Sushi Saito

snapseed-1

In 2009, when Michelin decided to uncover Japan’s culinary scene by including us in their guide, two things happened. One: the world got a glimpse of our extraordinary cuisine. Two: it caused absolute chaos to the reservation situation in Tokyo.

Frankly, it’s now shit.

There is way more demand than supply since most spots seat only 8-10 people and for those who aren’t Japanese or speak the language, they are SOL (shit outta luck). Sadly a lot of crappy tourists bail last minute or worse, don’t show up or even call (seriously, who does that?) and have ruined it for others to score bookings. Nowadays, a majority of the higher end and exclusive places are invite only for quality control. This isn’t because Japanese people don’t like foreigners. It’s because when a place is so small they only serve 20 or so seatings a night, it hurts the business a lot when people don’t show up; especially since ingredients are purchased daily.

But as frustrating as the booking situation is, one of the best parts about dining in Japan is the intimate experience. A lot of high-end sushi and kappo (cuisine with heavy kaiseki influence – thoughtful presentation, high quality, hyper seasonal ingredients, open kitchen, usually counter seating where diners get to watch/interact with the chef and his apprentices) spots, the taisho (chef) is extremely generous with his knowledge and every time I dine, I always learn something new.

This visit to Sushi Saito, here’s what I learned:

  • Male shishamo tastes better than female shishamo. Shishamo is smelt and kokusan shishamo is Japanese smelt. For about 15 or so years now, Russian or Mongolian smelt are served instead of Japanese smelt since there is a shortage and kokusan shishamo is now hard to obtain. Female smelts are widely served carrying eggs (komochi shishamo) but I barely see male shishamo. I’m not sure if I’ve even had it before. Saito-san also shared that male shishamo is served raw (sashimi) and slightly seared in the spring. Amazing.
  • Kimo is fish liver and the most commonly served fish liver is ankimo (monkfish liver). Fugu (blowfish) kimo is also served — I had no idea. Saito-san told us his first fugu kimo was in a region far up north (I forgot where). When we asked him if it was good, he said: “It’s delicious but I can’t say for certain if it was tasty because it’s so rare or because it is truly tasty. Would I risk my life to eat it again? Probably not.” while laughing. And then he went on to say: “Nothing beats Kawahagi kimo. Ankimo has a kuse.” Kuse, means a distinctness — scent, texture, flavor, what have you — like blue cheese. People either love it or hate it. I kind of think he didn’t really like fugu kimo haha
  • Saito-san trained at Kanesaka and directly under Kanesaka-san. (Kanesaka is now legendary and has two restaurants in Tokyo, several abroad. I’ve only been to Kanesaka once and didn’t really like it but that’s a story for another day.) Saito-san calls Kanesaka-san, Kanesaka jiisan (Jiisan is old man but for Saito-san to fondly address him by that nickname is a huge sign of respect and signifies their closeness) and told us how Kanesaka-san taught him how to crab and fish. Saito-san also mentioned how they used to go together all the time. So cute ❤︎
  • Saito-san can tell the difference between a male and female fish; he said he has to feel them though. That’s pretty mental.
  • The best fugu restaurant in Tokyo is Ajiman

 …I feel like I’m missing some learings so I’ll add if I remember. 

Such a fulfilling meal both physically and mentally, which makes Sushi Saito one of my favorite places on the Earth.

 

Advertisements

Random Japanese Factoid: Plastic Food

japan-fake-food-display-dishes_004
source

Ever wonder who and how the infamous plastic foods of Japan came to be? Well, 121 years ago on September 12th, 1895, Iwasaki Takizō was born. Though he didn’t invent plastic food, he was the first one to bring to plastic food to mass market, when only high-end department stores made and displayed them.

The very first plastic food sample he made was an omelette and following the success, he opened up a factory with the help of his wife in 1932. Thus, saturating Japan with plastic food in all shop window fronts.

Plastic food became such a global phenom, in 2016, there are now plastic food tchotchkes like plastic food fridge magnets, cell phone straps, keychains, etc.

You can find plastic food for purchase in the following locations (industry plastic food cost A LOT. Like thousands of dollars)

Tokyu Hands
Tokyu Hands is like a Target, Spencers (random junk store that used to be in every single shopping mall in the US back in the 90’s that sold lava lamps, edible underwear, gag gifts, etc.), Bed Bath and Beyond, Container Store, Home Depot and Ikea all in one!)
Find the nearest location here: http://www.tokyu-hands.co.jp/en/shoplist.html

Kappabashi aka Kitchen Town
It’s the area in Tokyo where restaurant supplies and such are sold. Just Google Kappabashi.

