ve learned). The charming chef looks like a versed dancer. He quickly grabs pots and spices from the shelves behind him and then, in the next second, turns around to briefly cook tender chicken sashimi (see the recipe below) in the flames of his little grill; or local beef, or mackerel until it has a crispy golden crust all around. The restaurant’s menu is a revelation, sea urchin spinach and tempura lotus root sprinkled with matcha salt are simply divine. Sitting at the counter and enjoying Japanese tapas is a feast in its true meaning: You eat, drink, and share delicious treats with old and new friends.

Kyoto born Chef Taka has lived and worked abroad for years, in Australia, Denmark, and in Italy, in Milan, where he also met his wife Akane. Before they opened their gastro pub in Kyoto, Taka worked at Armani’s Nobu Milano restaurant for 10 years, which explains why you can also find wonderful organic Tuscan wines and Mediterranean style dishes on the menu, like the fruitiest eggplant slowly cooked in an aromatic tomato sauce. It’s the combination of these two worlds that makes the couple’s restaurant in Kyoto so exciting, yet at the same time it’s so relaxed. It’s the kind of place where you end up chatting with the guests sitting next to you, exchanging stories and dishes, saying Kanpai (cheers) with a glass of red wine in your hand or ending the night with an extensive sake tasting involving everyone in the room.

Taka and Akane love food and people, the people who visit them, their guests, and the people they work with, their kitchen team, but also the suppliers who deliver fresh produce and products of the best quality to this tiny kitchen in the heart of Kyoto. The couple knows all of them personally, they’ve been working with them for years, most of them coming from the area. Having lived and worked in two food meccas in the world, Italy and Japan, the restaurateurs say that they can only create fantastic food, if the ingredients are perfect, vegetables picked at the peak of their season, the meat coming from animals that were bred and fed with care and respect. Japanese and Italian cooking is similar, both cuisines are very simple and focus on good ingredients, and at Taka, they create a very complete fusion.

In the next months, I’ll share many Meet In Your Kitchen features with you that took me to California, Italy, France, and Japan. Thanks to Zwilling for sponsoring these features for our culinary trip around the world! Thank you, my man James Hickey, for joining me on these adventures and helping me take pictures!

Taka Kyoto

 

Taka Kyoto

Grilled Chicken Sashimi with Wasabi

By Taka Nishimura

Chef Taka uses chicken of outstanding quality, he knows the farmer and he can guarantee the meat’s quality and freshness, which is why he can serve this dish almost raw. However, it is highly recommended to cook chicken until it’s cooked through.

Serves 2

4 skinless, boneless chicken breast tenderloins, sashimi grade
Freshly grated wasabi
Rock salt
4 wooden skewers

Heat the BBQ.

Cut each chicken tenderloin into 6 pieces and thread onto the 4 skewers. Grill lightly until just done.

Spread the chicken with freshly grated (!) wasabi and season with salt to taste. Serve immediately.

Taka Kyoto

 

Taka Kyoto

Could you introduce yourself?

My name is Nishimura Takashi. I lived in Italy for a long time, about 15 years. I worked in a world-renowned restaurant called NOBU. And about 2 years ago I moved back to Kyoto, my hometown, to open this small restaurant.

What is your most cherished childhood memory connected to the kitchen?

A cherished memory would have to be, when I was a child, all I watched were shows about food on TV. All I watched were cooking TV shows, and I remember cooking a lot with my siblings when we were small. No one in my family is a cook, I’m the only one who followed a career as a chef. And it was when I was in primary school that I decided to become a chef, it was then that I decided to learn how to cook Japanese cuisine.

Why did you decide to move to Italy and work in Italy as a chef?

