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

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

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

Why do sushi chefs make the sushi in front of the customers?

Many regular patrons of sushi restaurants look forward to having casual conversations with the sushi chefs. It might be difficult to understand for visitors who don’t speak Japanese, but sushi restaurants are the only restaurants in the world that customers can speak directly with the head chef. If you don’t need conversation, then the waiter could just bring the sushi made back in the kitchen. Of course they also want customers to see the beautiful act of making sushi, but there is no particular reason that the sushi has to be made in front of the customer. The technical term for this is “Exposed Business,” meaning that the chefs are putting themselves on display for the customers. Did you learn something new?


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Revision date: September 2, 2018

About a conger eel, there are two way to make sushi, “skin-up ” and “skin-down”. Do you know the difference?

The naval (actually the anus) in the middle of the body serves as the border separating the head part (top) and tail part (bottom) of the eel. The fat is distributed better on the top. People used to say that since the bottom moves more it is more tasty, but is this really true?

It’s also often said, “the top should be served skin-up and the bottom should be served skin-down.”

Skin-up means that the skin side is on top and the meaty side is on the rice.

Skin-down means that the meaty side is facing up and the skin side is on the rice.

Conger eel easily melts apart when it is boiled and broth enters the part where it separates, so the appearance is not as appealing. But unless the crack is extremely obvious, both the top and bottom of the conger eel is often prepared skin-down in sushi.


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Revision date: August 27, 2018

Tuna is allowed to rest before it is used.

Once a bluefin tuna is caught, it arrives in Tsukiji fish market within a day or two. However, that fish is not used as a sushi topping that day. No mater how good the tuna is, it starts out very stiff and is not in a state where it should be eaten. The meat is hard and the white muscle lines are left in your mouth. The odor and acidic taste of the red meat is strong and the unique sweetness of the fish is nowhere to be found. After it has rested the muscles soften, bringing out the fat.

Then, when the sushi chef gets the tuna, he first separates the red, lean meat and the fatty toro portion, rewraps them separately and, seals them in plastic and puts them on ice. Next is waiting for the “young” meat, not yet suitable for eating, to mature. The number of days the fish will be rested depends on the size of the fish and the temperature. The smaller the cut and the warmer the temperature, the shorter the rest time. Generally the time is from 3-14 days.

This “young” fish not ready for consumption is a fresh, deep color but as it matures the color darkens, the fat is brought out and becomes a fleshy color. Proper care must be taken because if it’s rested for too long, the color changes too quickly.


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Revision date: August 13, 2018

Why do most sushi restaurants have 8 seats at the counter?

At sushi restaurants, only the master chef makes the sushi. Depending on the shop, the apprentices don’t even touch the knives. The texture of a fish changes greatly with the way a fish is cut, drastically affecting the workmanship of the sushi. There is a clear difference in taste when the master makes a piece of sushi from when the apprentice does. It is also commonly thought that a sushi chef can only take care of about 8 customers at once while he is also preparing pieces of sushi, so most counters have around 8 seats.


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Revision date: August 6, 2018

What are good sushi restaurants!

You can determine how good a sushi restaurant is just by glancing at the topping box (neta-bako). The toppings should all be bright and shiny. This seafood was selected that very morning throughout Tsukiji Fish Market. Even when marinating in vinegar, it’s clear how lively and fresh the fish is.

Every single good sushi restaurant is small. The maximum counter space for a single sushi master to keep up with each customer is 10 seats. These excellent restaurants also have a number of regular customers and almost seem like an exclusive club.

The master conditions his customers to enjoy the toppings that he believes to be the best and the customers train the master into making the dishes they like. After all, making sushi may be a single profession, but it is a relative business and it takes time to build this deep understanding between the chef and customers.

Good sushi chefs do not play favorites to their regular customers. Good regular sushi customers are well-mannered and don’t make an unpleasant atmosphere for first-time customers. Both the chefs and customers are educated in this way. There is this sense of pure pressure in the restaurant.

Good sushi restaurants close their doors early. They need to get to Tsukiji Fish market first think in the morning.  This means they need to get to bed by midnight. So the regular customers at these restaurants get up to leave when closing time rolls around. Somewhere along the way they’ve been trained to do this.


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Revision date: June 25, 2018

What are Meji , Chubou and Maguro?

The bluefin tuna goes by different names in Japanese depending on its age. It starts out as “Meji,” grows into “Chubou” and finally is called Tuna (once it’s 50 kg or more).

Meji are less than 1 year old and weigh around 10 kg.

Chubou is an old word for relatively low-class Buddhist priests who were treated as errand boys. I guess it was meant to imply that these boys were even weaker than tuna. At this stage the fish are between 2-5 years old and weigh about 40kg.

Anything larger than that are called Maguro. The biggest is 3m long and 600kg or more. Especially large tuna are called Shibi. “Shibi” comes from the Japanese characters for “4-days”, which is how long the fish takes to mature.

