What makes a “good” sushi restaurant?

It is probably cutting fish just before serving. For a big size fish, keep its skin on the meat during the process of preparing and cutting into half, and at every serving use sogigiri* as much as customers eat. Protected by the skin, the fish flesh will expose to air for the first time as it is cut. The skin blocks the oxidation process significantly because the fat in fish centers right  under the skin in general. Needless to say, even with any amazing fish, it loses flavor if the fat gets oxidized.

*Sogigiri-A method of cutting which makes a slice thinner with a greater surface, by holding the knife diagonally and cutting in line with the cutting board. Usually used for white fish with firm flesh because it is easier to be eaten when served thin.

Hirazukuri-A method of cutting which gives thickness to each slice so that the texture of sashimi can be enjoyable. This is used for akami like tuna.


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Revision date: April 1, 2020

What are side dishes at sushi restaurants?

A side dish at a sushi restaurant is a wonderful experience. It’s best when they serve seasonal sashimi, grilled items, or sake and fish that are fit well in sushi restaurants, but some places serve dishes that are easily mistaken as the main dish, such as deep sea bass hot pot. Eating an exaggerated dish like that doesn’t leave much room for sushi. Side dishes at sushi restaurants are only meant to be an appetizer to the sushi. A sushi restaurant that serves small dishes that don’t fill you up, but help tickle your appetite, transitioning into the sushi pieces, is a good restaurant.


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Revision date: March 2, 2020

A technic to freeze tuna is quite amazing!

Once tuna caught in the open sea is processed by draining its blood on the ship, it is flash-frozen at ultra-low temperatures (-60℃). Ultra-low temperatures stops the enzymatic hydrolosis of protein, oxidation of fat and cultivation of microorganisms so it can be stored over a long period of time. The process can prevent discoloration for over two years and maintain a freshness worthy of being served as sashimi. Therefore, skillful sushi restaurants mature the thawed tuna in the refrigerator for about one week to attain the perfect balance of umami and change in color.


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Revision date: February 4, 2020

Are Hamachi and Buri the same thing?

In the United States and other countries, “buri : right image” is called yellowtail, but this word refers to fish like “buri” and “hiramasa” and actually can be applied to a large number of fish. Actually, it isn’t far off since a layman can’t tell the difference between a “buri” and “hiramasa” just by the pretty yellow lin on the side of the fish’s body.

In Japan, “buri” is the most well-known fish that goes by different names depending on its stage in life (shusse fish). Actually “buri” has many different names even depending on the region you are in. For example, in the Kanto region, it may be called wakashi (0 to 30 cm) -> Inada (30 to 60 cm) -> Warasa (60 to 80 cm) -> Bri (80 cm or more), and from Kansai on further west, it is called, tsubasu (0-30 cm), Hamachi (30- 60 cm), mejiro (60 to 80 cm) or burri (80 cm or more).

This is where the term “hamachi” came from. West of Kansai, full-grown buri, at about 30 to 60 cm is called Hamachi. In other words, Hamachi is a young buri.

Of course, it’s not that simple. You can get hamachi sashimi at grocery stores all over Japan, all year long. Hamachi is not only used from Kansai on westward, it is also used at grocery stores throughout Japan. This may lead you to believe that hamachi is a different fish and not the same as buri, but you would be mistaken.

Behind the curtain, buri cultivation is thriving in Japan (and throughout the world). More than 80% of the buri on the market is said to be farmed. Because it is not apparent by appearance whether the buri was raised in the wild or by aquaculture, the wild-raised fish is called buri by market affiliates in order to make it easier to understand. That means farmed products have come to be called hamachi.

Also, in the Setouchi region, people preferred to eat the young hamachi rather than the adult buri. Kagawa Prefecture became the first in the world to successfully cultivate hamachi in 1928, and that is what led ‘hamachi’ to become synonymous with ‘farmed fish’. Of course, that would be one reason that people call farmed buri, hamachi.

As an aside, three cousins (closely related species) of buri are often used as sushi toppings in sushi restaurants. In the Fish Name Dictionary, the translations of these cousins are Goldstriped amberjack (Hiramasa : right image), Greater Amberjack (Kanpachi), and Japanese amberjack (Buri). Sushi University also adopts these terms.