Well, I had always made Kaiseki cuisine in Kyoto, I trained in Kyoto Kaiseki for about 15 years. And so then, at that time, Kyoto was amazing, it was a narrow entrance into Japanese cuisine. Now foreigners come here to learn how to cook Kaiseki, but it wasn’t like that at all back then. So I wondered why? Japanese people go to Italy to study Italian cuisine, and to France to study French cuisine. So I thought, why don’t foreigners come to Japan to study Japanese cuisine? I figured that if that was the case than I wanted to go abroad to teach Japanese cuisine, that’s what I felt I wanted to do. And I remember feeling that I’d been a chef for 10 years, I’d learnt a lot in that time and wanted to share my knowledge abroad. So I chose somewhere that had similar food. I first chose Italy because I thought they had a simple way of cooking, and ingredients that had a lot of umami, where Japanese cuisine would be accepted by Italian tastes. And then I worked at NOBU in Italy.

Now, in the last 10 years, things changed. Many chefs come to Kyoto and Osaka, Tokyo, studying the Japanese style.

What changed over the years? 

That was probably because Japanese chefs became more open-minded. I think one reason is that they began to look outside Japan more. Also, famous chefs wanted to learn more about the mentality behind Japanese Kaiseki cuisine and how to make it. Making each course and slowly serving one small plate after another is Japanese Kaiseki’s style. That’s how you draw people to your restaurant. You’re delicate even when you serve the food, there is even a special orientation for each plate.

Every country’s cuisine is wonderful, but in Japan it’s all about the cut. For example, how sashimi is cut, how the vegetables are cut, how the meat is cut. These cuts create an excellent style of cooking, it’s Japanese cooking. It’s “katsuru” which means “cuts”, which is what gives it such a high aesthetic. Even with sashimi the chefs cut them beautifully. It creates a very unique Japanese aesthetic. The kitchen knife cuts amazingly, every day you need to sharpen your knives, and sharpening them is one part of a chef’s training, and I think even foreigners now sense this beauty. That’s what I think. Vegetables cut straight, how they’re beautifully peeled into hexagons, all kinds of shapes, the manual work that goes into it is amazing.

What makes a good knife? What are the important features of a good knife?

Of course how it cuts, the better it cuts the more beautiful the cut is. Also, how it feels when you hold it. You might have the same knife, but their weights can be different. Or there are knives that suit only you, so Japanese chefs will always buy their own knives. There’s also a balance to them. And chefs are using them for a long time, for the entire day, so it needs to not get worn out, it needs to not be a burden for chefs that work for a long time. I think all of these things are considered when knives are made, there’s a long history for this. Japanese knives are very particular. Fish is fish, vegetables are vegetables, meat is meat, and we divide them as such, but I think a knife that can be used for all of these is amazing.

What is special about Kyoto cuisine compared to other parts of this country?

I’d say how we compose the meal. There are a lot of difficult things about it but the best thing is how you can enjoy it as you like. Next is how the plates match. There are a number of Japanese meals where you look at the plates as you eat, and there are lots of regions that can make great plates. There’s also the matter of gathering good ingredients. Of course each region of Japan has its own wonderful ingredients, but among those, you have Kyoto chefs who will search all over the place to find the best ingredients of the season and who will think of their customers’ faces as they make them. That mentality is unbroken, it’s passed down from generation to generation, there’s always been this fantastic culture. That’s why there are so many things that I think are amazing.

In Kyoto, it’s really easy to distinguish between the 4 seasons. So when autumn comes you can use autumn ingredients and incorporate their beauty into the food. Kyoto chefs understand this sensibility.

How close is the relationship between you and your suppliers?

That’s a great question. You can do that really easily in Kyoto. I’ve been working… since I was young, so I’ve been working with suppliers since the beginning. There are fishmongers and vegetable suppliers that I’ve known for over 30 years. People also introduce me to people they know, like butchers. I’ve used a lot of connections, and I try to use Kyoto wholesalers as much as possible, and I want to use them more. I have my restaurant in Kyoto right now. We say “local produce for local consumption”, and it was the same in Italy. There are ingredients specific to regions and I try to incorporate them in my cooking as much as possible. Now I get requests from the Ministry of Agriculture and other chefs help out too. I want to help revitalise the area, so I get introduced to a lot of different people, and I can get hold of good ingredients. That really makes this job easier.

