Can’t-miss Tokyo sushi toppings (Meji Maguro)

Meji Maguro (AKA: Meji) caught in fixed net fishing is one type of sushi topping that you really should try. Meji is the larval fish of Pacific bluefin tuna, made and served at expensive restaurants, but not usually available as Edo-style sushi. Its fat is lighter and it doesn’t have the impact that fatty tuna has. Efforts are put into seasoning to avoid this. Using a pinch of ginger, Japanese basil or onion between the topping and rice, along with the wasabi, really brings out the fresh flavor of the young fish as well as the sweetness of this fatty part.


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Revision date: March 26, 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

Why is freshly-caught fish allowed to age?

The most delicious time to eat fish differs depending on if it is served as sashimi, as sushi, or boiled. Fresh does not necessarily mean delicious. For example, Japanese Amberjack should be used in sashimi 3-5 days after being caught, in sushi a week after being caught and it can be used in a stew or boiled once it turns black around the edges. This is because the inosine acid, which is responsible for the umami taste, increases after rigor mortis ends and understanding the timing of the peak in flavor is up to the skill of the sushi chef.


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Revision date: March 12, 2018

Why does the bill more when ordering sashimi at a prestigious restaurant?

Thicker cuts of fish are used for sashimi than for sushi. Depending on the restaurant, the equivalent of three pieces of sushi may be used in one cut of sashimi. In other words, two pieces of sashimi is the same as six pieces of sushi. At a restaurant where one piece of medium fatty tuna sushi is priced at JPY 1000, simple arithmetic prices medium fatty tuna sashimi at JPY 6000. Just a small order of assorted sashimi often costs more than JPY 10,000. Be careful.


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Revision date: March 5, 2018

10 pieces of sushi we recommend for March

 

 

 

 

 

Bastard halibut (Hirame)

Japanese halfbeak (Sayori)

Golden cuttlefish (Sumi ika)

Lean meat of tuna (Akami)

Medium Fatty Tuna (Chutoro)

Japanese icefish (Shirauo)

Striped marlin (Makajiki)

Pen-shell (Tairagi)

Ark shell (Akagai)

Rediated trough-shell (Aoyagi)


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Revision date: March 1, 2018

Why are two pieces of sushi made at once?

One theory is that this practice is leftover from back when pieces of sushi were made larger and then cut in half. But, there are also some toppings that are better to eat in pairs.

For example, conger eel tastes completely different when one piece is eaten with salt and the other seasoned with sweet sauce. Serving the piece with the head skin-up and the piece with the tail belly-up also offers different textures. Since the back and belly of bonito have different fat content, it can be better to order two pieces at a time in order to fully experience each of the individual qualities of the fish.


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Revision date: February 26, 2018

Why don’t I notice the fishy smell in sushi restaurants?

Many overseas visitors who aren’t used to eating fish have an aversion to fishy smells. This is actually the smell of a substance called trimethylamine and is generated by the breakdown of the umami component called trimethylamine oxide found in large amounts in fish by bacterial growth. The smell also gets stronger with the generation of ammonia as more time passes.

Bacterial growth can be controlled with refrigeration so toppings at sushi restaurants are kept cold. Trimethylamine is an alkaline, so smells can be eliminated by washing with vinegar, which is acidic. It is also possible to kill bacteria on the surface of the fish by soaking it in vinegar, reducing the number of bacteria. Basically, sushi restaurants are constantly taking measures to prevent bacterial growth and avoid fishy smells.


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Revision date: February 19, 2018

Why is sushi with tuna topping so expensive?

A purchase of raw tuna costs at least JPY 30,000 per kilogram. Furthermore, good tuna is judged not only by taste, but appearance is also highly regarded.

The surface is gradually oxidized by letting it sleep (mature) and the sushi chef makes sure that parts are cut of as they change color, when the timing is perfect for both the taste and appearance. In other words, skin is taken from the freshly purchased tuna, the meat of the fish darkened by blood (the blackened area that can’t be used as sushi toppings) is removed, the parts that have changed color are shaved off and then only the remaining, best parts used as toppings are left.

