A Michelin Guide secret eater from the US?!

The other day I had a very interesting guest at Sushi University from America. I’d like to introduce them to you. It was their first time in Japan and they stayed in Tokyo for a week. They planned to see Asakusa, the Shibuya scramble crossing, Meiji Shrine, the robot restaurant and all the other usual tourist sites. However, the conversation all seemed to be focused on food.

I asked what they planned to eat. They answered that they would be going to restaurants like Tsunahachi (Tempura), Japanese Soba Noodles Tsuta (the first ramen restaurant in the world to be awarded a Michelin star), and Steakhouse Sato. They had already lined up early in the morning at the Sugamo ramen restaurant, Tsuta, to collect a numbered ticket apparently.

The thing that surprised me most is that they were going to Sukiyabashi Jiro the day after their Sushi University experience.

If you are visiting Japan, I hope that you too will come to Sushi University before going to an expensive Michelin Star restaurant, so you can learn a bit about Edo style sushi. The reason is that sushi masters are just humans who want to provide something delicious to customers who will understand their sushi. For example, just slightly different parts of tuna have a totally different tastes. In order to understand these kinds of details for your chef, you need to have some knowledge of sushi toppings and Edomae-style sushi.

If you like sushi, you can’t continue to only judge the toppings on freshness and the fat content. Even if you don’t speak Japanese, with repetition, I hope you will reach a level that you can meet the challenges set forth by the sushi chef (understanding the Edomae-style techniques that have gone into each piece).

On the other hand, there is nothing wrong with a special trip to visit a restaurant with a Michelin star as part of your vacation so you can boast about it with your friends. I have also visited Paris’s Guy Savoy and Florence’s Enoteca Pinchiorri, and treasure those memories myself.

Returning the conversation to the American guest, they did already have impressive knowledge about sushi. Even their sushi chef was impressed at their knowledge. They had also done their own research and were talking about Ginza’s Sawada (two Michelin stars) and SUSHI BAR YASUDA. On top of that, they had come to Sushi University to test their skills and took that knowledge to Sukiyabashi Jiro. In the major American cities, there are a wide range of omakase sushi courses that cost over $300, at which they had eaten many times and had negative comments.

They didn’t want California Rolls, they had an interest in traditional Edomae sushi.

Perhaps they were a Michelin secret eater.

If so, that’s perfectly fine. You can find sushi delicious even if you don’t have the knowledge. But with each learning experience you will enjoy the sushi even more. I hope it helps in improving your experience, even if it’s just a little bit.


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Revision date: March 12, 2019

Reevaluating the serious risk to health posed by farmed salmon!

Before continuing, please read the exclusive articles in major media and research papers.

The red tide (algal bloom) frequently occurs off the coast of Chile and it is resulting a large amount of salmon deaths. In 2015 27 million salmon died in a mass event, of which 25,000 tons were powdered and then fed to the healthy salmon (according to the UK’s Guardian reports).

Chilean fish farmers are using large quantities of antibiotics to control fish diseases. They use 500-700 times more antibiotics than Norway does. 80% of antibiotics imported into Chile are intended for the fish farming industry. Faced with the risk of bacteria resistant to antibiotics emerging, as highlighted by the World Health Organization (WHO), the Chilean National Fish Service is calling for a reduction in the use of antibiotics. (Extract from Le Monde diplomatique Japanese edition)

The bright color of salmon is something that you would never see a long time ago, but is now commonplace. It is likely due to the Canthaxanthin pigment mixed into their feed. Salmon is in fact a white fish. The salmon that is caught in Japan is called “Shirozake” or white salmon and its flesh is not a pink before it goes out to sea. Once it is out at sea, it swims around consuming small plankton and crustaceans such as shrimp and krill. Its body then takes on a pink color due to the intake of natural coloring of Astaxanthin. This Astaxanthin has antioxidant effects and it is noted for playing a part in relieving fatigue and preventing aging. However, the synthetic pigmentation that creates the salmon pink does not provide the same health benefits.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave approval for genetically modified salmon on November 19th, 2015. This genetically modified salmon is called “AquAdvantage salmon.” It grows faster than regular salmon and its body length is almost double. There are groups opposing the sale of this salmon, including US citizen group Center for Food Safety, the Japanese Seikatsu Club, and the European parliament. There are still many unknowns regarding the safety of this type of fish for human consumption, and a number of issues are still being debated. The discussion has been featured in “Nature” magazine.

Endosulfan is a type of organochlorine compound, like Dichloro Diphenyl Trichloroethane, Dicofol, Heptachlor, Chlordane, Mirex, Pentachlorophenol, and is known to be extremely toxic, but the EU approved Endosulfan for use as feed in Norway’s salmon farming industry in 2013.

