When I know I'm going to be spending some time outside of Japan, I sometimes like to carry some condiments or seasonings with me – some good miso or katsuobushi flakes perhaps, or even a packet or two of hearty inaka soba – things I know I won't find on the road.
Or sometimes I just pick up some sushi at the airport, to help with the transition to eating in a land that knows not rice. Obviously nigiri-zushi won't travel; and even maki-zushi has a very short lifespan. But oshi-zushi can easily last a few days, if taken care of.
It's not just the taste that keeps the flavour of Japan alive. It's the way the sushi is wrapped – and the simple enjoyment of opening it up…
Inside the outer paper wrapping, the sushi is in an
oblong box, together with a small packet of gari ginger and a few wet-wipes...
The sushi itself is wrapped in bamboo sheath, which has long been reputed to inhibit spoilage.
The cords tying it all together are also made of bamboo sheath.
There's a layer of clingfilm to keep the moisture in…
And the fish itself – saba (mackerel) – protected by a layer of fine, vinegared kombu seaweed, which is there both for its flavour and because it also acts as a preservative.
Here it is in cross-section, with the fish sandwiched between the kombu and the bottom layer of firmly pressed sushi rice.
The fish too has been well steeped in rice vinegar, not just to preserve it but also to balance the oiliness. It's precut into sections, with a thin green bamboo leaf in between each portion.
No shoyu dip needed. The vinegar is already seasoned and lightly salted.
Talk about sushi artisans: Jiro has nothing on Mayuka Nakamura. She makes gunkan-maki sushi — those little one-bite vertical sushi rolls often filled with ikura, uni, kaibashira or negitori — in the shape and form of miniature battleships. Which is totally appropriate, seeing as that is what the word gunkan means.
This one is based on the Battleship Kongo (trivia fact: it was actually built in Barrow-in-Furness). The name literally translates as "indestructible", although sadly it was sunk in 1944...
Attribution alert: I first saw this in the excellent Spoon & Tamago, where you can read the full story. It's also been picked up by CNNGo. But it's so cool it really deserves to go viral.
PS: Gunkan-maki sushi was invented (or so the story goes) at Kyubey in Ginza in 1941, apparently in nationalistic support of the war effort — and, who knows, to maybe boost sushi sales as well...
Uogashi Nihon-Ichi is totally worth knowing. I chose the branch on Shibuya's Center-gai, which needless to say attracts an eclectic clientele.
It looks just like any other low-end sushiya, apart from the fact there are no chairs. As I point out in the piece, no frills, no lingering: no problem.
Hidakaya, on the other hand, is really only recommendable for its prices. You can't argue with ¥390 for a bowl of ramen — and less than a ¥1,000 for the same with gyoza and a flagon of Ichiban-shibori nama beer.
For those prices, just don't expect any kind of ambience.
As for Tenya, the look is so bland and dull, there seemed to be no better way to illustrate the experience than a photo of the plastic display models. In the end a generic photo of tempura was used: I hope it doesn't raise too many people's expectations...
No reservations whatsoever about Otooya, though. This is one classy chain, and they serve nothing but good solid fare. The decor is cheerful and so are the wait staff. The menu is extensive and well laid out. And it's always great value.
You'll have a very hard time finding a better teishoku anyway in town. To quote: "Unless you have a Japanese mom, this is as close as you're likely to get to the taste of home cooking while you're in the country."