What is Chawan-mushi at sushi restaurant?

a photo of chawan-mushi
It is typically topped with Kamaboko, Shiitake mushrooms, Ginkgo nuts, and shrimp.

Chawan-mushi (Savory steamed egg custard) is made from eggs and dashi (soup stock) and garnished with shrimp and ginkgo nuts. It is steamed in a cup and often served as a cold or hot appetizer. It is a standard item at the sushi restaurant.

Unlike other egg custard, it is not sweet but it has a savory flavor packed with umami from dashi and topping ingredients. It is velvety feeling on the palate is irresistible.

Then why do sushi restaurants serve chawan-mushi?

That is because sushi is a cold dish, so they basically serve something warm as a garnish.

Another reason is that the ingredients used for chawan-mushi, such as shrimp, shiitake mushrooms, eggs, and kamaboko, are either used daily at sushi restaurants or are readily available at market stores that sell sushi items.


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Revision date: January 20, 2023

How to eat soups

a photo of eating soup
How to eat shirumono which is soup in a bowl.

A sushi meal is often completed with clear soup or miso soup. Interestingly, the ingredients in the soup differ depending on the sushi restaurant or the day.

Put all four fingers of your left hand under the bottom of the bowl and place your thumb, gently on the rim. The key is to smell the aroma first. Next hold the rim of the bowl right up to your mouth, and do not make any slurping noises. Then eat between the soup and the ingredients alternately.

When asked “could we serve you a soup bowl now?” at a high-class sushi restaurant, it sometimes is a sign that Omakase course is about to end. If there are any additional sushi toppings you would like to eat, this is the right time to order. And occasions like having a client dinner imply that your meal has reached the budget you informed in advance.


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Revision date: January 19, 2023

 

What is another Kaiseki Ryori?

a photo of Kaiseki RyoriThere are two types of Kaiseki Ryori (懐石料理・会席料理). Both are course meals and have the same reading, but they are expressed in different Chinese characters and the contents are quite different.

In this case, Kiseki (懐石) means a poor meal enough to survive hunger from the anecdote that a Zen priest held a warm stone in his robe to forget the cold and hunger during his training. It consists of soup, rice and three dishes to prepare your stomach before enjoying the strong tea served at the tea ceremony.

As explained earlier, the basis of Kaiseki Ryori at a tea ceremony is one soup and three dishes, but Japanese restaurants, where you are likely to go to eat in person, often have their own arrangements, such as increasing the number of items or changing the order. In a typical menu, oshiki (折敷), wanmono (椀盛), grilled dishes (焼き物), simmered dishes or vinegared dishes (強肴), suimono (吸い物), hasun (八寸), yuto・kouomono(湯桶・香の物), and omokashi・koicha (主菓子・濃茶) are served.

Originally, Kaiseki Ryori was not a sumptuous meal to be eaten with sake, but rather a dish to fill a small stomach before enjoying a more delicious cup of tea.


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Revision date: December 30, 2022

What is Kaiseki Ryori?

a photo of Kaiseki Ryori

Kaiseki Ryori (会席料理) is a course meal to enjoy banquest style. In a typical menu, appetizers (前菜), soup (吸い物), sashimi, grilled dishes (焼き物), simmered dishes (煮物), deep-fried dishes (揚げ物), steamed dishes (蒸し物), and vinegared dishes (酢の物) are delivered in order, and finally rice and red miso soup (止め椀), pickles (香の物), and fruits (水菓子) are served. Some restaurants add an aperitif (食前酒).

The most familiar example of Kaiseki Ryori is the food served at hot spring resorts.


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Revision date: December 29, 2022

Why are the teacups at sushi restaurants so big?!

An illustration of yunomi.
The sides of the Yunomi have the names of the fish written in Chinese characters.

This practice’s origins can be found in the street stands leftover from before WWII. It was a natural remedy for the outdoor sushi vendors who set up street booths and needed a way to maintain heat in their drinks in order to make it through the cold. In addition to lack of convenient access to water, these stands were one-man operations and the time that serving tea takes away from his time making sushi were also contributing factors. In other words, the reason the teacups are large is natural wisdom of sushi shops from long ago.

Also, hot tea has the effect of dissolving the fat that remains on the tongue after eating a fatty sushi topping, cleansing and preparing the palette for the next piece of sushi. This is a task that cannot be performed by beer or Japanese sake.