What was your vision for your restaurant?

I wanted a small restaurant where I could be close to customers sitting at the counter, so they’re closer to the chef too. That way everyone can enjoy themselves as they eat, that makes the meal even more delicious. That way people’s circle of friends could grow too. I want to make a restaurant like that and introduce everyone to it. And if I get any foreign customers, I want to help give them a place where they can make wonderful memories of Kyoto. I really wish from the bottom of my heart that I can help them make memories.

 Thank you, Taka and Akane,  for creating wonderful food and memories!

Taka Kyoto

 

Taka Kyoto

 

Taka Kyoto

 

Taka Kyoto

 

Taka Kyoto

 

Taka Kyoto

Meet In Your Kitchen | Masako Imura’s White Curry in the Heart of Tokyo

Kakura Curry Tokyo

It’s quite a surreal scene that Chef Masako Imura chose for her acclaimed Kakura restaurant: classical music playing in the street from invisible loudspeakers, no cars, but people riding bicycles or walking slowly listening to the gentle harmonies filling the city’s warm air. We’re in Tokyo, right in its vibrant heart, however, the peaceful scenery, the narrow house where the restaurant sits snugly speaks a different language. The green facade covered in ivy and sparkling little lights, pots of flowers, herbs, and leafy plants arranged in front of the restaurant’s window, create a vivid contrast to the city’s monotonous grey. Aromatic mint, basil, rosemary, and curry leaves grow right at the chef’s doorstep ready to be brought into the kitchen and turned into complex spiced dishes.

The outside couldn’t suit the inside any better, it’s a green oasis created for a restaurant that celebrates Japanese curry based on the old knowledge of Chinese medicine. Masako Imura’s creations are rich, colorful, and delicious. Her Kakura Curry, Black Curry, her seasonal vegetable, or fish curries are a pure pleasure to eat and caress and activate different parts and functions of the body. The nutritionist follows a holistic philosophy, in which mind and body, people and nature complete each other in harmony. The ingredients that she uses are organic, regionally and seasonally sourced, the chef knows how to treat each vegetable with respect and creativity. It’s about healthful food that gives you energy rather than taking it away from you.

Fans from all over world, many artists and musicians, love her beautiful cuisine, all those fascinating flavors that Masako brings to the table at her cozy restaurant that she opened in 2005. The food warms up your soul. When you get a chance to meet her in her kitchen for a few hours to chop and chat, and peek into her pots and pans, you get a glimpse of this universe that makes her creations so unique and special. Spices are her most important tool, the heart of every composition. She works with perfectly balanced curry mixtures, individually put together for each dish, like in the fish curry that she shares with us. The warming fragrance of mustard seeds and curry leaves sizzling in hot oil are the start, the tempting invitation, before the other parts follow to add more depth: Nam Pla (fish sauce), shrimp paste, ginger, and colorful spices, which she attentively arranges in little bowls next to the cooker. Lotus root, sticky Japanese potato, golden pumpkin and carrot, and various mushrooms lend freshness and flavors to a creamy sauce full of heat.

The love for the kitchen lies in the family, Masako Imura’s mother taught her daughter how to cook and use food for more wellbeing. Masako was the youngest, but physically the weakest, her mother paid a lot of attention to her girl’s diet. Nourishing, natural, and rich, using Chinese medicinal cuisine, it helped her to become the strong and inspiring woman that she is today, loved for her curry creations at the Kakura restaurant.

In the next months, I’ll share many new Meet In Your Kitchen features with you that took me to California, Italy, France, and Japan. Thanks to Zwilling for sponsoring these features for our culinary trip around the world! Thank you, my man James Hickey, for joining me on these adventures and helping me take pictures!

