Throwing Caution to the Wind: A Sushi Meal to Remember in Tokyo

Sushi may be the most famous Japanese food but I had really good sushi just once during the year I lived in Japan when my boss took us out one night.  Sushi, sashimi, and raw fish are not hard to find though; it’s everywhere, actually.  I could easily pick something up at the supermarket, kaiten sushi (conveyor belt “fast food” sushi places), or at depachika (department store basement food halls).  But good quality sushi in Japan, as one can imagine, is expensive.

With serious concerns over radiation and contaminated waters after the tsunami in Japan, I thought that most Japanese would shy away from eating raw fish.  But I actually found the locals (at least my friends) are quite relaxed about it, trusting that the government put enough safety measures in place to keep the population healthy.  They do, especially my friends who are also Moms, look to see where their produce comes from but for the most part, they are living their lives as they have always done.  What choice do they really have though?  They couldn’t all just leave the country… although my friends tell me some did move farther down south to Okinawa, for example.

My friends in Korea on the other hand, were infinitely more worried that I was spending so much time in Tokyo and advised me to stay away.  Korea being so close to Japan and the Korean diet relying so much on seafood, it seems that the threat of contamination is constantly discussed in the media.  There is a strong bias against Japanese produce for sure (Korean government has recently banned fish from Fukushima and seven other prefectures), but the Korean fishermen and seafood industry as a whole has suffered a great deal since the accident because Koreans are simply refusing to buy fish.  Some larger Korean markets now have employees standing by the fish counters with devices that measure radiation to reassure the customers that their seafood is safe to eat.

So it may sound totally insane and absolutely bonkers to have an all-out, full-blown, four-hour long raw seafood meal in Tokyo.  But when an opportunity to have dinner with my dear friends at one of their favorite sushi places in Tsukiji (the famed fish market in Tokyo) presented itself, I took it without a moment’s hesitation.

Our “sushi meal to remember” started at T & J’s apartment overlooking the Tsukiji market, with some chilled Australian white wine especially made/marketed in Japan for sushiIMG_3994

After a few glasses of those, we headed out and walked down the street to Tsukiji.  As with most of my memorable meals in Japan, the restaurant of choice is down some dark alley or in a basement of a nondescript building without a sign.  Tonight was no exception.  A few days later when I returned to the neighborhood during the day, I could not, for the life of me, locate this restaurant again…

This place wasn’t one of those fancy schmancy sushi restaurants where the air is thick with tradition and respect, where the chef is the master and you eat and behave as you are told.  Don’t get me wrong, I like those places too and that is also a one of a kind experience in Japan.  But this night, we were greeted by a gregarious and easygoing chef who engaged with us in conversation and entertained us the entire evening.

We took our seats around the counter, facing the chef and the display of what was on offer today.  He wore a name tag that said 市川 Ichikawa; for the next few hours Ichikawa-san took us on a culinary journey.  We thought… should we look at the menu and pick something out?  No!  We decided to just trust the chef and go with the flow.  Let the sushi feast begin!

IMG_4013 IMG_4012We also didn’t want to choose between 日本酒 nihonshu (what we call sake) and beer, so we went with both.  It may appear that the glass next to my beer is filled with water, when in fact, it is all sake.  I know, crazy kids.  And let me just add a comment here that the Japanese have perfected the art of pouring the most gorgeous glass of draft beer…

IMG_4009Are we ready?  Yes!  Here comes our appetizers.

IMG_3999 Tiny baby squid quickly boiled and served with mild sweet miso (Japanese fermented bean paste).

IMG_4001Shredded beef cooked in soy, mirin, sugar, and sake, with eggplants and potatoes.  They brought out this large bowl of the beef (left), which I looked at and said “I can’t eat all that?!”  T laughed and told me it was enough to serve the entire restaurant, everything the kitchen produced of the dish that evening.  I got just a ladle-full in a little appetizer sized dish (right).

IMG_4004IMG_4005

Then came assorted vegetable tempura, including fried avocado.  Crispy on the outside, soft and creamy on the inside, with a tiny sprinkling of pink salt and a squeeze of lemon.