Researchers analyzed the risk-benefit ratio based on levels of contaminants like dioxins, PCBs and chlorinated pesticides versus omega-3 fatty acid levels. While farmed salmon is higher in omega-3s, it is also significantly higher in these toxins (about 10 times) which can produce birth defects, lower IQ, and cause cancer. They determined the following based on origin of the salmon: “consumers should not eat farmed fish from Scotland, Norway and eastern Canada more than three times a year; farmed fish from Maine, western Canada and Washington state no more than three to six times a year; and farmed fish from Chile no more than about six times a year. Wild chum salmon can be consumed safely as often as once a week, pink salmon, Sockeye and Coho about twice a month and Chinook just under once a month.” (Extract from The Journal of Nutrition)

There is a saying, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. It is unlikely that big media outlet and research organizations would join forces to circulate incorrect information. Furthermore, this is not a problem that only affects certain countries like Chile or Norway. It should be considered as a problem for the entire farmed salmon industry.

On the other side of the debate, there are articles such as the following. Norway’s NIFES (National Institute of Nutrition and Seafood Research) sampled 13,180 farmed fish (of which 90% were salmon) and monitored them for medicines, substances that are prohibited by law, and other pollutants, publishing their report on August 17th 2015. In their latest report, it concluded that Norwegian farmed fish were safe and that illegal and undesirable substances were not observed to exceed standards. Further, it seems that they have confirmed decrease in most of the pollutants analyzed in the investigation.

But the fact is that, according to these articles, while the chemicals did not exceed standard values, they were certainly found to be present in farmed salmon. The other extreme would be to say that eating natural un-farmed salmon will not expose you to the potential risks from these types of chemicals.

However, that’s not really practical. The global production of farmed salmon is 2.5 million tons a year, approximately three times the 800,000 tons of naturally fished salmon. No matter what way you slice it, the option of farmed salmon isn’t going away anytime soon.

Related Links

UK’s Guardian reports

Reuters reports

Le Monde diplomatique reports

Nature reports

Academic reports


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Revision date: March 1, 2019

What is Red Snapper the same as “Tai” (Sea Bream)?

In the United States, Sea Bream is often called a Red Snapper. However, strictly speaking, this is not correct.

Biologically, Snapper is a generic term for all species in the snapper family. Over 100 different species of snapper inhabit tropical coastal waters. Red snapper is mainly fished in the Gulf of Mexico.

So, what is the fish that Japanese sushi restaurants call “tai”?

They say there are over 300 different species of fish with “tai” in the name, making up 10% of Japan’s fish. When we say “tai” in Japanese, we are referring to “madai” or red sea bream. Red sea-bream is categorized in the “madai” (Pagrinae) subfamily.

Incidentally, relatives of the sea bream often served at sushi restaurants include red sea bream (madai), crimson sea bream (chidai) and yellowback sea bream (kidai). While “kinmedai” (Splendid alfonsino) and “amadai” (horsehead tilefish) have the name “tai/dai” in them, they are not part of the same family as “tai” (sea bream). Splendid alfonsino is a type of deep-sea fish.

Red sea bream and red snapper look similar, but when served as sushi, their texture and flavors are entirely different. So if you come to Japan, please try and eat natural red sea bream (madai). There is no “zatsumi” (overpowering bitterness) and it has a slight sweetness to it. This is the taste of sea bream, known as king of the white fish. Just for your own reference.


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Revision date: January 29, 2019

Why do we use the counter “kan” for sushi?

When you sit at the counter and order nigiri a la carte, they will come out in pairs.* There is nothing wrong with counting these in the regular Japanese way “ikko,” “niko.”

*It is said that nigiri-zushi in the Edo period was bigger than it is today, and too big to eat in one bite. In the Meiji period, the custom emerged of splitting this one big portion into two to make more easily consumed portions, and this is why it is common to get sushi in sets of two. However, nowadays making one piece of nigiri-zushi at a time is not very efficient. We think it’s actually easier for the sushi restaurant to make them in sets of two. Of course, you can order them one by one.

But the sushi restaurant won’t count them like that. Formally, sushi is counted in this way: Ikkan (one), Nikan (two).

We have absolutely no idea where the custom of using the “kan” counter came from. It’s also not clear when use of that counter for sushi started.

Of course, there are theories. For example, there is a theory that back at a time when a single unit of money was called “kan.” The price for one piece of sushi was around 1 ‘kan’, and the counting method gained popularity. There is another theory that one sushi roll was counted with the counter for roll “巻” (also pronounced “kan”), then a different kanji was used for it later. However, these are just theories that were created after the fact and the mystery remains unsolved.