But if you dive deeper into the fish name dictionary,
Hiramasa is known as amberjack or yellowtail. Kampachi is known as amberjack or yellowtail. Buri is known as… you guessed it: amberjack or yellowtail.

When lumping them all together, they are called yellowtail, as is common in the U.S.

I’m sure you’re interested in the price, and while the price of the seasonal winter buri varies, it is generally around $10-20 per kilogram. Since there is very little distribution of hiramasa, the price is said to be about double that of buri. The price of kampachi : right image is somewhere between that of buri and hiramasa. These prices refer to the wild-caught fish.

Finally, if you eat and compare buri, kampachi and hiramasa in sashimi form, most people can’t tell the difference in fat distribution. When made into sushi, the sweetness of the fat and the flavor of the fish emerge splendidly, and the taste of each fish becomes distinct and obvious. Even the still-developing inada, with very low fat content, is used as a sushi topping and its refreshing taste is unforgettable. This showcases both the depth and greatness of Edo Style sushi.


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Revision date: January 6, 2020

Why do they say that the quality and price of tuna is determined by the processing after the fish is caught?

Why is only tuna brought into certain ports high-priced, even though all of the tuna is caught in the seas near Japan? This is because the level of stress caused to the fish when it is caught has a huge impact on the quality, including taste, color and texture. In other words, the same fish may be delicious or taste unpleasant depending on how the fisher handles the fish directly after catching it. Naturally, everyone ends up wanting the fish from the ports with fisherman who are skilled in this practice*. Furthermore, it is individuals who process the fish. The quality changes drastically depending on who caught it.

*This is a method of cutting off the medulla oblongata and aorta of a fish, essentially keeping the body alive while killing the fish. There is also a method of inserting a thin wire, like a piano wire, into the backbone. This technique paralyzes the nerves while at the same time suppressing the putrefied substance that comes from the spinal cord. Using the ikejime method extends the time until rigor mortis starts, and makes it easier to maintain freshness, while at the same time preventing raw fish odor and damage to the body by inserting a butcher knife into the base of the tail to drain the blood and keep oxidized blood from running throughout the body.


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Revision date: December 17, 2019

Why did the world’s best sushi restaurant strip of its three Michelin stars!?

Even Japanese people can be overwhelmed by the somehow special atmosphere when they sit down at the sushi counter. This continues even when starting to eat. Other customers are concentrating on eating, quietly. You kind of get the feeling that if you utter anything, you will be asked to leave. If you don’t end up mustering up the courage, you just end up paying the high price for your meal and going home without much more to say of the evening.

Eating sushi at a counter is not inherently this dull. So why do sushi meals so often end up this way? The problem is knowing so little about the sushi, and feeling like you’re the visiting team on the field.

For example, it is taboo for new customers to take the seat positioned directly in front of the sushi chef. This is a special seat reserved for regulars. Even if the seat is empty, a newcomer will be shown to a seat in the back. This is an unspoken rule.

Contrary to their countenance, most sushi chefs are actually friendly and experts in the art of conversation. They especially value the back and forth with regular customers. For example, they have a keen memory, and can reiterate to the customer that their last visit was on the way home from a baseball game and they ordered a second helping of Chutoro fished in Oma. Of course this pleases many customers. A master sushi chef prepares sushi while standing in front of the customer. If there was to be no conversation with the customer, they can make the sushi back in the kitchen and have it served. Sushi restaurants are a place for conversation.

The customer ends up not remembering which fish they ate. For example there are very few people who can name the order of the 15-piece Omakase course they ate. You may be sure you ate tuna. But where was it caught? Was it the belly side or the back side? How long had the fish been matured? To be a bit more frank, how much did it cost? If you ask the chef these questions, next time you visit, you’ll be able to compare different taste based on the fishing location. Knowing the difference in taste based on the part of the fish, and difference in flavor depending on where it was procured, and different taste depending on the preparations will certainly improve your sushi literacy remarkably. It will also lead to a better awareness of your own taste preferences.

But there are limitations to the time allowed for personal conversation. For example, in a normal 2-hour Omakase course, there may be five minutes or so available for conversation. It might not sound like much, but that is also the amount of time allocated to regular customers. Newcomers often can’t find a time to get a word in and end up with only the initial greeting, which takes about 10 seconds.

