Sushisho

PMP STAFF

People who know sushi know Keiji Nakazawa. His name rarely figures on high-profile star-ranking systems, but he is probably the most influential sushi chef working in Japan today – and Sushisho is more than just his restaurant. To his growing band of protégées, it is an academy; to devotees of his cuisine, it is Mecca. Nakazawa’s philosophy falls within the broad church of Edomae sushi, or ‘sushi in the style of Edo’ (the old name for Tokyo), which in its purest form is the combination of sliced raw seafood on top of vinegared rice. For inspiration, Nakazawa reached back in time to the earliest traditions of Edomae sushi, while at the same time evolving the cuisine in directions that are both innovative and stunning to behold. For example, modern sushi norms dictate that the fish must be as fresh as possible, yet before refrigeration technology it was commonly treated to make it last longer. Nakazawa resurrected this tradition by ageing, marinating, simmering or searing his seafood to achieve maximum flavour. He is also fastidious about rice, and uses two different grains depending on the seafood they’re cushioning: simple white rice for simple, delicate fish; and less common red rice for fattier, fuller flavoured species. He varies the seasoning – vinegar, salt or soy – to balance the taste, and famously serves his rice warmer than is customary. The fixed omakase course service at Sushisho can begin with a delicate slice of cooked squid stuffed with rice and dotted in three places with concentrated soy sauce. It may include a pocket of aji (horse mackerel) filled with threads of ginger, shiso and cucumber. It will certainly include slithers of tuna, yellowtail or squid laden with taste from being aged for days or even weeks. And extras such as monkfish liver lying back-to-back with pickled baby watermelon on a bed of red rice would be a crime to miss. Nakazawa set his sights set on becoming a shokunin (artisan) of sushi when he was just 15 years old. His journey began on a delivery bicycle, weaving the crowded streets of Tokyo with boxes of sushi piled high on his shoulder. Later, he travelled the country “like a nomad” honing his skills and learning regional traditions and techniques. The sushi world became his family: he lived with the other apprentices, ate and drank with his teachers, and learned to enjoy interacting with customers. In January 2016, Nakazawa upped sticks and moved to Hawaii for his next adventure, opening a branch of Sushisho in Waikiki. But his spirit lives on at his former restaurant and in the talents of those he schooled in the Sushisho way. “You can’t run a restaurant alone,” Nakazawa says. “More than skill, teamwork and communication are most important.” He is mentor to several of Tokyo’s most highly regarded young sushi chefs. To them, he is always – even in his absence – called oyakata, a term that combines respect with endearment, marking him out as akin to an honorary … Read More

Tanyaki Shinobu

PMP STAFF

Every evening, when most other restaurant owners are waiting anxiously for their first customer, Shinobu Uesugi is already hard at work taking orders, passing out plates, and pouring cold beers. Soon after 6pm, Tanyaki Shinobu, her specialist beef-tongue restaurant, is full. It’s been this way ever since Uesugi opened her restaurant in 1979. “For the first two or three months, we didn’t even have a sign out front. People from the neighbourhood just dropped in,” she recalls. Although grilled beef tongue (tanyaki) features on the menus of many Japanese restaurants, even in Tokyo’s diversified dining scene, few would dare to make it their specialty. The menu at Shinobu includes eight beef tongue dishes – grilled, boiled and stewed. The tongue stew at Shinobu is simmered for 10 many hours, starting the night before it’s served, until the meat is so tender it’s practically falling apart. Uesugi’s husband, Tokujiro Uesugi, opened his first restaurant the young couple were still in their early twenties. They served western food like pizza and steak in Kabukicho, an area of Shinjuku that later developed a notorious reputation. As the neighbourhood went downhill, the Uesugis decided it was time for a change. Moving to the business district of Yotsuya, local ‘salarymen’ became the couple’s core clientele. Many of them come back at least once a week, and Uesugi and a handful of ladies in pinafores serve them with the rough familiarity of favourite aunties. “I added some vegetable dishes to prevent the regulars getting bored of tongue,” Uesugi says. “But people who come here often know they can trust us, and just ask us to serve whatever we recommend.” The home-cooked style of the cuisine fits the rustic interior, for which the wooden posts and beams came from dismantled storehouses that were reassembled using a traditional form of carpentry employing no nails or screws. To accessorise with this structure, the tables and stools are made from logs and slices of tree trunks. On weekends, the suits and ties of the salarymen are gone, replaced by a younger and trendier crowd of smartphone-enabled foodies. Old-fashioned dishes like tanyaki are making a comeback. And Uesugi’s maternal hospitality never goes out of fashion. “These days, people find us online and trek here from all over the place,” she says. “It makes me happy to see all these young faces.” Looking back over almost four decades of restaurant work, Uesugi isn’t shy about explaining her decision to settle on such a specific cuisine: “I had thought about opening a yakitori restaurant. But that means starting work early in the morning to cut all that chicken and skewer it. With this, you just have to season it, cook it, and serve it,” she says. “We provide speedy service, and our patrons enjoy the food. Everybody’s happy!”