Even if you ask the owner of a sushi restaurant, they’ll probably cock their head to one side, think for a moment, and tell you that the “kan” mystery may never be solved.

Sushi rolls wrapped in seaweed rolls are counted in units of 本 (hon/bon/pon) in the wrapped state, and when cut with a knife, the units change to 切れ (kire). While these units are fairly straight-forward for Japanese language speakers and easy to understand, only the enigmatic 貫 (kan) remains a mystery.


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Revision date: January 16, 2019

Do you know that there are rankings for negitoro (minced tuna)?

The original negitoro is made from medium fatty tuna or nakaochi* chopped up finely with a knife and then mixed with chopped green onions on top. But the tuna may be switched out with filler, leading to a variety in quality of the negitoro available.

First of all, the lowest in the ranking are the offcuts of tuna that can’t be made into sashimi (mainly Yellowfin or Albacore tuna) and this is mixed with vegetable oil and minced. The type of onion used is normally green onions. You can pick this type out because it will be whitish in color. This version is normally served at conveyor belt sushi.

The medium quality uses the nakaochi of cheap Albacore tuna or Swordfish.

High quality negitoro uses the nakaochi of Pacific bluefin tuna or Southern bluefin tuna. Sometimes the green onion sprout is then rolled up inside. If you have a chance to try negitoro in Japan, we recommend you try the top quality options without a doubt. One piece will probably cost around $15 USD. But that’s the price for the real thing!

Finally, let me introduce some negitoro trivia. There is a lot of flesh on the middle bone (spine) and the surrounding area for tuna and the like. This is called “nakaochi*”. Scraping the meat from this area surrounding the spine is known as “negitoru”, which is where the word “negitoro” comes from. In other words, the name “negitoro” is not actually from the words onion (negi) and tuna belly (toro).


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Revision date: January 8, 2019

Sushi chefs are also extremely particular about the salt they use.

Salt is as important an ingredient in sushi as vinegar is. Special, natural salt is always used in sushi. This kind of salt has not only sodium, but also trace amounts of various minerals including potassium, calcium and magnesium. Types of natural salt include that made from seawater or lake water or rock salt and each restaurant selects the type of salt they use carefully.

For example, rock salt from Mongolia, Chile or the Andes will differ from solar salt found in Tosa or the Brittany Guérande. There is an amazing variety of salt selected by each sushi chef based on how well it goes with his own toppings and shari (vinegar rice).


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Revision date: November 19, 2018

What is Kakushiaji?

Kakushiaji refers to a technique where a single seasoning (For example, sugar, vinegar, soy sauce, salt, etc.) is added to a dish. The Kakushiaji contrasts with the finished dish’s flavor, and is added in an amount too small to notice when served. This produces a clear improvement in flavor.

Examples include adding a little salt to heighten sweetness, or adding a little vinegar to a simmered dish. Sometimes these combination of flavors can be quite surprising, like adding a touch of chocolate to a curry.


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Revision date: November 7, 2018

What is Umami?

Umami describes the delicious taste of savory flavor essences. For many years, people held to the belief that humans can taste only four basic flavors (sweet, sour, salty, bitter) unitil a japanese chemist named Kikunae Ikeda discovered a fifth flavor (glutamic acid) in the early 20th century.

The main umami ingredients are glutamic acid in seaweed, inosinic acid in dried bonito and meats, succinic acid in shellfish, guanylic acid in shiitake mushroom.

Many ingredients contain a wide variety of umami essences. In combination, they create a  synergistic effect which produces an even more potent savory flavor.


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Revision date: October 31, 2018

What is the difference between Kitamurasaki uni and Murasaki uni?

Purple and Northern sea urchins (Kitamurasaki uni) are very similar, but Northern sea urchins (Murasaki uni) are a size larger than their Purple counterparts. Purple sea urchins are about 6cm in diameter and Northern sea urchins are around 10cm in diameter. Purple sea urchin habitats are generally found in warmer ocean areas such as Kyushu or China regions while the Northern sea urchins are found in colder waters around Hokkaido and Tohoku areas. The purple-colored sea urchins commonly found at markets are generally Northern sea urchins.


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Revision date: October 22, 2018

What is the difference between Bafun uni and Ezobafun uni?

While they are very similar to Green sea urchins (Bafun uni), Short-spined sea urchins (Ezobafun uni) are a size larger and have thick spines.