Kakura Curry Tokyo

 

Kakura Curry Tokyo

Autumn White Curry with Salmon

By Masako Imura

Serves 3-4

3 tablespoons rapeseed oil
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
8 curry leaves
100g / 3.5 ounces onion, cut into 1 cm / ½ inch cubes
60g / 2 ounces radish, cut into 1 cm / ½ inch cubes
60g / 2 ounces carrot, cut into 1 cm / ½ inch cubes
100g / 3.5 ounces shimeji mushrooms, shredded
3-4 fresh cayenne peppers, finely chopped
1 tablespoon grated ginger
1 tablespoon grated garlic
40g / 1.5 ounces shrimp paste
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon fish sauce
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon coconut flour
1 tablespoon almond flour
5 g sweet radish root
500ml / 2 cups water
800ml / 3 1/3 cups milk
30g / 1 ounce lotus root, cut into 1 cm / ½ inch cubes
60g / 2 ounces yam, cut into 1 cm / ½ inch cubes
90g / 3 ounces pumpkin, cut into 1 cm / ½ inch cubes
10g / 1/3 ounce white cloud ear mushroom, soaked in water
300g / 10 ounces salmon filet, cut into bite size pieces

Boiled white rice, for serving

A handful fresh coriander leaves, for serving

In a large pot, heat the oil, mustard seeds, and curry leaves over medium-high heat for about 15 seconds or until the seeds start popping. Add the onion, radish, carrot, and shimeji mushrooms, turn the heat down to medium and sauté, stirring once in a while, until soft.

Stir in the cayenne peppers, ginger, garlic, shrimp paste, salt, and fish sauce and cook for 1-2 minutes; then add the garam masala, coriander, cinnamon, cardamom, garlic powder, coconut powder, almond powder, and sweet radish root, stir and cook for 1 minute.

Pour in the water and milk, bring to a boil, and cook, uncovered, for about 20 minutes over medium heat. Add the lotus root, yam, and pumpkin and cook for about 5 minutes or until soft. Gently stir in the white cloud ear mushroom and salmon and cook for 5 minutes or until the salmon is cooked through; season with salt to taste.

Divide the rice and curry between bowls, sprinkle with fresh coriander, and serve immediately.

Kakura Curry Tokyo

 

Kakura Curry Tokyo

What is your most cherished childhood memory in the kitchen? 

I couldn’t eat carrots, so every day my mum would mash them up so they were easier for me to eat. Every single day without fail. Now I love them.

How old were you when you decided to become a chef?

It was actually quite late, I was 25. Actually, I used to be a cooking instructor, but I was 25 when I wanted to work in a real restaurant as a chef.

What makes Japanese cuisine so special? 

It has to be the culture of using dashi. Western cuisine uses stock but in Japan we use kelp and bonito and have the custom of using dashi instead. Staple Japanese food will almost always harness dashi, giving them a subtle undertone of flavour. I would say that’s what makes Japanese cuisine special.

What kind of dashi do you use in your restaurant?

I use dashi made from kelp and dried shiitake mushrooms.

Which role does curry play in Japanese cooking?

I would say it’s similar to Japanese miso soup, each family will have their own curry. Mum’s curry will always taste like mum’s curry. We’ve always had miso soup, but lots of Japanese people say their favourite curry is their mum’s curry. But each Japanese family will have their own Japanese curry. Normally.

Do you have a close relationship with the suppliers of your restaurant?

There are suppliers I’m close to and those I’m not so close to, but I buy products from them because I trust them, because they’re people I know.

Are organic and local products important to you?  

Very, very important!

Is there a rising interest in Japan for organic food?

It’s incredibly popular.

Do you think that the people – over the last few years – became more critical with their food?

I’ve found that lately more and more people are concerned about their health, and so I’ve been getting a lot more customers who express interest in organic and chemical free food, as well as cuisine that incorporates Chinese medicine.

