Speaking of Sushi School, people think about sushi cooking school or sushi making school at first. But Sushi University doesn’t teach how to make sushi in order to become a sushi chef. No, it is not cooking school. We picked this name because we would like our guests to learn Sushiology as an education and as culture. We have filed this for the Registered trademark. The act of using it by a third party corresponds to infringement of trademark.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The other day I had a very interesting guest at Sushi University from America. We’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 us 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. We 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 $500, 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 sushi connoisseurs.
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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[Automatic reply mails from Sushi University]
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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.
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.
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.