Friday, August 14, 2009

Sushi just like back home!

I know, I know, now that I'm living in Japan you all assume I go to sushi restaurants with the same regularity that Americans go to hamburger joints, but while sushi is almost universally loved in Japan, it remains somewhat of a luxury meal reserved for special occasions.

There are certainly cheaper options. All-you-can-eat sushi bars and inexpensive conveyor-belt sushi chains (kaitenzushi 回転寿司) dot the urban landscape, and there is evidence on the internet of my own past experience with these types of proletarian sushi:

34 plates!

Still, the quality of these places leaves much to be desired and anymore I find myself avoiding them.

In fact, these days I actually prefer to bypass the middleman altogether and order the raw sliced fish by itself sans rice. It's called sashimi (刺身)and once you begin to appreciate the flavors and textures of the different kinds of fish the sweet-vinegary sushi rice becomes less and less important and more and more of an obtrusion between you and the flesh.

Even though I order sashimi more now, I do still love sushi (Actually, all good sushi restaurants serve both, and they are often ordered together during the same meal). So when I was invited to sushi dinner the other night with a friend from my Portland days and her parents, I agreed without hesitation.

The sushi restaurant is called Ichiraku Zushi (一楽寿司)and is located near Kourien Station on the Keihan line, in Neyagawa City, halfway between Osaka and Kyoto:

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Ichiraku Zushi
Kourishinmachi 3-8
Neyagawa City, Osaka
Phone: 072-832-0233

Learning I liked sashimi, the parents started the meal with this awesome plate:

Ichiraku sashimi

In attendance were shrimp, squid, salmon roe, tuna, yellowtail, red snapper, scallops, and sea urchin. Can you tell which is which? Click on the photo for the answers.

It was all excellent, and came accompanied by this bowl of red miso and clam soup, and a cold glass of beer:

Red miso with clams

What I was really surprised to see, though, was the incredible size of the sushi that followed.

Massive sushi!

A sense of proportion

I mean, this sushi was huge! You just don't see sushi this size in Japan! The only place I've ever seen sushi with slices of fish this thick before was when I went to Saburo's in Portland, Oregon.

I enjoyed all of it, but to be perfectly honest I prefer not to have fish this thick. A central component to most Japanese cuisine is the delicacy of taste, subtle balances between flavors, expert presentation, texture, etc., etc., and all of this goes out of whack once you start messing with the proportions.

Anyway, enough preaching. Let's get to the evening's highlight: the grilled sea eel (anago 穴子). I usually prefer the river eel (unagi うなぎ)variety because it's grilled in a sweet sauce that overpowers any fishy taste from the eel, while the sea eel is grilled in salt, leaving your taste buds at the mercy of the fishmonger. I've had some off-putting eel in the past, but not so this time. Ichiraku's eel was grilled to perfection, and had a nice smoky taste, crispy on the outside and still tender within. Here's an incriminating photo of yours truly enjoying the aforementioned eel. Maybe enjoying it a little too much, actually!

Joe vs. eel

Well that's it for sushi this time around. I actually bought a pocket sushi dictionary at a bookstore the other day in preparation for a more thorough review of the subject, but that will have to wait until my next visit to a sushi bar!

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