What fascinates you about Chinese medicine? 

The more I learn about Chinese medicine the more it makes sense, so I study more and more. Of course, each person is different so I have to learn what that means. There are things that will work for someone but not for others, so I diagnose each individual and carefully select the Chinese medicine that works best for them. I love it that, what each person has to eat, is always going to be different.

Where did you learn about Chinese medicine?    

I studied at the Japanese branch of the Beijing University of Chinese Medicine.

What made you so interested in Chinese medicine?

I’d have to say it was when I was young, my mum used natural things. She actually used natural Chinese medicine more than conventional medicine. Well, we went to the doctors when we were sick, but if we had to take medicine, had to put something in our bodies, we took Chinese medicine. Yeah, that was it. Ever since I was really small, we went to a Western hospital for treatments, but if we had to take anything she always used these really old, traditional Chinese medicines because she thought they were safer. That’s how I was brought up. Then I learned a little about macrobiotics and all sorts of other things. But it wasn’t because I thought “people have to eat these”, it was because each person’s biological makeup is different. And so, I started to make food using Chinese medicine for individuals to match their individual makeup. I slowly realized that I didn’t just have an interest in this, that this was real cooking. There are foods that can be good for certain people but not good for others. There are all kinds of medicinal diets that are good, but finding the right ones for each person can be a challenge.

What’s the clients’ feedback? Do the people come because they want healthy food? Or do they just come because they find it’s delicious?

I think they come because it’s delicious and healthy. Because they want to be healthy in a delicious way.

What’s your association with the cherry blossom season?

It’s the season students start the new school year so it’s seen as the season of new beginnings. It makes me feel really optimistic. This area here called Nakameguro is famous for a lot of cherry blossoms, it’s also called a town of cherry blossoms.

Can you use the blossoms for your cooking?

Yes, I use them a lot. I put them into the rice, ice cream, and pudding. The ingredients I use will vary depending on the season, but they’re all good for you.

Thank you very much, Masako Imura!

Kakura Curry Tokyo

 

Kakura Curry Tokyo

 

Kakura Curry Tokyo

 

Kakura Curry Tokyo

 

Kakura Curry Tokyo

 

Kakura Curry Tokyo

 

Kakura Curry Tokyo

Meet In Your Kitchen | Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Market & the Secret of Sushi Dai

Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market & Sushi Dai

Traveling is bliss. To leave the known behind and discover new tastes and smells, cities and landscapes is food for our minds, it lets us grow, change, and evolve.

Flying into Tokyo and seeing its cityscape spread out peacefully in front of me in misty pastel colors felt unbearably exciting. It’s a place where I had never been before, a place that everybody told me would change me, and my culinary perspectives. Food plays a central role in Japan’s complex culture, food of high quality is not a random choice, it’s a philosophy, they are tied together, inseparable. I was curious and impatient to put the first bites of the country’s celebrated cuisine into my mouth, but also to wander around and fully experience the next stop of my culinary trip around the world together with Zwilling.

Japan is a world of contrasts, connecting the past and the future, silence and noise, gardens and buildings, minimalism and colorful kitsch, it all exists right next to each other, framed by a fascinating culture of multiple layers, it’s not easy to grasp. Its depth is captivating and disorienting, it’s mysterious, and sometimes hard to understand for someone who comes from the outside. I usually visit countries for my Meet in Your Kitchen features that I’m personally connected with, either through former trips or through my own culinary upbringing. So I usually take a lot of experience, information, and understanding for a culture with me, but when you enter a world that you’ve never seen before, you can’t just look at its kitchens. It’s not enough to visit the famous Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo or talk to the cities’ celebrated chefs and enjoy unknown culinary pleasures at their excellent restaurants.

