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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Option for pairing Japanese sake with sushi

There is a theory that when pairing Japanese sake with cuisine, the two should complement each other. This means that one should complement the shortcomings of the other, and thus a harmony is achieved with the compatibility of the two pieces.

Of the five tastes, the components of sake include a balance of sweetness, umami, sourness, and bitterness. It is only missing the saltiness. However, sushi contains salt in the vinegar rice and topping, tacitly complementing sake. Sushi is delicious even eaten alone with its multi-layered umami components including acetic acid, glutamic acid and inosinic acid. By pairing with sake, you are adding the organic acids specific to sake, such as succinic acid, malic acid and lactic acid, further enhancing the taste experience.

Let’s discuss how science backs up drinking sake with sushi.

If you are looking for a new favorite sake, you should sample as many different types as you can. If that’s your aim, then filling your stomach with sushi is going to get in the way. The goal here is to ultimately find a sake that pairs well with sushi.

First, you should ask for a small amount of Junmaishu and Ginjoshu (or Junmai-Ginjoshu) recommended by your sushi chef. See the sensation they create in your mouth, whether there is a sweetness or a dryness, and note the fragrance and acidity. Immediately after eating a piece of sushi, try tasting the sake. Your impression may change a lot when paired with the sushi compared to the first sip. This is the true pleasure of pairing sushi and sake.

Feel free to enjoy two glasses of your favorite or try one glass each of two types. With the first tasting, you will end up having a total of about two glasses. This is said to be the perfect amount for your 2-hour stay, giving you a slight buzz without dulling your taste buds. In other words, it is the perfect amount for enjoying sushi. The cost for this option is JPY 3.500 per person. Please write “Pairing Sake” in the Special Requests field.


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Revision date: May 1, 2019

It’s not just only farmed fish which has been accumulated toxic substances.

Natural fish are part of the food chain and have concentrations of harmful substances. Since 2000 the amount of mercury found in fish has become an issue. The American Natural Resources Defense Council has said tuna is a fish that should be avoided if pregnant or planning to get pregnant. A more recent problem is the large amounts of micro plastics found in fish meat. This shocking phenomenon will likely be reported by research organizations at some point in time. If it does reach that extreme, then it will be better to avoid the danger of eating fish.


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Revision date: April 22, 2019

Why does it taste a little bland when you had tuna at high-class sushi restaurant?

Tuna at top-end restaurants is light in flavor. Its Akami (red meat) has an indescribable acidity with a delicate harmony between the shari vinegar, the nikiri soy sauce, and wasabi. However, on the other side of the coin, it feels almost like a waste to eat it without a sense of luxury. Of course tuna with delicious akami, also has delicious fatty tuna (toro). And you’ll never get tired of it. It would be easy to polish off 10 pieces as a light snack. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not the high fat content that makes it so easy to eat. However, it is because of that popular belief that many people feel that the big chain store farmed fish with lots of fat is more delicious than luxury natural fish.

 


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Revision date: April 16, 2019

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

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