Vegetarian Sushi in a Traditional Japanese Home

Just south of Nishi-Ogikubo station on the JR Chuo line is a quaint kominka, traditional Japanese home, with a restaurant and retail shop. Re:gendo offers nutritious meals in a rustic setting that is worth a trip out of the city. A good friend put this shop on my radar and she even knew to pre-order the vegetarian sushi when she made the reservation. The set made with seasonal vegetables is only made in limited numbers and if you don’t reserve it in advance there is a good chance you can’t have it. The shop is popular so it is best to make reservations. The menu is rich in vegetables, but not exclusively vegetarian.

The photo on the left is the menu, which folds out of a what looks like a Japanese wallet. The sushi included two made with fruit, mango and strawberries, along with pickled vegetables, tempura, a savory custard, and a hearty miso soup.

The retail shop features tableware, kitchenware, and ingredients. Many of the items sold here are handcrafted. If you like some of the dishes used for your meal you may find it sold in the shop. The Nishi-Ogikubo area is fun to walk around and carefully peruse, so plan on spending an afternoon here.

After each meal I leave nourished and inspired to eat better and to surround myself with beautiful things.

Re:gendo りげんど

Suginami-ku, Shoan 3-38-20 杉並区松庵3-38-20

http://re-gendo.jp/

 

Family-Friendly Sushiya Chain

Going out for sushi as a family cuts out many options. High-end sushiya are out of the question as are many mid-range spots. Our kid loves sushi, could eat it three days a week and when we go out, it’s often for sushi. We eat a lot of sashimi at home and will also make donburi rice bowls and make luscious spreads for temakizushi hand-rolls. But, we don’t make nigirizushi and go out for that.

Sushi Zanmai is a popular chain with branches throughout the city that is kid-friendly and offers a good value. The owner, Kiyoshi Kimura, is famous around the world for having paid $1.76 million dollars for a tuna a while back. Kimura-san is a tuna fanatic and if you love tuna, then go for the maguro-zukushi (maguro-zanmai at his shop) plate which is made with different cuts of tuna. There are about a dozen stores in the Tsukiji/Ginza area alone.

The weekday lunch sets start at about 1,080 JPY ($10). Sushi Zanmai has a variety of shops including kaiten-zushi, revolving conveyor belt sushi, to proper restaurants with a counter and tables. All of the shops we have been to are boisterous. Some shops do allow smoking, so frustrating. At a recent visit we asked to be moved away from a smoking table.

I was in the mood for vegetables this evening, so I took the handrolls which was made of cucumbers, umeboshi, takuan (pickled daikon), shiso, natto, and kampyō (soy simmered gourd). Hit the spot for me.

Below is the link for Sushi Zanmai. On top you can change to language to English to see what is in your neighborhood.

Sushi Zanmai

http://www.kiyomura.co.jp/

Sushi Chain to Put on Your Radar

Living in Tokyo it’s good to have a few sushi chain on your radar, especially if  you are parents and dining out with kids. Some popular sushiya on the budget side include Midori Sushi, Sushi Zanmai, Sushiro, Choshi Maru, and Kurazushi. One to know about is Uoriki, which is not only a sushiya, but also a seafood retail shop, so the company is buying a lot of seafood and can offer sushi menus at a good value.

Uoriki is unbelievably cheap for what it is offering. The set lunch in the upper right photo was only 1,290 JPY ($13). Check out the size of the anago (simmered sea eel). It also included ikura, chutoro, scallop, and shrimp.

The bottom photo is of silvery skinned fish, which took me a long time to get used to, but now I love these. At lunch this was only 750 JPY and consisted of: Pacific saury, horse mackerel, sardine, Pacific mackerel, and gizzard shad. As these are the fishy in flavor, they are often garnished with ginger, garlic, chives, or even pickled in salt and rice vinegar to make them more palatable.

A very easy branch of Uoriki Sushi to get to is in the Shibuya station building in the Tokyu Toyoko-ten depachika. There are a few shops on the Chuo line which we frequent. The take-away sushi is also very cheap and is usually made without wasabi so it is kid-friendly. Wasabi is served on the side.

The name, Uoriki 魚力, literally means strong fish. What a great name for a seafood retail and restaurant chain.