I wanted to see more, I wanted to listen to the stories – or at least some of them – that make this culture so rich and colorful, in and outside the kitchen. I joined a tea ceremony at 6 in the morning when the sun and the birds just woke up. I visited the famous temples in Kyoto, we stayed at one of them (Jorengein) overnight, and I interviewed a temple gardener to gain a better understanding of the gardens and their centuries-old architecture. I got swept away by this overwhelming peace that takes over your mind like a wave, when you sit on the wooden steps in front of the meditative gardens of the Ryoanji or Kenninji Temple. Time seems to stop as you enter the stone gardens, there seems to be an invisible curtain between the world outside and the world inside the temples’ walls.

I felt a bit worried, how would it feel to be in a country where you can’t read any signs, where you can’t really communicate, or even order a taxi or book a table at a restaurant? Would I get lost in translation and miss out on the “real” Japan? I believe the best way to discover a new city is on foot, to walk and keep your eyes open, and not to be shy. Just smile, the easiest form of human communication. That’s what we did on our first evening in Tokyo and within seconds we found one culinary gem after the other.

Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market & Sushi Dai

The Tsukiji fish market has its own pace, it’s fast, busy, and loud, it’s a universe with its own rules. The craziness starts late at night, at 2am. When Tokyo is still asleep and covered in quiet darkness, fishermen, chefs, and fishmongers stream into the legendary halls to buy and sell, to bid on tuna at the famous auction and ship the daily catch out into the world.

The floor under the filigree metal construction built in 1935 is grey and wet from the ice, daylight cutting sharply through the skylights falls onto men in rubber boots carrying bags and boxes, running diligently, or driving little electronic carts so fast that you have to jump quickly to save your life. It’s a man’s world, running like clockwork. The world’s biggest market for fish and seafood is the heart of the fishing industry. It’s the place where the sea’s treasures are rated and traded, where the best fish in the world is taken straight into the kitchens of the sushi restaurants that set up their businesses in the low buildings around the market. Yet it’s also the place where you can listen to the stories of the people who’ve been working with the sea and its gifts for generations, these people are concerned about the state of this sensitive ecosystem. The number of fish decreased dramatically and shoals that used to pass the coasts seasonally are missing. Due to global warming, summer fish fills the fishing grounds during winter and the fish that used to flourish in the cold season is nowhere to be found. There is such a beautiful and rich variety out in the seas, which we’ve always used in our kitchens, but we have to keep the balance. The fishmongers and chefs that I met all said the same. “Fish and seafood used to be a delicacy, a special treat, if we degrade it to fast food, we’re going to lose this treasure!” says Mr. Yokoyama, the owner of EIKO Suisan Fisherman fish store at Tsukiji.

At Tsukiji, you can admire the whole abundance that nature gives us, hundreds of different kinds of fish and seafood, in all colors and sizes, mussels, crustaceans, octopus, and sazae (turban sea snail). It’s almost mesmerizing to wander through the corridors between the stalls, which makes it hard to pull yourself away from it. Going straight to one of the most celebrated restaurants in the area definitely helps. Sushi Dai is just outside the market, you can easily spot it, as it has the longest waiting list and queue lined up outside the curtains swinging at its door.

Chef and owner, Urushibara Satoshi, has two outstanding qualities. There’s no doubt that he makes some of the best sushi creations in town, he learned from his father, but this man also has highly entertaining qualities. He’s like a conductor and Sushi Dai is his stage. Behind his narrow restaurant’s counter, he attentively cuts the fish and shapes the rice, you can see that he was trained for more than 20 years to become the master that he is today. The movement of his hand and arm looks like a smooth dance, so concentrated yet intuitive. And this man is funny! As he placed one gorgeous creation after the other in front of us, he told us stories with the dramatic voice of an actor, you can see and taste that he truly enjoys what he does.