Green sea urchins are 5cm in diameter and Short-spined sea urchins are 10cm in diameter. Green sea urchins are distributed from the southern areas of Hokkaido down to Kyushu. Short-spined sea urchins are mainly distributed in the Hokkaido and Tohoku areas. The most commonly eaten green sea urchins that are Short-spined sea urchins in Japan.


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Revision date: October 15, 2018

Automatic reply mails from Sushi University

The reply from the reservation system is  based on the application by the guests autocratically. The original information of your reservation cannot be updated by our system. If there is a change, the new information will not be reflected in the following 4 automatic reply mails.

[Automatic reply mails from Sushi University]

1.The thank you mail to inform you the acceptance for your application

2.The mail to confirm your reservation

3.The mail to reconfirm your reservation : will be delivered the day before Sushi University

4.(only if) The mail to inform you the acceptance for your cancel


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Revision date: October 15, 2018

Is the handmade ginger in quality sushi restaurants free?

The ginger served in sushi restaurants is called “gari”. There are people who just chomp down the gari since it’s all free.

However, in certain prestigious restaurants where the gari is handmade, it does end up on the bill. This is because considering the time and ingredients that go into making the gari, the restaurant will be losing money if they don’t charge for it.

 

However, most sushi restaurants purchase their gari from companies that specialize in it. These mostly include pickling manufactures that have expanded to China or Southeast Asia and have factories there.

When made at these factories, large amounts of ginger is soaked in the stock solution, creating gari in bulk. The quality has improved greatly over the years, but often the fibers are crushed making it soggy, or the gari is stained from ume vinegar.

On the other hand, homemade gari and gari made in Japan is flavored with vinegar and salt while sugar is used sparingly as a subtle flavoring. Handmade gari is crunchy and chewy. The color is also the original pale yellow of ginger.

And during the fresh ginger season at the beginning of summer the price of fresh, domestic ginger jumps up to thousands of yen per kilogram. Since ginger has a high water content, it can be wrung out to reduce 1kg of ginger down to 300g. Making delicious gari by hand costs money. It is also a daunting task of making a year’s worth in advance. Once it’s done there has to be a refrigerator dedicated to storing only the gari.

When you put it that way, homemade gari is far more expensive than its imported equivalent. Providing homemade gari is one of the things that sets sushi restaurants apart from each other. Of course even if you’re not charged for the gari, eating too much will affect your sense of taste for the meal.


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Revision date: October 8, 2018

Why is there Edo-style sushi outside of Tokyo? The answer is found in a historical event!

The Edo-style nigiri-zushi that was born toward the end of the Edo period (the beginning of the 1800’s) instantly spread throughout Edo. Circa 1850 in the towns of Edo, there were 1-2 sushi shops per town. At the time there was one soba shop for every two towns, which means the ratio of sushi shops was much higher.

This Edo-style sushi eventually spread throughout the entire country. One of the catalysts for this was the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923. The sushi shops throughout Tokyo were destroyed in the earthquake and many of the chefs were out of work. Unlike now, it took a long time to reconstruct after disasters in those days.

The sushi chefs needed to work in order to survive and they dispersed throughout Japan, opening “Edo-style Sushi” restaurants. In other words, the reason you see Edo-style Sushi signs in the Tohoku and Chubu regions is because of the Great Kanto earthquake.

After another 20 years or so passed, Tokyo burned down in air raids. After the war they were unable to secure the fish and vegetables, let alone the rice, needed to make sushi, so it was difficult for restaurants to survive off of sales alone.

That was when an innovative system for sushi shops was allowed for by GHQ (General Headquarters). The system was called a contracted selling system in which the customer would bring in one cup of rice (180cc) in exchange for 10 pieces of nigiri-zushi, including any sushi rolls.

This system was limited to Edo-style sushi. It didn’t apply to “Hakozushi” (meaning ‘box sushi’, also called ‘Osaka Sushi’), which was popular in Kansai, so any sushi shops that wanted to stay in business had to serve Edo-style sushi, which means that Edo Sushi shops appeared all over the country.

It soon became more well-known than Hakozushi* and the term “sushi” became synonymous with the Edo-style nigiri-zushi.

*Hakozushi : Sushi is made by stacking toppings such as shrimp, sea bream and conger eel on top of vinegar-rice and pressed into a wooden box to create a square-shaped sushi. The vinegar rice is cooked with a sweetened kelp and all of the toppings are flavored with mirin (sweet rice wine) and sugar.


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Revision date: October 1, 2018

What is the difference between “鮨,” “鮓” and “寿司” (all ready “Sushi”). Most Japanese people don’t know the answer to this question.