Then, large teacups became one of the special features at sushi restaurants and a favorite feature among customers, so it wouldn’t make sense to go back to small teacups now. However, times change. There are now sushi restaurants that use relatively small teacups that they change with each refill in an attempt at a sort of stage effect. There are even places that have the teacups imprinted with the restaurant name, phone number, etc. and hand them out to favorite customers. This has tremendous advertising effects.

There are various production sites, but most that are mass-producing are located around the Toki area of Gifu prefecture and the more expensive but also relatively more durable tend to be Arita ware from Saga prefecture. There are wide varieties in shape and pattern, but despite the preference for large teacups at sushi restaurants, there is such a thing as cups that are too big and they are also harder to drink from. Also, thicker cups may be more durable, but they are also harder to drink from. Even when made thick, the rim should be thinner. The cylinder shape is hard to clean and the bottom of the cup tends to be stained by the tea. My personal opinion is that it is hard to find what I would call a refined teacup with a nice color and shape. But the worst is when a thin teacup or tea bowl gets too hot to hold.

Related contents:
GREEN TEA THAT PAIRS WITH SUSHI

What is Matcha?

What are Konacha and Mecha?


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Revision date: October 1, 2022

 

What is the correct way to address a sushi restaurant owner?

a photo of sushi chef

The names you’ll hear at sushi restaurants include Itasan, Taisho, Oyakata, Goshujin and Master, etc.

Sushi restaurants generally aren’t strict about this sort of thing, so at an easy-going place probably any of these are acceptable. However, the other customers would probably feel more awkward about what you call the sushi chef than the chef himself. This will be a short lecture about the correct way to address a sushi chef.

First of all, “Goshujin (ご主人)” is used for all shops, is correct Japanese and sounds perfectly normal in both Kansai and Kanto. This title means “shop owner.” However, this is not usually used at sushi restaurants. “Master (マスター )” means the same thing as “Goshujin,” but is mainly reserved for places like bars and cafes and is not used at sushi restaurants.

Another common title is “Itamae (板前)” or other versions of it like “Itasan (板さん),” but these all mean “cook” for Japanese cuisine. Sushi is a type of Japanese cuisine, so calling a sushi chef “Itasan” is not a mistake. However, even amidst Japanese cuisine, sushi requires unique techniques, which sets sushi chefs apart from others.

Itamae learn various Japanese cooking techniques while apprenticing, but actually, they rarely make sushi. Therefore, even if a Japanese cuisine cook were to jump into the sushi industry, they would basically have to start over completely. Furthermore, sushi chefs do not just learn the technique of making individual pieces of sushi, they must also acquire the skill of communicating with customers. My personal opinion is that “Itasan” is a way to address cooks who are employed.

Next, there are customers who say things like, “Taisho (大将), make it without wasabi.” Taisho is a term for shop owners, mainly used in Kansai. However, Taisho is not an appropriate way to address an Edomae sushi chef.

So, what should you call a sushi chef then?!

The correct term is Oyakata (親方). Oyakata refers to a full-fledged, independent chef. We believe sumo stable owners (a position that not just anyone can achieve and requires prior results as a sumo wrestler) are also called Oyakata. This is just for your reference.


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Revision date: May 23, 2022

What is Inarizushi (Inari sushi)?

Inarizushi is made with only two ingredients: fried bean curd and vinegar rice (or vinegar rice mixed with boiled down carrots, shiitake or similar ingredients). , and it is that simplicity that allows the chef to devote their ingenuity to the dish, creating a unique flavor. It is said to have first appeared at the end of the Edo period, but the origin is uncertain. The shape of Inarizushi differs from that resembling a straw bag in the Kanto and Eastern Japan, where rich sweet and salty flavoring is used, and the triangular shape of Western Japan.

Type of Inarizushi

When categorized based on shape, the types of Inarizushi are bale type, triangle type, open type and roll type. They can also be categorized by the type of rice stuffed into the fried tofu (abura-age): either white vinegared rice or vinegared rice mixed with other ingredients. The four elements that make up the flavor are sweetness, soy sauce, soup stock and acidity, and the balance is very important. In the east of Japan the flavor tends to be a stronger sweet and salty while in the west the soup stock is more apparent.

Here we will explain the characteristics of Inarizushi using categories based on appearance.