Every morning at around 3am, he goes to the Tsukiji market to pick the fish for the menu. The relationship between him and his suppliers is close. He knows that a pure minimal treat like sushi depends on the quality of its ingredients. Sushi is what it’s made of, a handful of ingredients. So trust the masterly hands of Urushibara Satoshi and his team of chefs and go for the Omakase menu. Depending on the daily catch and find at the fish market, you can indulge in the freshest tuna, flounder, and horse mackerel, or Ikura (salmon roe) rolled in seaweed. Scallops and clams, prawns and sea urchin, every piece looks like a piece of art, every bite is like tasting the sea.

Thank you Mr. Yokoyama for showing us around at Tsukiji, Urushibara Satoshi for your fantastic sushi and humor, and Makiko for guiding us through your city!

In the next months, I’ll share many new Meet In Your Kitchen features with you that took me to California, Italy, France, and Japan. Thanks to Zwilling for sponsoring these features for our culinary trip around the world! Thank you, my man James Hickey, for joining me on these adventures and helping me take pictures!

Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market & Sushi Dai

How to make sushi

I’ll share a recipe for sushi rice with you, but when it comes to the most important ingredient, the fish, I can only recommend to go to your trusted fish monger and ask him which fish he can offer, fish of the best sushi quality. After I ate sushi in Japan, prepared by outstanding sushi masters, I don’t even bother eating it anywhere else anymore. No matter if you go for fatty tuna belly, halibut or fish roe, it has to be of the best quality. Then you just cut it into slices, eat it pure, or lay it on a bite of rice. Heaven.

For the sushi rice

2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon mirin (rice wine similar to sake)
1 tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
180g / 1 cup short-grain sushi rice
240ml / 1 cup cold water

In a small bowl, mix the vinegar, mirin, sugar, and salt, stirring until sugar and salt are dissolved; let it cool.

Rinse the rice 4-5 times with cold water, then drain in a colander for 15 minutes.

In a medium saucepan, bring the rice and water to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and simmer the rice for 15 minutes. Take the pot off the heat and let the rice rest for 15 minutes, don’t lift the lid. Transfer the rice to a large glass bowl.

Sprinkle the warm rice with the cold vinegar mixture and stir gently, you can fan the rice while mixing, that will help it to dry, if it’s too sticky. Cover with a damp kitchen towel while preparing the sushi. Sushi rice is best at body temperature.

Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market & Sushi Dai

 

Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market & Sushi Dai

Interview with Urushibara Satoshi, Sushi Dai restaurant, Tokyo

Can you tell us about your work?

I come to work in the morning, go to buy fish, and then I spend the rest of the day serving customers. At 3am I go to buy the fish, and then start making sushi at 4:30 am.

 

How old were you when you started learning to make sushi?

I was 18. So, that’s 27 years ago. I came to the restaurant 25 years ago. I started off making kaiseki ryori in Kyoto. For two years. Then I came back to Tokyo and became a sushi master.

What made you become a sushi master?

As I said, I started off in kaiseki ryori. This is a world where you can’t directly serve a customer until you’ve been doing it for 20 or 30 years, and then it’s just serving sashimi or something. I wanted to be talking to the customers. And within the world of Japanese cuisine, it was only as a sushi master that I could serve customers face to face. So, it wasn’t that I became a sushi master because I wanted to, I just had to become a sushi master. And I also just enjoyed it too. That was the first time I really enjoyed my work. I mean, with kaiseki ryori you don’t really get to meet the customers. You’re working behind the scenes, and it’s usually the women who serve the food. The chef has to stay hidden in the shadows. But I didn’t want this. I wanted to chat with the customers while I was serving them.

What is your most cherished childhood memory connected to the kitchen?

In the kitchen? I just used to get scolded (laughs). But ever since I was a child, I really loved cooking. I don’t know if I was any good, but I would imitate and pretend I was chopping things with a knife, for example. When I was in second or third grade, you know how everyone used to try and peel an apple in one long piece? Well, I was always top of the class in that! Also, if you’re going to be a chef, you need more than to be good at cooking. It’s most suited to someone who loves eating. More than being good at the actual cooking, feeling a real passion, and a hunger for food and eating is more important. If you don’t have any interest at all in eating, then there’s no way you’ll improve. No way.