As far as I know, there are three ways “sushi” is written on sushi restaurant curtains in Japanese kanji characters: 鮨, 鮓 and 寿司. Do you know the difference?

Broadly, in the Kanto area 鮨 is generally used while 鮓 is more common in Kansai. 寿司 is used commonly everywhere in Japan.

However, of the three, only 鮨 and 鮓 are seen in ancient Chinese literature. 鮨 was seen as a dictionary entry as early as the 5th to 3rd centuries B.C., and it’s origin is described as combining “fish” and “shiokara” (briny flavor) resulting in the term 鮨.

On the other hand, in A.D. 1st to 2nd century dictionaries, “鮓” appeared, and is explained to depict “a storage container for fish.” Toward the end of the second century 鮓 was used for the term “narezushi”.

But around the third century, the briny meaning of 鮨 and the term “narezushi*” written as 鮓 started to be used interchangeably. That is how the words were imported to Japan.

In Japan, the character “鮓” was often used in literature from the end of the Heian era to the end of the Edo era. Eventually the use of “鮨” was revived during the Meiji era (for unknown reasons). It was a natural transition that Kanto came to use “鮨” and Kansai came to use “鮓”.

Incidentally, the kanji “寿司” was created from the phonetics. Its use for celebratory occasions became commonplace throughout Japan.

*”Narezushi” is the primitive version of Japanese sushi. It means covering seafood with salt and then soaking in rice for a few years as a form of lactic acid fermentation, which brings out the acidity.


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Revision date: September 24, 2018

Do you know the difference between “Nami (並)” “Jo (上)” and “Tokujo (特上)”? Of course you know that Tokujo is the best deal when you order, right?

When you go into a sushi restaurant and look at the menu, you’ll see the terms “Nami (並)” “Jo (上)” and “Tokujo (特上). Japanese people know from the kanji that “Tokujo” is the best, but generally they don’t know what the specific differences are.

Today I’ll explain what each set consists of. If you order “Nami” for one person, this is the typical course:

Tuna Akami: 1 pc. Salmon: 1 pc. Shiromi (white fish): 1 pc. Silver-finned fish such as mackerel: 1 pc. Raw squid: 1 pc. Octopus: 1 pc. Egg: 1 pc.
That’s 7 nigiri pieces and there might be 4 cuts or so of dried gourd or cucumber rolls. To be more specific, the white fish may be different each day, depending on what the restaurant has. The silver-finned fish is also often changed to something like Kohada. The octopus will have been frozen. If the course includes shrimp, it will always be a giant tiger prawn.

If you’re a bit more adventurous and go for the “Jo” course, you’ll be served 9 pieces of nigiri sushi. Fatty tuna (chu-toro) is added to the lineup, which means that with the Akami that’s two of the most popular toppings. But you won’t get the salmon. Depending on the season you may be served bonito. The shrimp may be changed to sweet shrimp. Salmon roe will also be added, making the set more colorful. The thin rolls are changed to salmon roles.

When you upgrade to the “Tokujo” set it will include conger, which takes time to prepare, and the white fish will be top class flounder or sea bream. You will also be served more delicious parts of the tuna. The higher cost means you will get higher quality sushi, which is represented by the prawns and sea urchin. The egg nigiri is upgraded to a thick egg omelet and it will also include something like a blood clam. All this will go into 10 beautiful nigiri pieces and rolls worthy of an Instagram pic.

The price of “Jo” is twice that of “Nami”. So “Tokujo” at triple the price is really an excellent deal. Considering the value of the toppings, the price is unbeatable. The “Nami” set is made up of toppings in the “Nigemono” category (Nigemono includes squid, kohada, octopus and egg toppings). To put it bluntly, this set only includes toppings that are cheap and have a variety of uses.

Psychologically people tend to choose the average, so when presented with “Nami” “Jo” and “Tokujo,” an overwhelmingly large percentage of people choose “Jo.” “Tokujo” is a bit expensive, but you came to eat sushi so “Nami” isn’t going to cut it. You select “Jo,” right in the middle so you won’t be judged. The people running these restaurants know this well and they set items they want to sell the most at the “Jo” price. The items they want to sell the most are those with the best profit margins, so usually these are in the “Jo” set. This is exactly what the restaurant wants.

However, they can’t do that for the “Tokujo” set. “Tokujo” is the pride of the restaurant and they want to preserve the quality. Even if they change the type of topping, it will be a topping worthy of “Tokujo”. They don’t want to serve their most expensive dishes and have a disappointed customer.

So if you’re going to pay for sushi anyway, it’s better to pay just a little bit more for the “Tokujo” course.


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Revision date: September 17, 2018