Shin Ika #Sushi

img_2671

Shin Ika so smooth it looks like a dolphin’s tummy! Shin-ika, like shinko (baby kohada) is a baby squid and are accessible only towards the end of summer. It’s so smooth and sweet and melts in your mouth!! It was so pretty I just had to share.

Of course this is at Takahashi, my favorite sushi restaurant in Tokyo. Takahashi-san is so talented — I only eat his sushi now. I know, I know, I need to get out more. But I can’t help it. I’m now treated as a regular and as a regular’s advantage, I get special dishes like this ↓ (points below)

img_2668

I mentioned in passing the other day I loved his aji tsumami (appetizer). It’s aji with the Saito pesto, egg yolk and sesame seeds. It wasn’t included in this menu but he made one just for me!! It was, as always, super delicious and one of my favorites of all time. Love him!!

Also, he served tako (octopus) which I hadn’t had in a while. But the ceramic (kozara) was one I’ve never seen before. Even more amazing is that it’s shaped like the Bat symbol (from Batman!!)

img_2666

Highlights:
– steamed awabi, this time with kimo (liver) sauce that was AMAZING
– lightly charred anago with three condiments: wasabi, tōgarashi (red pepper) dipping sauce, salt and his raw shichimi (he shared the recipe with me this time!!!)
– aka mutusu a.k.a. nodo guro a.k.a. sea bream sakamushi (steamed with a sake base) with ponzu and some sort of sea vegetable OMG this was delicious
– tai (snapper) that was kissed with a touch of smoke

…and who am I kidding. Everything was super delicious. Takahashi-san makes me so happy.

By the way it’s almost time for fall foods. I love fall foods in Japan. SOOOOOO pumped!

Imitation Crab

source
I am not a violent person but sometimes, I wish we could actually fist fight foods because I have major beef with the grossness that is imitation crab. Pun not intended.

Imitation crab in Japan is semi edible.

The imitation crab in the States are these tasteless, rubbery, hideous things, usually stuffed into grocery store California Rolls. I firmly believe the sole purpose of its existence is to trick unsuspecting people into buying nasty pre-made ‘sushi’. I’m telling you, don’t let the bright red and glowing white cylinders distract you from seeing what these things hibernating in deli cases really are: browning slivers of old avocado wrapped in cold, dry rice with the cheap, sorry excuses for crab. Or should I say krab.

These things – stay far away ↓

Sidenote: if you insist on eating supermarket sushi, look for the California Rolls where the crab is at least shredded like this – the mayo mixed in with the crab makes the dried out rolls tastier. I promise.

I am not the only one who has issues with imitation crab. Aside from the top search, according to Google auto-complete, where people are asking why imitation crab isn’t gluten-free (which is an odd thing to wonder in the first place. Does gluten-free food taste so bad, imitation crab actually tastes… good?), the people have spoken. Two out of the top five results are asking why imitation crab meat is so bad, why it even exists in the first place and apparently they even glow in the dark (!!!!!)

Take a look↓

I’M RIGHT THERE WITH YOU PEOPLE ASKING THOSE QUESTIONS. I don’t know why they exist either.

The Wikipedia for this abomination states:

 

Alaska pollock (Theragra chalcogramma) from the North Pacific is commonly the main ingredient, often mixed with fillers such as wheat, and egg white (albumen)[1] or other binding ingredient, such as the enzyme transglutaminase.[3] Crab flavoring is added (either artificial or crab-derived), and a layer of red food coloring is applied to the outside.

…wait a sec. Imitation crab is not even crab! It’s pulverized pollack (white fish), mixed with ingredients like wheat, egg white and some scientific thing I can’t even pronounce. The stuff that makes up imitation crab, aren’t even from the ocean! Inappropriate ingredients aside, for imitation crab to be named ‘imitation crab’ in the first place is simply wrong. Why anyone would even think to consume ‘food’ labeled as a fake is beyond me!

I read the many reasons and theories behind why this bootleg seafood has a place in the store’s frozen section. Some people say it’s for kosher crab. Others say it’s to cut restaurant costs and someone even thinks it’s to preserve the ocean. But listen. Imitation crab is 1. not crab 2. disgusting and 3. glows in the dark. Things humans put in our mouths and consume should not glow in the dark.

I’m really tempted to start a petition for people to stop eating these putrid things. Only we, the people, can diminish demand. Without demand, production is unnecessary, and without a need, it will forcefully extinct these turd logs.