Most meji and chubou are caught from May until the beginning of autumn when the tuna are thin and tasty.

Meji has its own unique scent and taste that sets it apart from full-grown tuna. The color is similar to the skipjack rather than bluefin. On the other hand, chubou has a lighter color and it isn’t as rich, but the flavor is young, refreshing tuna. That is why meji is considered to be a completely separate sushi topping and chubou is presented to be a type of tuna.


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Revision date: September 14, 2018

Are the most prestigious sushi restaurants all in Tokyo?

It is called Edo-style sushi, so the most appropriate place to eat it is Tokyo, formerly known as Edo. The skills of chefs raised in this long history of sushi. The best fishery products in Japan — no, in the world, are all found at Toyosu Market. There is no question that combined with the veteran sushi experts, Tokyo is the battleground for sushi restaurants and where you’ll find the most prestigious locations.


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Revision date: July 16, 2019

People all over the world tend to be forced to eat sushi with fake or substitute fish!?

Seafood product buyers tend to believe that the products they are purchasing are as described by the sellers. But, that isn’t always the case. Seafood products are sometimes intentionally labeled incorrectly for profit.

This is seafood fraud. Fraudulent actions like this threaten the safety of the food. From the FDA’s “Report on Seafood Fraud”

70% of seafood consumed in the US is eaten at restaurants. The products served at restaurants are generally lower quality than those sold in retail outlets and the sushi is especially appalling. Unless visiting a top-class sushi restaurant (where the prices are, of course, high), you can usually expect to be served the worst of the worst.

There isn’t much a consumer can do about this, but at the very least you can educate yourself on types of fish that are often substituted. If you were to order White Tuna or Red Snapper, you would very likely be served something else. Any shrimp ordered was probably farmed.

There are no laws regulating “Fresh” or “Organic” labels so don’t be fooled by these. In the same way, be suspicious when you see word combinations like “Great Sushi” or “Great Sashimi.” There is no such thing as “Great” in this sense.
By Larry Olmsted, a print columnist for two of America’s three national newspapers, Investor’s Business Daily and USAToday

*FDA・・・Food and Drug Administration


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Revision date: June 4, 2018

What is “Sute-shari”?

Shari (vinegar rice) used for making sushi is kept in a rice tub and normally placed by the hand the chef uses to shape the rice. The chef places his shaping hand in the tub and takes out several hundred grains of rice. It is said that a skilled chef can consistently grab the same number of grains with an error of only a few grains, every time. This is the result of many years of training.

If the chef lacks such training, they may take too much shari and you’ll see them return some to the rice tub. This is called “sute-shari” or “discarded shari”. This sute-shari is not a very appealing sight. But the reality is that even the world-famous Jiro* can be seen discarding shari in this way.

*Jiro Ono is the owner of Sukiyabashi Jiro, a sushi restaurant in Ginza that has earned the status of a three Michelin stars for 11 consecutive years.


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Revision date: May 14, 2018

Does the taste of wasabi differ depending on the grater?!

There are two tools used to grate wasabi, one is a metal grater and the other is called “Samegawa” (sharkskin), which has a layer of shark skin. When something as fine as shark skin is used for grating, the spicy flavor is enhanced and when a coarser metal is used, the sweetness is enhanced. The taste of the wasabi even changes depending on whether it is turned clockwise or counter-clockwise while grating.

Learn about wasabi


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Revision date: April 23, 2018

Why doesn’t rice stick to the sushi chef’s hands?

One of the pleasures of sitting at a sushi counter is watching the sushi master work his craft.

He holds the topping between the index finger and thumb of his left hand while simultaneously grabbing the shari (vinegar rice) with his left hand. He gently squeezes the shari and then moves the topping from his left hand to the top of that shari in a fluid motion. This entire process of shaping the shari to the finished piece of sushi takes less than six seconds. Every movement is precise and purposeful.

However, no matter how many pieces the chef makes one after another, you’ll never see a grain of rice stick to his hands. If you or I were to make even one piece of sushi, our hands would be covered in rice. So why doesn’t it happen to them? Their hands don’t look oiled. Perhaps sushi chefs have especially smooth or slick hands compared to us average Joes?

Of course not. This is actually thanks to the vinegar.

The chefs keep a bowl of vinegar close by, which they constantly use to wet their hands. This procedure is called “Tezu” or vinegared water, which both disinfects the hands and cools their palms. When the vinegar evaporates, it takes the heat from the hands with it.

Normally hands reach temperatures of 33-34 degrees Celsius (91-93 degrees Fahrenheit), but sushi chefs cool their hands to approximately 30 degrees Celsius (86 F). This transfers the heat from the hands to the shari, keeping it from getting sticky. In other words, not a single grain of rice sticks to their hands.


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Revision date: March 19, 2018