Uoriki Sushi

Shibuya-ku, Shibuya 2-24-1, Tokyu Toyoko-ten Depachika B1

渋谷区渋谷2-24-1 東急百貨店西館B1F

Other branches (in Japanese):

http://www.uoriki.co.jp/tenpo/index.html#insyoku

I was recently interviewed for this piece for Saveur magazine, by Laurie Woolever:

http://www.saveur.com/conveyor-belt-kaiten-sushi

Midori Sushi

Midori Sushi is a sushiya chain, popular both with locals and tourists, that is known for its basement bargain prices. When we query our preschool son to pick what to have for meals out, it is often sushi. Our go-to place is Choshi Maru which is in our area. Choshi is a famous fishing port in Chiba and the restaurant gets a lot of its seafood directly from the port. But this evening we decided to break from routine and check out Midori Sushi.

We arrived before 5:00 p.m. and there was already a line of mostly elderly diners. Yes, it was the retirement crowd. Every time I have passed a Midori Sushi, there is always a line. We waited for about 15 minutes before being seated. One look at the menu and it is apparent why everyone loves coming here, it is very cheap. The question is how is the quality?

The chirashi zushi bowl on the left above was only 1,000 JPY ($10 USD). It was made of tuna, katsuo, kanpachi, two types of squid, shrimp, ikura, tamago, anago, and pickles of takuan and gobo. The sushi set on the right was 1,600 JPY ($16 USD) and included ikura, uni, herring roe, and much more. The neta pieces were very big, so it is a full meal. Is this silly? The two of us could have dinner for about $25 and leave full and satisfied. Lunch is even cheaper.

The rice is Yamagata haenuki and is nice for sushi. This rice is touted for its nice texture, inherent sweetness, and the fact that even if it is cold it still delicious. This is a key point when it comes to take-away sushi. The branch we went to had a small refrigerator in the front of the shop for sushi-to-go. The prices there were even cheaper than dining in, and at the time we were leaving, many of the sushi packs were discounted by about 30%.

So, the quality of the seafood? It was good. The tuna was very nice and the anago seems to be cooked in house was also very good. For the price, it is a great value.

If you are traveling in Tokyo and are on a budget, then put this on your radar. If you do not have a budget, then go elsewhere. This chain is kid-friendly if you are traveling with your family. On this Friday evening the suburban restaurant was filled mostly with retirees when we were seated. As we left, it was filling up with families. Service is friendly and there were a lot of seasonal seafood options as well as many small plates built around seafood starting at about 600 JPY.

The beverage list includes beer, sake, and shochu. We’ll be back. This may become our new go-to sushiya for meals with our son. As long as we avoid the peak dining hours when the wait could be long.

Midori Sushi’s main shop is in Umegaoka in Setagaya-ku is their biggest store. Branches can be found in Ginza, Shibuya, Akasaka, and a standing sushiya in Ikebukuro. Addresses are below in English.

http://www.sushinomidori.co.jp/tenpo_e.html

 

 

Temakizushi Party

Temakizushi Party

A fun idea for entertaining at home is a temaki-zushi party. Hand rolls (手巻き寿司) are interactive and as each person makes their own rolls it can be a good way to keep everyone happy. Some supermarkets and department store seafood sections will sell the seafood already cut for the rolls, especially on weekends and holidays.

Ingredients are whatever you like. A pot of rice and nori cut in half, as these are easy to roll by hand. For fillings, you can see in the photo above, we have starting from the upper right going clockwise: salmon, tuna, imitation crab, boiled scallops.

mekabu kombu, canned corn with mayonnaise, canned tuna with mayonnaise, and hikiwari natto

shirasu (boiled sardines), avocado, julienned myoga (ginger buds), shiso, denbu (sweetened cod fish colored pink), and ikura

cucumbers, kaiware (daikon sprouts), mizuna greens, and carrots.

Other fillings you could include:

tamagoyaki (Japanese omelet), Japanese pickles, seasoned kampyo gourd (sold at supermarket already cooked), roasted salted salmon, cream cheese, toasted sesame seeds, unagi, and more.

We also put out small plates with soy sauce for dipping the rolls and small bowls if anyone wants to make a salad.

When I visit my dear aunt in Osaka we usually have okonomiyaki one night, and the other night is usually temakizushi. It is festive, fun and also a great option for hot summers as they only thing you have to cook is the rice.

Sushi with Kids

Chiyoda Sushi

Chiyoda Sushi

When I first lived in Japan in the late 80s I would request that the sushi chef not include wasabi on my sushi, “wasabi nuki onegaishimasuI“. At one point an older sushi chef scolded me and told me I was too old to be eating my sushi without wasabi. I can now eat wasabi, but am still not a big fan. You’ll never find me buying wasabi flavored potato chips.