Bale Type

a photo of Bale Type Inarizushi

Inarizushi seems to be a version of Sugatazushi. Perhaps the Sumeshi is stuffed into the fried tofu instead of into a fish (a hypothesis). When looking at literature from the Edo period, there is Inarizushi in the form of a long rod that was cut up and sold. Someone probably thought that if they were going to cut it up into bite-size pieces anyway, they may as well make it in easy-to-eat sizes in the first place (an inference). There are some shops that still sell Inarizushi in long rod form, but the difference is probably in how the fried tofu is cut. You can find this from Sekigahara, Gifu and further eastward.

Triangle Type

a photo of Triangle Type Inarizushi

Why is the appearance triangular? There are many theories, but the most plausible is that these are meant to be shaped like a fox ear. Inarizushi originated as an offering to the Inari god at festivals. The Inari god is the deity of agriculture and patrons pray to this god at Inari shrines. The head Inari shrine is Fushimi Inari Taisha in Kyoto. Legend has it that fried tofu is a favorite of foxes, who are said to be messengers of the Inari god, so it was made into the shape of fox ears. Another theory is that it is the shape of Mt. Inari where Fushimi Inari Taisha is located. Apparently this is because the triangle type originated at Fushimi Inari Taisha. However, Inarizushi shops in Kansai use lucky bale shapes in order to pray for prosperity in business. On the other hand, Inarizushi made at home or in soba restaurants are usually triangular. This type is found from Sekigahara, Gifu and westward.

Open Type

a photo of Open Type Inarizushi

The open type is a revolutionary style. How it came about is not clear, but perhaps someone just stuffed it too full of ingredients. Since the ingredients are visible, it looks even more delicious than normal Inarizushi. It’s really beautiful when many are lined up. You can imagine how this served as inspiration to those who went on to add a variety of ingredients. It’s also easy to make since all you have to do is fill it with ingredients. this has already become a staple sushi in France, South Korea, Australia, Singapore and other countries.

Roll Type

a photo of Roll Type InarizushiAlmost all roll-type Inarizushi in Japan is made with a dried fried tofu from Kumamoto called Nankanage. Unlike normal fried tofu, it looks like paper in the shape of a sponge and does not form a bag. That’s why the only way to use it was by wrapping it around the rice. Also, this way of spreading out one sheet of boiled fried tofu and then wrapping the rice inside may have been created as a way to avoid tearing the fried tofu when stuffing with vinegared rice

Summary

Ignoring whether or not it is true that carnivorous foxes really love fried tofu, apparently the foxes that serve as messengers to the Inari god do love it. As foxes were thought to be delivering prayers to the Inari god, their favorite fried tofu was given as an offering to stay on the fox’s good side. After that, they started the practice of stuffing rice that was grown with the blessing of the Inari god. As you can see, Inarizushi is the combination of two ingredients involving the Inari god.

Related contents:

Tips for making great Inarizushi from a sushi chef

TYPES OF SUSHI


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Revision date: May 9, 2022

What is Shiromi?

Hirame is a high-quality fish that goes for at least US $50 per kilogram. It can even exceed US $80 per kilogram, depending on the timing and the fish’s body.

Hirame is a typical shiromi (white meat fish) when winter is approaching and a great sushi topping to start off a meal. Also, the taste is so delicate that the original flavor can be cancelled out just by adding too much soy sauce. How the chef expresses this delicate taste is a tribute to his skill and something that foodies look forward to.

In the US, Hirame is often written as “halibut” on the menu of sushi restaurants. Technically the English name of Hirame is Bastard halibut. Hailbut (referring to Pacific halibut) is called “Ohyo” in Japanese. In Japan, the engawa of massive Ohyo is often used as a substitute for Hirame engawa at conveyor belt sushi, but the two are not confused for each other. There is no mistake that Hirame is related to halibut, but they are completely different species. Incidentally, the price of Ohyo is US $3 to $20 per kilogram. It is incomparably cheaper than Hirame.

Also, depending on the restaurant it may be represented in a variety of other ways such as fluke, flatfish and flounder. These terms refer to relatives of Hirame (鮃) or Karei (鰈), but do not indicate any certain species of fish. In other words, there is generally no distinction between Hirame and Karei in the US and to go even further, all white fish are thought to be the same species.

The delicious taste of fish is dependent on the distribution of fat and the amount of inosinic acid. Therefore, fish taste better in the seasons when they have fattened up. On the other hand, people have a hard time distinguishing between types of fish when comparing the tastes of the parts with less fat. The free amino acids in fish meat differ only slightly between different types of fish. In other words, the flavor of all fish is mostly the same. It is only the amount of fat and the amount of the umami component, inosinic acid, that differ between fish, so apparently even sushi chefs cannot distinguish between fish just by eating the back part, which has a low fat content.