This is why the price is high.


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Revision date: February 5, 2018

10 pieces of sushi we recommend for February

Red seabream (Tai)

Blackthroat seaperch (Nodoguro)

Golden cuttlefish (Sumi ika)

Lean meat of tuna (Akami)

Medium Fatty Tuna (Chutoro)

Spear squid (Yari ika)

Pen-shell (Tairagi)

Ark shell (Akagai)

Rediated trough-shell (Kobashira)

Common orient clam (Nihamaguri)


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Revision date: January 22, 2018

Some notes on chopstick manners

There are manners in using chopsticks that tourists may be unaware of. I would like to introduce some of those here.

First of all, it is impolite to place chopsticks on your dish in the middle of a meal. Make sure to place them back on the chopstick stand when you aren’t using them.

It is also poor manners to stab food with chopsticks and or to use chopsticks to look through dishes. Please avoid breaking up the beautifully arranged dishes when you eat.


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Revision date: January 11, 2018

Tuna was not a premium fish during the Edo period!

During the Edo period, tuna was not highly valued as a sushi topping and it was referred to as “Gezakana” meaning that it was inferior to normal fish. The reason was the big size of the tuna. At this time there was no ice, so tuna had to be salted. It was cut into blocks, salt was spread all over and in it, and that was it. At Uogashi (the market prior to Tsukiji) it was treated at shops that specialized in salting fish. The dark, discolored, salty chunks of flesh really were nothing but “Gezakana*”.

*Gezakana -Relatively low-cost sushi ingredients, such as gizzard shad and horse mackerel. Bluefin tuna used to be also called gezakana in the Edo period, for losing its freshness easily.


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Revision date: December 30, 2017

10 pieces of sushi we recommend for January

Longtooth grouper (Kue)

Red seabream (Tai)

Golden cuttlefish (Sumi ika)

Lean meat of tuna (Akami)

Medium Fatty Tuna (Chutoro)

Botan shrimp (Botan ebi)

Mirugai clam (Mirugai)

Ark shell (Akagai)

Sakhalin surf clam (Hokkigai)

Gaint pacific oyster (Kaki)


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Revision date: December 26, 2017

What makes a good sushi chef?

The balance between Shari (vinegar rice) and the topping is important in sushi. No matter how good the topping, the sushi won’t be good if the Shari isn’t right for it. More restaurants have been using red vinegar lately, but even if you use a Shari with a strong taste like red vinegar, the balance will be destroyed if the topping has a weaker flavor. Seasoning that goes well with various toppings that doesn’t stand out too much is ideal.

It works the other way, too. If the Shari is too weak, the sushi won’t be delicious no matter how good the topping. Even if the topping is not premium quality, if the Shari is matched perfectly, the sushi will be perfect. In other words, a good sushi chef is someone who can make sushi with perfectly matching toppings and Shari.


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Revision date: December 18, 2017

Why do some sushi toppings have ginger instead of wasabi?

Ginger is used for toppings with a strong, distinct taste and strong fishy smell such as bonito, horse mackerel and sardines.

Wasabi has a spicy taste and stimulates the senses of taste and smell and works to dull the senses so the fishy smell is not felt, but ginger is effective in actually extinguishing the fishy smell.


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Revision date: December 11, 2017

10 pieces of sushi we recommend for December

Red seabream (Tai)

Red gurnard (Houbou)

Golden cuttlefish (Sumi ika)

Lean meat of tuna (Akami)

Medium Fatty Tuna (Chutoro)

Japanese pufferfish (Fugu)

Japanese spanish mackerel (Sawara)

Ark shell (Akagai)

Sakhalin surf clam (Hokkigai)

Splendid alfonsino (Kinmedai)


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Revision date: November 27, 2017