The other day while at our local depachika our son requested sushi for lunch. Chiyoda Sushi is an affordable chain of sushi restaurants with many take-away shops throughout the city. There was a big selection of nigiri, maki, and chirashi-zushi for take-away. The prices are quite affordable starting at a couple hundred yen. He wanted the set that we got above, which included ten pieces of nigiri and four small maki, all for only 498 JPY (less than $5 USD).

Wasabi Nuki - No Wasabi

Wasabi Nuki – No Wasabi

The only problem is that most of the sushi has wasabi on it. I asked if they could make a set without wasabi, wasabi nuki (new-key), and was told it would take about five minutes. We prepaid for the sushi and finished our shopping and then came back.

Sometimes you will find premade wasabi nuki sets at the shops. If not, ask for some to be made for you.

Shibuya Uobei Train Sushi

Uobei Sushi

Uobei Sushi

Uobei near Shibuya station is a fun spot for sushi, especially if you are dining out with your kids. This is a new trend in Japan based on the kaiten-zushi, conveyor belt sushimodel. In this new style sushi is only prepared once the customer orders it. So there is zero waste with any sushi being thrown away after a certain amount of time has passed. This is the future of fast food sushi, as new shops opening in the city take on this method.

Uobei is a large restaurant with aisles of seats facing a counter. Diners place an order on a computer screen in front of them. The menu is in English as well and is complete with pictures. Shortly after placing your order a train comes shooting from the kitchen to your spot and stops. Once you have taken off your order you push a button on the screen to send the train back to the kitchen.

Sushi at Your Fingertips

Sushi at Your Fingertips

Placing your order is half of the fun as diners scroll through the screen selecting sushi. It’s very cheap and the quality is fine. It’s not gourmet standards, but it is kid-friendly and a fun meal out with the family or friends.

Uobei is part of the Genki Sushi chain.

Uobei

Shibuya-ku, Udagawa-cho 24-8, Leisure Plaza Building

渋谷区宇田川町24-8, Leisure Plaza Building

www.genkisushi.co.jp/en/travelers/

Tokyo Station Sushi Sei

Sushi Sei salmon and ikura

Sushi Sei salmon and ikura

Sushi Sei is a popular sushi shop at Tsukiji Market that has a branch inside of Tokyo Station. There is often a line of salarymen outside of the shop before it opens at 7 a.m. The breakfast options include sashimi or donburi (sashimi over a large bowl of rice). There are also two versions of ochazuke. Ochazuke is a bowl of rice with toppings such as seafood or pickles that is then drenched with tea or a mix of dashi and tea. Sushi Sei has sea bream in a creamy sesame dressing or salmon belly with ikura. Above is the salmon and ikura set as it is presented.

Sushi Sei ochazuke

Sushi Sei ochazuke

The diner assembles the toppings to the rice and then pours the savory tea broth over the bowl. This breakfast is only 670 JPY. At current exchange rates I think it is about $5 USD. It is garnished with mizuna greens and arare, colorful rice crackers.

There are seats at the sushi counter, but this early in the morning the counter is not filled with seafood yet. It was busy recently on a weekday morning, and I was happy to see that most of the customers were ordering the ochazuke. It is a popular comfort food dish. I usually drink it as a last dish at an izakaya after a night out of drinking, but it is also an excellent way to start the day.

Sushi Sei first opened 120 years ago, in the original fish market, before it moved to Tsukiji.

Tsukiji Sushi Sei 築地寿司清

Chiyoda-ku, Marunouchi 1-9-1, Tokyo Station GranSta Dining 1st Floor

www.tsukijisushisay.co.jp/store/tokyo.html

Nobu Tokyo

Nobu Signature Roll

Nobu Signature Roll

I remember my first visit to Nobu, in New York City, a long time ago. The restaurant was buzzing. The miso cod was better than I imagined it could be, especially after reading about the dish for so long. The table next to me was a film crew from Tokyo making a commercial for Dunkin Doughnuts Japan and we started chatting. I got a side job for the next two days as an assistant for the crew. It was all so exciting, the great food, making new Japanese friends, and the energy that comes from a busy restaurant.

Nobu restaurants appeal to a large audience and for good reason. Nobu Tokyo is located just next to the Okura Hotel. Walking in I felt like I was back in Manhattan. Many of the staff speak English, the restaurant floor is quite big, especially for Tokyo, and there were a lot of non-Japanese diners. The restaurant was quite busy at 12:30 on a weekday in early April. I came to meet a girlfriend who works nearby and she often comes here for lunch. The lunch menu is big, there is something for everyone, and there is even an English menu. I ordered the Nobu house special roll and handmade soba combination lunch (2,400 JPY).