Ugh. I feel sick to my stomach.

Summer Sashimi

In kaiseki, the fourth course is usually a fish. Sometimes a grilled fish – typically ayu – is served but more often times than not, it will be sashimi. Japanese cuisine is seasonal and plating reflects the seasons as well.

via my Insta

From a summer sashimi, a breakdown of the fish and garnishes:

The fish

The fish from left to right: Katsuo bonito, suzuki Japanese sea bass, aji mackerel. 

The garnishes

— The katsuo is resting on a green shiso leaf.
— The net like transparent piece on top of the suzuki is a thinly sliced pretty daikon.
— A piece of carrot and radish are hanging out on top of the aji.
— The white mound is grated shouga ginger. The green mound is grated wasabi.
— The flower in the middle is hana hojiso perilla blossom. Perilla is shiso. Or lovingly nicknamed the cilantro of Japan as it has a distinct fragrance.

How to eat

Continue reading

Baked Alaska and Citizen Cake

Strange timing. Just when I was talking about how I can’t recall the last time I saw a Baked Alaska, I stumbled onto one on Instagram. I asked if it was a Baked Alaska, to which they kindly responded it’s a Baked Hawaiian.

Baked Hawaiian is a variation of a Baked Alaska, where it’s the same hot and cold concept of cake and ice cream with meringue. In a Baked Hawaiian, pineapple (passion fruit or any tropical fruit) is used.

Here are several recipes I found:

Citizen Cake by the way, was a fantastic dessert place in San Francisco. I still remember the akamiso chocolate ginger soufflé with house made yuzu ice cream, rose petal crème brûlée with saffron pistachio cookies and a grapefruit campari cocktail I had back in 2008 (Thank you, journal!). The bakery nextdoor: Citizen Cupcake had incredible carrot cake. And I’m not a dessert person.

I looked up Chef Falkner to see what she’s up to after Citizen Cake. Apparently she moved to NY and is now a consulting chef after short stints making pizza and cooking in the UWS of Manhattan. She’s also a contributor to Food and Wine Mag, where I found several recipes for juices. Citizen Cake’s cocktails were so delicious, I’m definitely making this juice when apples are back in season (Granny Smith is tough to find in Japan).

Fresh Apple-Celery Juice with Ginger and Parsley

2 celery ribs, cut into 3-inch lengths
One Granny Smith apple—halved, cored and cut into large chunks
One 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled
1/2 medium bunch of parsley with stems
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Mix above ingredients in a juicer. Recipe via here.

Tamago Tofu

 

Tamago tofu 卵豆腐 is a small dish that makes appearances in kaiseki Japanese haute cuisine meals. Tamago tofu translates to egg tofu but it isn’t actually tofu – there are no soy beans. It’s dashi and egg, steamed in a square, making it more a unsweetened custard than tofu. The color and consistency resembles tofu, which is where it got its name.

It is said in ancient Japan, poultry and their byproducts (ex: eggs) used for consumption was against Buddhist beliefs and weren’t incorporated into Japanese cooking until 1333. The first recorded recipe of tamago tofu was in a cooking essay published in 1785, thus considered a newer dish.

I guess in a country with recorded history dating back to year 787 (Heian period), 1785 can be perceived as… new 0_0 Sometimes I forget how old Japan is.

Anyway, the other night I had an exquisite dinner at one of my favorite places and tamago tofu was one of our dishes. My dining companion (non-Japanese) asked about the dish and I couldn’t answer all his questions. So of course I asked one of the chefs who overloaded me with information I translated. He was so intrigued by this dish, I thought I’d share here too.

 

(Pardon the messy photo — I forgot to snap a picture until we served ourselves)

The green vegetable that looks like a skinny green bean is junsai. The English translation is Brasenia schreberi or water shield. Google images pulled up photos of flat, round green clusters floating in water reminiscent of lily pads. That caught me a bit off guard since I was expecting a thin pipe like vegetable. Further googling taught me junsai is an aquatic plant commonly found in Hangzhou, China and Japan. This was probably more information than you wanted to know about an obscure green.

The white squares are yamaimo (mountain potato — the yam with the texture of okra) and the tamago tofu was topped with thin coils of crisp cucumber in a dashi broth. Oh and shrimp, of course.

Tamago tofu is served at room temperature, as was this dish. The silky tamago tofu with the vivid and crunchy vegetables and smooth dashi broth was so refreshing. It was like an elegant summer day.

Wish everyone could experience this once in their lives.