Of course that’s for Japanese customers who speak Japanese. What about foreign customers who cannot speak Japanese? First of all, conversation is impossible, so this cuts the enjoyment factor of the sushi restaurant in half. But the sushi is delicious, right? Perhaps, but you’ll end up satisfied with the small-world view cultivated for you by the media, limited to whether or not the fish is fatty, or if the meat is fresh and firm. This is something you can experience anywhere that sushi is served in the world.

What we offer is a totally different experience.

You get a seat in front of the master sushi chef, a knowledgeable interpreter is seated by your side, and the Omakase show is presented right in front of you. The obliging chef explains each piece of sushi as you eat with a gentle demeanor. He will also answer any questions you think of on the spot. You won’t be able to say that you don’t know what you ate. We prepare a translated list of your Omakase menu. You are also welcome to take pictures whenever you’d like to preserve the enjoyable memory. All you need to do is forget time and immerse yourself in the Edo-style sushi, one of the staples of Japanese food culture.


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Revision date: November 27, 2019

What is the ideal temperature for sushi toppings?

Tokyo Health Centers stipulate that refrigerated cases where sushi toppings are stored should be kept at 5℃ or lower. This is to maintain the temperature of the toppings at below 10°C at which point bacterial growth is slowed.

However, sushi chefs will remove the topping from the refrigerator and leave it standing out for a while (in the case of tuna, the fat will melt at around 23℃). They do this because if the topping is cold, it becomes difficult to taste the essential nature of the fish. The temperature of the shari is best at human skin temperature (around 36℃) to maximize the taste and sweetness of the rice. However, the ideal temperature differs very slightly depending on the topping.

For example, conger eel which is often lightly grilled or prepared in another, similar way, should have a slightly higher temperature (around 42℃) than the shari, and kuruma prawn, which are boiled, should be the same temperature as the shari.

Overseas, there are laws that state that sushi must be served at 10℃ or lower. This ignores that sushi is best enjoyed at skin temperature. Serving it straight out of the refrigerator makes it no better than purchasing takeout sushi from the supermarket.


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Revision date: November 18, 2019

When does Kinme (Splendid alfonsino) taste the best?

No one is more sensitive to the changing of the seasons than sushi lovers. This must be because the taste of sushi toppings is directly tied to the seasons. There are terms to describe this such as Hashiri (early season), Peak (in-season) and Holdover, and using these words to understand what state the sushi topping is in allows you grasp and enjoy the various different flavors. There is nothing that says a sushi topping is less delicious because it has a lower fat content.

For example, everyone wants to get in there and be the first eat early season toppings. It’s obvious that these would all be toppings with low fat content. But early-season toppings have a liveliness that you can’t find in other foods, and some believe that eating these types of food will give you new vitality.

Once a fish is in peak-season, we eat it as sushi. This is because the fish has grown as it approaches breeding season, gradually gaining more fat, and at this stage in its development it has a richer flavor.

And the ‘holdover’ perhaps means that since the season is about to end, we need to get our fill now. While we may feel a bit sad that the season is ending, we can look forward to it coming around again the next year.

On the other hand, there are sushi toppings that don’t seem to fit into the seasons, although the seasonal dishes are one of the important reasons that Japanese food was registered under UNESCO World Heritage.

Those are deep sea fish such as Largehead hairtail, Japanese bluefish, Pollack and Splendid alfonsino.

Deep sea fish live at least 200 m below the surface of the ocean. For example, Splendid alfonsino lives at a depth of between 100 to 800 m deep, so it would generally be thought of as in-season in the winter when it has the highest fat content. However, except just before and after spawning season, the flavor of the Splendid alfonsino doesn’t change much throughout the year. Therefore, even high-end sushi restaurants always keep it in the topping case and it’s a popular choice.

Therefore, Splendid alfonsino is never actually “in-season”.

Since very little light reaches the deep sea, the water temperature remains more or less constant. In other words, there aren’t really seasonal (temperature) changes. The concept of season may not exist there.

Even so, you can think of it as especially delicious in the winter between December and February, when it has a higher fat content. Otherwise you might start to think of it as a fish that is “in-season” all year round, like salmon, and that just doesn’t feel quite as splendid.


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Revision date: October 28, 2019

What is the real reason for the emphasis on freshness in seafood?