I had the pleasure of helping to translate Nobu: The Sushi Cookbook from Japanese to English. Many of the recipes are now a part of our repertoire, like pressed sushi and miso soup with fresh tomatoes. Even the miso cod, a traditional Japanese dish, is something we often make at home. I finally had the chance to try his signature roll, which is covered with a thin sheet of daikon, adding a crispy crunch to norimaki roll. The stuffings included creamy avocado, crunchy tobiko (flying fish roe), and sashimi. I absolutely loved this addition of the daikon, which is Nobu’s creation. Nobu is brilliant in my mind and this just confirmed that for me.

Nobu soba

Nobu soba

The soba is served cold with a dipping sauce. Towards the end of the meal the kitchen sends out some soba-yu, the hot water that the soba is made with. That is poured into the dipping sauce and then drunk.

The table next to me was having the lunch box with miso soup (3,400 JPY) that looked nice and included a variety of hot dishes and sushi. I was curious to try the Stone Oven Vegetable Plate. The Japanese menu said kisetsu yasai, or seasonal vegetables. I asked my server what the seasonal vegetables were for this dish as it is spring and many of my favorite vegetables are in season. But his reply was standard vegetables like broccoli, carrots, and bell peppers. Glad I went with his signature roll which was a revelation.

I had a hard time finding the restaurant as signage is minimal. Lunch at Nobu is not cheap. If you have not experienced a meal at Nobu, it is nice to have once in your life. His cuisine and influence has brought Japanese food to the masses.

Nobu Tokyo

Minato-ku, Toranomon 4-1-28

港区虎ノ門4-1-28

03-5733-0070

http://www.noburestaurants.com/tokyo/experience-2/

Book Review – Sushi by Kazuo Nagayama

Sushi Book

Sushi Book

Our tours of Tsukiji Market are very popular at the moment. Especially as it has been officially announced that the jōnai, wholesale seafood market, will move to Toyosu in November of 2016. Many of our customers are sushi aficionados and are intimately familiar with seasonal sushi. They not only know the names of Japanese seafood, but also can recognize it in the market as we walk through. There is a bookstore at Tsukiji Market that sells food magazines and a variety of cookbooks and books on sushi. A handful of them are in English, including my book, Food Sake Tokyo, published by The Little Bookroom.

A popular sushi book with our clients is the bilingual edition of Sushi, by chef Kazuo Nagayama of Daisan Harumi Sushi 第三春美鮨 in Shinbashi. The book is a reference tool for seasonal sushi.

Seasonal Sushi

Seasonal Sushi

The book is divided into the four seasons and seasonal seafood is shown as nigiri-zushi on the left page. The right page has a sketch of the seafood as well as a well-written description in English on everything from the flavor, how it is prepared, aging, and much more. As it is also written in Japanese, it is a great guide to bring to the sushi counter when dining out as the sushi chef or staff at the restaurant can also read from the same guide.

Even for readers who will not make it to Japan, this is a fun armchair reading as the descriptions are very detailed and informative. Particular bays of water are mentioned, something any sushi chef would be impressed by. The book also talks about the liver, ovaries, and other parts of the seafood that can be consumed at the sushi counter.

Here is an excerpt from hirame (olive flounder):

“A light sprinkling of salt and kombu curing allows sushi fans to savor the delectable taste and texture sensation of nigir made from hirame prepared using this technique long integral to the Edo-mae sushi chef’s job.”

Summer Sushi

Summer Sushi

The photography and design of the book is lovely. This photo shows the filets of summer seafood. On the upper right corner you have iwashi (sardine), noted for its row of dots. To the left of it is aji (Japanese jack mackerel per the book).

Summer Nigiri Zushi

Summer Nigiri Zushi

On this page you have the nigiri-zushi of the filets from above. The iwashi and aji are the two fish on the bottom right.

Seasonal Sushi

Seasonal Sushi

Each chapter begins with an essay on the season and what to look for when visiting the sushi counter that time of year.

From the winter fish section:

“Many winter species are prized for their fatty quality, in contrast to summer fish characterized by subtle flavor.”

The last section in the book is dedicated to maki-mono (rolls). Sushi will be a welcome addition to any bookshelf. At 2,000 JPY, the 207-page book is a good value.

Sushi

Published by PIE International

ISBN 978-4-7562-41344-4 C0072

2,000 JPY

207 pages