This is part of the reason why in the US all white fish is all lumped into the same category and to top it off, the common consensus there is that white fish has no flavor.

At sushi restaurants in Japan, generally there are at least two types of white fish on offer. It is practically guaranteed that Hirame will be in stock in winter. The light flavor unique to this white meat that spreads with each bite maximizes the aroma and sweetness of the vinegared rice. Recently, white fish with high levels of fat such as Kinmedai and Nodoguro, have become standard, high-quality white fish.

The difference between how even these sorts of white fish are handled in the US and Japan is astonishing. That said, flavorless Hirame is not consumed as sashimi or sushi even in Japan. It is served in dishes with strong flavors, like carpaccio. It’s possible that delicious Hirame is just not available in the US.

Related contents: List of White flesh fish


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Revision date: July 16, 2022

Where does the name “battera” come from?

While not often seen in Tokyo, “Whole mackerel sushi” is popular in Kyoto and Osaka. This is pressed sushi made by placing vinegared saba (mackerel) on top of sushi rice and shiroita-kombu (kelp that has been lightly shaved down) on top of that, and is normally called “battera” in Kansai.

It would make sense to call it saba pressed sushi, but a customer actually came up with this weird name, “battera”.

Around 1890, there was an exceptionally large number of konoshiro (gizzard shad) fish for the year. A sushi restaurant took notice of the cheap konoshiro, butterflied it, made it into fukin-jime, then sold it in this shape that resembled a boat. Apparently it used to look more like a boat than the present-day battera.

As the Portuguese word for “boat” is “batela”, someone started ordering by saying things like, “Give me a couple of battera.” Eventually battera became the official name.

Before long, konoshiro hauls dropped and so it was replaced with saba. Also, in order to preserve moisture, sushi chefs started to wrap it in kelp sent by ship from Hokkaido. The shape now is a long, skinny rectangle and it no longer resembles a boat, but the name remains.


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Revision date: August 12, 2021

What is Masuzushi?

The origin of Masuzushi dates back about 300 years. Apparently, in 1717 it was first presented as Ayu narezushi (narezushi is a traditional food, said to be the original form of sushi and made from lactic fermentation of fish) to the third-generation feudal lord, Toshioki Maeda, by Shinpachi Yoshimura, a feudal retainer of Toyama who excelled in cooking skills. Toshioki liked the dish very much and assigned the role of vinegaring Ayu to Shinpachi. After that, it is said that the same narezushi was presented to the eighth shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate, Yoshimune Tokugawa, and that Yoshimune was extremely pleased with it.

Shinpachi’s ayuzushi was made through the painstaking process of washing salt-preserved ayu with sake, then pickling it for around 12 days, removing the rice the day before it was to be served, then adding new rice that had been flavored with sake and salt.

This transformed to the present-day Masuzushi in the late Edo period, when the amount of vinegar was increased. Hayazushi, in which vinegar is added to rice for a quick meal, became popular, and Sakuramasu started to be used instead of Ayu, These factors seem to have contributed to how it transformed into the Masuzushi we see today.

It is made by first filleting fresh Sakuramasu into three pieces and removing the skin and bones, then cutting into 3 mm thick strips. These strips are sprinkled with salt and left for 3 to 5 hours before being washed with a vinegar mixture made of salt, sugar and other seasonings (water is never used for this). The type and amount of seasonings mixed with the vinegar at this time is a secret and determines the house flavor of the restaurant or family. Sakuramasu that has marinated for 1 to 2 hours in the vinegar mixture is placed on sushi rice in the container, then held down with weights to press for several hours to complete the Masuzushi.

Long ago, it was only made with Sakuramasu caught in Jinzu River, so it was made between April and July. However, due to reasons such as a dam being built upstream and water pollution, Sakuramasu produced outside the prefecture and imported Masu (trout) is used now, and it is made year-round.


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Revision date: August 3, 2021

What is Funazushi?

Narezushi (mainly a preserved food in which fish undergoes lactic fermentation with salt and rice), in which Sushi finds its roots, can still be found even today throughout Japan. The most famous is Funazushi in Shiga prefecture.