The human tongue tends to sense food that is slightly acidic as delicious, and tends to sense it as not delicious when there is alkaline. When fish is alive, the alkaline levels are low, but after dying and beginning to stiffen, the glycogen in the muscle meat turns into lactic acid and becomes acidic. However, as more time passes, the rigor morris releases and the body softens. This is when it tastes the best. After that the proteins break down increasing the amount of alkalines such as ammonia. Also, since the proteins dissolve when they become alkaline, the body breaks down as the alkaline increases. This is the reason that fish tastes worse as it loses its freshness.


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Revision date: October 1, 2019

What’s the difference between Japanese mustard and Western style mustard?

Japanese mustard refers to oriental (yellow) mustard and is a condiment with a strong spiciness. It is used for cooking Japanese and Chinese food. Western style mustard refers to white mustard, which has a more subtle flavor and fragrance and is not as spicy. It is used for sandwiches and sausages. Whole grain mustard is made by mixing white mustard with black mustard seeds and used for things like flavoring vinegar. Sushi chefs use Japanese mustard to offset the greasiness of fatty fish such as bonito and tuna.


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Revision date: September 16, 2019

What are fish seasons?

Fish seasons are categorized as the ‘catch season’ and the ‘flavor season’. The ‘catch season’ is the time when lots of fish can be caught and are cheap. Take Japanese Spanish mackerel (Sawara), for example, they approach the coasts during the spring to spawn and this is the peak season. This is the catch season. Once they’re about to spawn and their bodies fatten for winter, we’ve entered the tasting season. However, these seasons differ depending on the region, and may be longer or even happen twice a year.


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Revision date: September 4, 2019

What’s the difference between mariage and pairing?

In the past, the word ‘mariage’ was often used when matching sushi and sake. Of course, that word is still used, but ‘pairing’ is more common now. It doesn’t matter which you use, both have the meaning of ‘matching’ or ‘combining’. The only real difference is that pairing is closer to just matching things, while mariage has the implication of combining things to create something new.

 


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Revision date: August 7, 2019

How can you tell how a person was raised and their food culture by the way they use soy sauce?

At high-class restaurants, the minimum required nikiri soy sauce is brushed on to the piece, but at restaurants frequented by the general public, customers dip their sushi in as much sauce (soy sauce that includes chemical seasonings) as they like. In fact, there is a gimmick here. The high-class restaurant provides an opportunity for their customers to eat sushi toppings in the most delicious state possible, but the restaurants for the general population allows customers to eat casually with sauce, a daily necessity. This changes how topping ingredients are selected. If the sushi is going to be dunked into the soy sauce, then the topping must have an appropriate fat content that won’t be overpowered by the soy sauce. Therefore, instead of a coastal tuna, a farm-fattened tuna with oily fat is preferred. It is often said that farm-fattened products are too rich, but it is also said that they have an impact that isn’t overpowered by the sauce they are enjoyed with.

 


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Revision date: July 18, 2019

Do you know why sauce made from chemical seasonings dissolved into soy sauce is used for sushi that commoners eat?

There is a sensor on the tongue that feels the degree of saltiness. This prevents us from eating too much of things that are extremely salty. Chemical seasonings confuse that sensor. The chemical seasoning palliates the degree of saltiness felt by the tongue. Even if you were to, for example, dunk your sushi into the soy sauce and chemical seasoning mixture, it won’t feel salty. If you eat sushi with the sauce, you can take in a high volume of sodium, which is a pleasure trigger for the human body, without feeling the saltiness on your tongue. In other words, it may be more accurate to say that with commoner sushi, you actually drink the sauce, not dip into it.

 


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Revision date: June 11, 2019

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What does it mean to taste sushi with your sense of smell?

The difference between common people who eat this sauce and foodies is a delicate nose, meaning their sense of smell. This sense is acquired through childhood experiences and repetition after becoming an adult. Tasting through sense of smell is a person’s food culture. The reason that the so-called celebrities, or the upper class made through business success, don’t have an appreciation for high-class sushi restaurants is because they don’t have this culture of distinguishing by smell, or the culture of feeling the seasons. Also, in order to target the upper-middle class clientele, it is important to use strong flavors and give a performance that is easy to understand, while worrying about details is not necessary. That is why the obvious show of using a burner for searing is popular.

 


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Revision date: June 4, 2019

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