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

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

Assessing Fish at the fish market!

One important task of sushi chefs is going to Tsukiji (Toyosu) every morning, looking at fish with their own eyes and assessing the quality. Having a good eye is important in order to get the highest quality possible, but this is cultivated by experience. They are also constantly obtaining information from the fishmongers at the market regarding what the best fish of the season and their localities. It’s almost a game as to whether they can get high-quality fish at the optimum price everyday. The skills of a sushi chef start with this assessment.


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Revision date: September 11, 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

The migrating route of Inshore bluefin tuna and fishing place!

Tuna caught in the coastal regions of the Japan Sea is notable as the best bluefin tuna in January. Iki, a small island in Kyushu area is one of the famous ports for tuna.

In February and March, the tuna auction market becomes slack due to rough weather. Just a few tunas from Nachikatsuura where is also the famous port for tuna are on the market.

In March and April, tunas become thin because their eggs need many nutrients.

In May, large tuna is seldom seen in the Tsukiji Fish Market. Even if there is, its body is really thin. “Kinkaimono” which means a shore-fish is generally considered as high-class tuna, but in this season, imported tuna is useful instead.

It is said that Pacific Bluefin tunas spawn around Japanese waters between Taiwan and Okinawa in April and May. And then, they go up to fertile, north sea along the eastern coast of Japan.

In June, “Chubo” which is young and small tuna is taken hugely off the coast of the Sea of Japan. The school of Chubo begin moving northward in this season.

In July and August, tunas can be seen occasionally but their bodies are still thin. Instead, Boston Tuna which is caught in the Atlantic Ocean and nicknamed “Jumbo” is on the market. Its fresh is softer than “Kinkaimono” and it doesn’t have medium-fatty part which “Kinkaimono” has.

In September, Boston Tunas are at their best with plenty of fat on them. The best season of Boston Tuna is limited and ends in October. But fortunately, Japanese tunas come into season.

The school of tunas split up into two groups, the one takes Pacific Ocean route and another takes the Japan Sea route and both of them move northward along the Japanese Islands. Some of them reach the Tsugaru Strait where and the season of Tuna begins from September to next January. Oma town and Toi town is famous nationwide for its catch of tuna from the Tsugaru Strait. The flavor of tuna in September is still weak but it becomes stronger in October. In November, feed of tunas such as Pacific saury or Japanese common squid with plenty of fat increase and flavor of tuna also gets stronger. In December, the peak season comes around.

A catch of tuna falls off in January and it enters the final season. The temperature of sea water gets cold and feed of tuna, squids decrease and the fishing season in this area ends.


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Revision date: August 20, 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

Why can’t Pacific saury be caught?

On the Pacific Ocean side of Japan there is a three-way deadlock between sardines, mackerel and Pacific saury. There is a theory that the species take turns with increasing and decreasing populations. In recent years there has been an increase in sardines and, in turn, there has been a decline in Pacific saury.


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Revision date: July 30, 2018

What is the difference between maturing and rotting?

When fish die, stopping the supply of ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate), the source of muscle energy, the muscle fibers gradually harden. As time passes, it gently dissolves and the ATP breaks down, changing into umami components due to self-digestion. The umami created by self-digestion of ATP is “maturing” and the process after that is “rotting.”


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Revision date: July 23, 2018

Sushi trends

Foods made to go well with alcohol like ‘shiokara’ salted fish parts or dried mullet roe, don’t go well with shari (vinegar rice). Also, restaurants mainly serving alcohol and foods to pair with it are either bars or Japanese cuisine restaurants that may also serve sushi, but not Edo-style sushi. Many years ago sushi chefs would even get angry saying things like, “Sushi restaurants are not bars. If you want to drink, go next door!” Even Rosanjin wrote, “Sushi restaurants that served alcohol first appeared after WWII. Before the war sushi was served with tea.” In other words, Edo-style sushi restaurants originally didn’t serve alcohol. Perhaps it is true that the increase in sushi restaurants that feel like bars is a natural progression with time.


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Revision date: July 9, 2018

10 pieces of sushi we recommend for July

Seasonal toppings that you don’t want to miss!

Marbled flounder (Makogarei)

Japanese sea bass (Suzuki)

Southern Bluefin tuna (Minamimaguro)

Young Gizzard shad (Shinko)

Disk Abalone (Awabi)

Striped jack (Shima aji)

Kuruma prawn (Kuruma ebi)

Japanese sardine (Iwashi)

Northern sea urchin (Kitamurasaki uni)

Short-spined sea urchin (Ezobafun uni)


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Revision date: July 18, 2019

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