Ode to Akami and Sushi Saito

Someone randomly liked a super old post on Instagram which prompted a bit of reminiscing. I then realized, I only IG’d most of my posts and never really blogged about my sushi experience in Tokyo… which is a shame because I spent way more than I care to admit eating high-end sushi two to three times a week for about two and a half years, and now know more about sushi than a normal person should know. So I thought, why not write an ode (better late than never, right?)

After a year or so of consistently eating sushi, I finally felt confident to form informed opinions. Such as, which season to eat sushi is my favorite (neta fish used for sushi is hyper seasonal and you start picking up on patterns of what is served when), the various shari sushi rice from which chef and where (every chef uses their own recipe and flavoring techniques to complement their curation techniques… most chefs learn from where they apprenticed and usually put their own subtle touches) and I’ve also drawn the conclusion, my favorite sushi restaurant is Sushi Saito. My favorite piece of sushi is the simple red tuna. Or, akami, as we say in Japanese.

At first akami seems so boring and mundane but I didn’t understand the allure and depth until moving to Japan and experiencing the high-end sushi and for that, I am grateful.

So here is a gallery of Instagram posts of akami from Saito. Even before declaring akami is my favorite piece, reckon I subconsciously knew, as a lot of my posts from Saito are of the most mundane piece of red tuna on top of rice.

Read more about why I love Saito-san here. Really nerdy post on thoughts and learnings about sushi are here. Ranking of Tabelog’s top sushi spots are here though most of the top spots are near impossible to book.

🚨🍣New Sushi Spot Alert 🍣🚨

Found this place that just opened through a wonderful food friend… and oh my god it was seriously one of the best meals I’ve had in Japan.

From the attention he pays to every single detail in his shop (design, hand towels, and even specialty toilet paper), to ceramics, his choice of staff all reflects in his stunning food.

His shari (sushi rice) was literally perfection. His otsumami (small plates) surpasses any of the places I’ve eaten before.

Above are only a few of the photos and the notes, not as extensive as I’d like (too preoccupied enjoying my meal).

6 hour steamed abalone in its juices
Hokkaido shishamo caught only in October served two ways (nigiri and gunkan)
Ankimo with mizunomi (ankimo steamed with the mizunomi omg the texture!!!)
Of course nodoguro

…and the sushi was 100%. Not a fan of cured neta that is pungent, or shari that is too sour (I can name a handful of super famous spots that are aggressively flavored)

On and on I can keep going but honestly, I only remember being blown away. Asking trillions of questions like I always do. And not retaining most of the information… hashtag OLD.

So, I will leave this post with my friend Ash’s succinct – but vulgar – description (and this guy knows. his. shit.)

Ingredients in Japan

I rarely eat Chinese food by choice. Dim sum bores me (it feels like an endless on parade of tiny baskets with fish or pungent meats and chives wrapped in dough, cooked in different ways), black bean sauce is way too potent (can’t taste the ingredients). A lot of the fish has this slimy texture reminiscent to cheap catfish and a lot of the dishes — irregardless of style or region — tastes like the pan (or wok?).

XLB are my favorite but there’s only so many soup dumplings one could eat.

The other night I had Szechuan food for the first time in I can’t even recall how long ago and it was so delicious and flavorful. The dishes look extremely spicy because of the red peppers but the heat was subdued. There was one stewed chicken dish that literally blew my mind. I could taste every layer of the ingredients unfolding on my tongue — anise, sansho, soy, and I learned Szechuan peppers have this unmatched brightness, a subtle acid, that brings the dishes to a new level.

The chicken, fish, shrimp, beef, sansho peppers and all the greens are so optimal in Japan that it’s almost unfair. I swear, a cooked box of rocks in Japan would taste good.

Now I am keen on learning more about Chinese cuisines — especially Szechuan. Ahhhh the learning process here is never, ever, ending.

McDonald’s Japan

It may seem odd to write an ode about McDonald’s, since in America, McDonald’s are filthy (gross, really), smelly, and nicknamed as ‘homeless people food’. In Japan, that is not the case. The store fronts are super clean, the food comes out made to order and usually piping hot. Another neat thing about McDonald’s in Japan is how they have limited time offer items so there is a new burger, new flurry, new pie, etc., If you do a quick Google search, you’ll find all these burgers and such that are basically non-existent in other parts of the world.

The McDonald’s here is so normal there are even people who wear super duper expensive kimonos and order McDonald’s like it’s no big deal. Only in Japan, I swear.

McDonald’s Japan is also one of, if not the last McDonald’s on the planet that still uses beef fat to deep fry the fries, hashbrowns, and pies. And the craziest part is how the oil isn’t smelly so everything actually, well, tastes pretty good.

My biggest addiction are the breakfast sandwiches and I am not even going to lie, I eat there at least once every two weeks.

If you’re ever in Japan, don’t turn your nose up on the McDonald’s here. Seriously, it’s worth trying.

I will leave you with one of my favorite breakfast sandwiches: the Mega Muffin (two sausage patties, bacon, egg, between McMuffins). SO. GOOD.

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Tokyo Taste

I know this is a tough one, but can you define the Tokyo “flavor” in a word or phrase?” he nonchalantly writes.

Tokyo… flavor? How am I supposed to sum the tastes of Tokyo in one phrase. More or less one word??

Tokyo. Is. Massive.

There are more than 200,000 soba, ramen and sushi restaurants. 45k bakeries. 10k produce (fruit and vegetable) stores. Over 5k butcher shops and 4k fish markets.

…just in Central Tokyo (meaning this doesn’t count all of Tokyo, so for the sake of a simple comparison, these are stats only for Manhattan minus Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx, etc.)

And to add, these stats are from the 70s. 70’s! Meaning in 2015, there are probably double that?

That is a lot of darn choices.

The best answer I could come up with, was: think of Tokyo like a Las Vegas buffet.

There is everything from high end to low end from all regions of Japan and the world. There are millions of choices and just like the Vegas buffets: you get what you pay for and can custom cater your meals to fit your palate. Do you like Italian? French? American? Asian? One can easily find that on any of the spreads. Prefer seafood? Stick to the raw bar of the buffet. Love meat? Beeline to the carving table. Vegetarian? There’s another bar for that!

Then there is the distance issue. If I’m staying all the way at the Wynn, I will not Uber or cab it down the strip just for the Bacchanal at the Caesar and instead, settle for the buffet inside of the Wynn (which if I recall correctly, has Wagyu beef and Alaskan crab legs).

Since I live in Central Tokyo, I will not travel out of my way (20 minute train ride) and stand in line for another 1.5 hours, sometimes 2 hours to eat Rokurinsha’s tsukemen beloved by David Chang. (I swear, if someone asks me to go there with them one more time, I will Hulk Smash my screen.)

Instead, I would much rather walk five minutes to Afuri for their yuzu tsukemen that is equally delicious (and the noodles aren’t as fat and gummy).

So you see, my advice – and challenge – to those who are planning visits: make your own Tokyo. Build an experience that is all yours.

Because Tokyo really is, whatever you want it to be — or how I affectionately say: it is Disneyland for food lovers.

Bon appetit!
Mona