IMG_4006IMG_4008

Now we start the main event: rather than getting our sushi all at once, we asked the chef to give us one piece at a time.  We began with fresh sardines, iwashi.

IMG_4020Horse mackerel, aji

IMG_4016Saba: mackerel in vinegar

IMG_4017Hoki/Hake

IMG_4018Nishin: herring

IMG_4020Amaebi: raw shrimp

IMG_4021Then the chef started having more fun with us…  will the foreigners eat shrimp heads (cooked through)?  Yes, we will!

IMG_4023Running low on alcohol?  Why, bring the giant bottle of sake out to the counter!  J, with his signature “V” sign next to it.

IMG_4019More fish, please.  Bonito and kisu.

IMG_4025Sake: salmon

IMG_4026Do you want to learn about tuna and all of its various parts?  Bring out the laminated drawing!

IMG_4027 Now that we are sufficiently schooled in tuna parts, next up – bluefin tuna.  From left to right: akami (literally means red meat), 中とろ chūtoro (medium fatty tuna belly), 大とろ ōtoro (the fattiest, the most expensive part of tuna).

IMG_4029After seeing me click away with my iphone the entire evening, Ichikawa-san decided that he would help me make my photos look prettier.  He put some colorful garnish around the tuna sushi for me.  And then struck a pose for me as well.

IMG_4033 IMG_4032Oh, but we weren’t done yet.  How would we like to have some fresh wasabi?  He started to peel long strips of pale green Japanese horseradish, using his big sushi knife.

IMG_4034

And then proceeded to make wasabi maki.

IMG_4037IMG_4039

Tada!  Wasabi maki.

IMG_4045I thought it was refreshing with a bit of bite to it.  Bite, as in a crunchy bite and a spicy bite.  Not so, for my lovely Aussie friend… who started to weep involuntarily.

IMG_4047No worries, we’re almost done!  But I couldn’t leave without having at least some uni (sea urchin).

IMG_4051 IMG_4056And miso soup to finish.

IMG_4059IMG_4061

Now we’re done.  How do we feel about our meal?

IMG_4062We were ready to go and so was the chef.

IMG_4063 ごちそうさまでした! Gochisōsamadeshita!

IMG_3997Definitely a sushi meal to remember.  During dinner a nice couple happened to sit to my right, who turned out to be from Manhattan and lived just a few blocks away from my old apartment.  A little shout-out to Keiko & David, it was nice meeting you!

Tsukijitadori Bekkan 築地虎杖 別館: 4, Tsukiji Neighborhood Building , 4-1-16, Chuo-ku, Tokyo (map); 東京都中央区築地4-10-16 築地4丁目町会ビル1F 

Website in Japanese: www.itadori.co.jp, info in English here, phone: 03-3543-1244.  Make reservations for dinner, as we saw a number of people being turned away during the evening.  But walk-in’s are welcome.

This entry was posted in 2013, Japan, Travel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Throwing Caution to the Wind: A Sushi Meal to Remember in Tokyo

  1. Wow, you’ve captured the raw fish in all its glory…I’m so hungry!

    • How long are you in HK?? Have you had lots of wonton noodle soup and egg tarts yet? The world’s cheapest Michelin starred restaurant – dim sum?? Australia Dairy Co. & their fluffy scrambled eggs? Now, I’M hungry!!

      • Haha yip, we’ve eaten ALL those things and more 🙂 We live here now, have been here around 10 months (where did that time go?!) and at this stage are planning on extending beyond our year contract. So much to see and more importantly so much to eat!!!

        Oh yeah, and Tim Ho Wan, the world’s cheapest Michelin place, is 200 metres from our house 😉

      • 10 months!? I thought you got there not too long ago from India.. but then again, this year has flown by so quickly that I can hardly keep track of which month this is… Sounds like you’re enjoying HK. I didn’t blog about it but I had a chance to spend about 2 weeks in NZ (south island/queenstown) in March this year. I hope to return next year and see more the country. But for now I’ll be in Korea for two more months, and will be eating and eating and eating for sure. I’m seeing more of what you were experiencing and writing about- will be going back to your blog to re-read some of your posts!!

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s