Although it has “sushi” in the name, according to common knowledge of the day, it would be called crucian carp. The sweet and sour smell tickles your nose and it’s almost like pickled crucian carp. When you actually put it in your mouth it fills with an intense sourness and it can only be described as a really sour pickled food. However, the more you eat it, the more you somehow get used to it and in the end it becomes a favorite food that you will even crave. This effect is so mysterious that people even wonder, “Could this have been synchronized at some point with the tastes of our Japanese ancestors?”

Making Funazushi sushi is surprisingly simple. The only ingredients are crucian carp caught in Lake Biwa, rice and salt. First the internal organs are removed from the crucian carp, next it is salted and then it is shade-dried. This crucian carp is packed tightly into freshly steamed rice in a large cask. “Sushizume” refers to this precise situation, and the ingredients are packed in so there is no air inside. If air is let in, the oxygen will cause microbiota to grow. In other words, it will rot. This is the most important thing in making funazushi.

While this cask is left for eight months to two years, special microorganisms will cultivate even without oxygen. These are lactic bacteria and acetic bacteria, which work to change the entire contents into a sour flavor.

After that, the mushy rice is removed from the finished Funazushi, and only the crucian carp is consumed. However, let me reiterate, this sour flavor is intense and complicated. Comparing it to bleu cheese or camembert cheese might make it easier to understand. The taste is so intense that it makes some people sick.

Incidentally, there are records from when Hideyoshi Toyotomi advanced his army to the Korean peninsula (around 1592), that Funazushi from Oumi was presented to soldiers on the front line as a comfort food. This episode illustrates the fact that Funazushi was a dish of pride for the people of the town of Nagahama (where Toyotomi’s castle was located, now part of Shiga prefecture).


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Revision date: July 26, 2021

What is Shiojime?

When preparing fish, it is sprinkled with salt 30 minutes to one hour before cooking. Sushi chefs also salt fish for almost the same purpose. This is called Shiojime. Shiojime brings out excess moisture and fish odor from the fish. At the same time, the proteins that make up the fish’s muscles dissolve, giving it tenacity. The result is that the fish meat gets resiliency. Another objective is to eliminate the bacteria on the surface of the fish. In sushi preparations, Shiojime is often followed by Sujime. The amount of vinegar that permeates the fish depends on the circumstances of Shiojime, so it is an extremely delicate task.


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Revision date: May 14, 2021

What is Engawa?

Engawa has both a unique, crunchy texture and delightful fat distribution and is said to be the most delicious part of hirame.

But what exactly is engawa?

Engawa is the generally used name for the meat muscle that moves the soft ray of the dorsal and ventral fins of flatfish (such as hirame and makogarei). Most people in Japan think of the hirame version when they hear the word ‘engawa’.

To go into a more advanced level of detail, there are three types of muscles that move the dorsal and ventral fins in fish: the erector spinae, the depressor and the scalene muscles. These muscles are well-developed in fish that move their dorsal and ventral fins often, like flatfish and flounder. Actually, not all three of these types are always consumed. If we look at the way hirame and makogarei are cut for preparation, the slanted muscle is taken to be used for engawa while the erector spinae and depressor are left, affixed to the fin ray, etc. In other words, to be exact, engawa is the slanted muscle of the dorsal and ventral fins.

The unique, crunchy texture comes from the high content of collagen, which is a scleroprotein. “Kakushi boucho” is used to make the crunch pleasant and is one of the skills a sushi chef must perfect. The delicious flavor is related to the high amount of fat compared to body meat. There is also a sense of elegant sweetness. Only four pieces of engawa can be taken from a single flatfish, so it makes sense that foodies love it.

The name “engawa” comes from its resemblance to the unique veranda structure of Japanese-style homes. This veranda is called “engawa” in Japanese.

Incidentally, substitutions have become common at kaiten sushi (conveyor belt sushi) restaurants, and the topping is especially popular among women lately. So the question is, how is it possible to eat this valuable topping that is only rarely available at expensive sushi restaurants, so cheaply at kaiten sushi? Actually, Greenland halibut engawa and Kamchatka flounder engawa are used as substitutes to hirame engawa. The proof of this is in a menu that lists only “engawa” and not “hirame engawa”.


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Revision date: December 3, 2020

Why do we use the counter “kan (貫)” 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-sushi 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-sushi 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: April 29, 2020

What is the difference between “鮨,” “鮓” and “寿司” (all ready “Sushi”).

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? Most Japanese people don’t know the answer to this question.

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.

Sushi-interpreting service “sushiuniversity”


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Revision date: April 29, 2020