What are the essential features of a good knife for you? What makes a good knife?

First of all there’s the length of the one I use. There are lots of different types of lengths. And it comes down to the weight, the thickness of the steel. At first, this knife used to be this long. But you sharpen it. So, it gradually becomes shorter and shorter. So the length and things like that are not features that last. Because the knife just gets gradually shorter. So, what else? The most important thing is that it can be controlled most effectively. I mean that it cuts exactly as you want it to. After that, the weight… Well, there are different types of people. People who like lightweight knives tend to use the strength of their arm to cut. I like heavier knives, and I use the weight of the knife to cut the fish. So, for me, I prefer a long, heavy knife. But it depends what kind of person you are. Everyone’s different so I can’t give a definitive answer. But that’s what I like.

How old is your knife?

I’m about 3 to 4 years into this one. On average, I would replace it after around 6 years.

How do environmental changes affect the fish that you buy for your restaurant?

Yes, it has had a huge impact. But, I don’t know if it’s the climate, or the flow of the ocean. This year, there’s the kuroshio Japan current, and the fish follow the flow of rivers where there are a lot of plankton. So, they come closer, don’t they. Then, when this Japan current approaches, that’s when we fish. But, this year it’s more erratic, so there are lots of types of fish that don’t come close to Japan as a result. So, I don’t know if it’s the temperature, or related to the flow of rivers. But there are fish we can’t catch. Each year it’s something different: one year might be good for yellowtail and the next year might be bad; or one year is good for saury and the next is bad; or another year might be terrible for sardines. It’s like this every year. For example, I’ve been doing this for 25 years, and each year has been different. No two years are the same. At the moment, for example, there is a lack of urchins. This year, the fishermen can’t catch any salmon, and the saury is not so good. There are so many different situations. That’s why you have to adapt each year. You just simply can’t keep making the same sushi for 25 years. The fat distribution is also completely different. I mean, completely. This is what a battle with nature looks like. So, I keep an eye on the weather forecast. And depending on the weather, you have to change the fish you stock. It’s not like we’re working in a factory doing the same thing day in day out. You also have to check whether the fishermen were able to take their boats out. So, yes, of course. I go to the market, and, of course, I buy the fish that is there. But, how can I say? There are some fish that you don’t want to run out of. So, with these, if there’s a typhoon on the way, we can stock up on them before it comes and store them while they’re at their best. There are lots of different approaches.

Do you think we should change the way we consume fish? Like eating less fish?

Yeah, statistically… there are graphs, according to these, there’s been a dramatic decrease in the amount of fish people eat. But, compared with when I was young, ‘conveyor belt’ sushi restaurants are really popular. So I think sushi has become something really familiar for young people. This also has made it feel like something cheap. When we were young, if you didn’t have wads of cash, you couldn’t eat sushi – that’s the image I had. So, it has definitely become something more familiar for the younger generation. So, even in and around my restaurant, we get a lot of university students coming in, even in the morning. That’s something you never would have seen in the past.

How we can deal with the situation?

This is something that we battle year in year out, day in day out. All you can do is do as much as you can. That means keeping going until you get to a stage where you don’t want to make sushi with the fish that is available. I don’t know if this situation will ever come. I don’t know if this day will ever come. But I just want to keep going until it does. But if it does get to a point where I don’t want to work with the fish that is available, then I will quit.

Thank you, Urushibara Satoshi!

Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market & Sushi Dai

 

Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market & Sushi Dai

 

Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market & Sushi Dai

 

Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market & Sushi Dai

 

Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market & Sushi Dai

 

Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market & Sushi Dai

 

Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market & Sushi Dai

 

Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market & Sushi Dai

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