命の出汁 – broth of vigour

an adventure in japanese cuisine, an obsession with the izakaya


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Friday Night Sushi

I love a casual sushi night at home; out come the Japanese knives and the toys from the kitchen street in Tokyo. Next thing you know the head is shaved and the Jiro impressions come out. Well, maybe not quite that far.

The biggest challenge I have with sushi at home is variety. Going to the trouble of making the vinegar from scratch and slicing up the fish along with all the garnishes etc is kinda effort effort for a Friday night. On the flip side however my choice of sashimi grade fish is limited in Australia even when going to the biggest fish market in Sydney. There is always salmon, tuna (normally just straight maguro not otoro or chutoro fattier variants), king fish and if lucky you will get one of the following available: Scallops, Snapper or Octopus. Very soon you can get the feeling that you’ve “had enough raw fish”.

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So here are some of my approaches for adding a bit more variety to the table when ingredients are rare:

  • Marinate the fish: There are many different ways to change the flavour of the fish and add variety. For Tuna I often blanch a piece in hot water very quickly, bathe it in ice, then marinate in a mix of sake and soy sauce. For white fish, wrapping it in konbu seaweed and refrigerating it for a few hours.
  • Dressed Sashimi: From a simple drizzle of yuzu or lemon juice to the Nobu style Tiradito which includes a drop of chilli paste along with cilantro (coriander) leaves you can have a small plate of zing on the menu
  • Pressed Sushi: We can often get BBQ Eel at our fish markets. Making this into nigiri sushi normally requires more attention to detail than I have available on a Friday night especially when I have already burned my focus not cutting off fingers with the yanagiba. Pressed sushi frames are often available in asian grocery stores and give a different shape and style to add variety.
  • Lazy Garnishes: While most sushi bar’s have piles of stringy daikon radish on hand, this also is not a Friday night fun project. I will often grab a bag of bean sprouts to use as garnishes or to prop up sashimi. Some salmon roe perched atop a scallop or a twisted flower made from slices of salmon give het another twist.
  • Rice Cakes: I admit it, to make my sushi rice I use an electronic rice cooker. There is always that starchy crust on the bottom no matter how many times I wash the rice. It never goes into the mix for the sushi rice, but I will often season it with a bit of the sushi vinegar and dry fry it in a non-stick pan to give a crust on both sides as a lazy-western-onigiri.
  • Vegetables: Yeah, Yeah I know, vegetables. From cooking slices of carrots in sake, mirin and soy to using okra, avocado (not my favourite) or even mushrooms this can add a bit of a change. Also can calm down vegetarians if they manage to get through the security guard you have placed at the door.

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Hope this gives you some ideas. Now just chill the sake, turn up the Jazz & chill 😉

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one cd, one sushi and one beer

Forgive the George Thorogood reference but I couldnt get that song out of my head as I was climbing up the series of escalators in the Tower Records building in Shibuya. The Japanese market seems to be incredibly big on almost everything and for me this provides the opportunity to get some good Jazz music. Most of the 6th floor is dedicated to Jazz and believe me it is a huge range. My haul this time was smallish (4 cds and 3 SACD’s) and then I went in search of a late afternoon brunch.

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I felt like some sushi. Not cheap sushi, not Jiro sushi, but some good sushi. I wandered a little around a couple of blocks in Shibuya and say a sign on the side of the Seibu building that mentioned a sushi place on the 12th Floor (along with a whole pile of other squiggles I dont understand). The pictures look good which unlike in western food advertisements normally means the food will be similar. The Japanese take everything from a streetside yakitori to 3 Michelin star dining almost as seriously.

Wandering up the myriad of escalators to the 354th floor (ok the twelth but I was almost getting motion sickness from the circular wandering) I came across a couple of sushi restaurants. One was a sushi train and while the food didnt look so bad the chef with the microphone constantly screaming about what was available didn’t really gel as the quiet lunch I was hoping for.

Around the corner I encountered a far more traditional (and silent) sight with a noren hanging over a door and a the warm indication of “English Menu Inside”. WOO-HOO 😉

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I ordered one of their lunch specials, the larger one, as it was my breakfast and my lunch. The set came with two items called “custard” and “clear soup”. As my luck would have it I was able to be seated at the counter and watch the entire extravaganza.

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The making of the sushi was enjoyable for me to watch. A few interesting touches included the making of a small roll with two fillings where the sushi chef cut right down the centre between the two fillings he put into my roll; no tuna in the wierd grass section, no grass with my tuna. Skills!

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The lunch plate looked spectacular and sat very nicely with a cold draft beer.

Another neat installment was how the raw octopus was cut to make the sushi topping; from a relatively cylindrical piece of sashimi grade octopus tentacle the chef cut almost all the way through, flipped it over and cut another piece almost all the way through, and one more time. The result being a single piece of octopus to lay on top of the rice for sushi.

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The clear soup was a very simple but incredibly tasty dashi with some tofu and wakame seawead.

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The final and surprise package of lunch was a cup of green tea with a small dessert. The surprise was in the desert both in its existance (probably not looking at the set menu to realize) and the flavour; balanced green tea taste with an extra punch of green tea from the match powder coating the cubes.

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A great haul of cd’s and a great lunch. Just for kicks have a look at the chef slicing small red raddish with a yanagiba, absolutely incredible and he still had all his fingers. 😉


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breakfast is served

Back in Tokyo this week on business. I am not normally a breakfast person and after the first morning I was here and experienced the “buffet of doom” I reviewed the back of the little breakfast coupons I was given for each day to get fed (one of the joys of working for a large global company that negotiates lots of things into their hotel rates). There was a second option to have a Japanese Breakfast in one of the Japanese restaurants in the hotel.

There was more on this breakfast bento that I could eat (am in Great Lent vegan fasting time as an Orthodox Christian) than in the aforementioned buffet of western grease. Very fresh and healthy looking, tasted fantastic.

I wonder where I will be having breakfast for the rest of my stay 😉

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Breakfast at Japanese Restaurant “Kakou” inside Hyatt Regency Tokyo (Shinjuku)


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Got ice?

I love the way you can still get hand crafted ice balls in many Japanese bars apart from the quality of the ice and the slow melting times (low drink dilution scale), if you plant yourself in a good spot you are in for a great show. Fortunately the bartenders tend to drink less than you do and I am yet to see any real injuries.

This one comes from my most recent trip to Japan (Feb 2013) as I sat for a quiet meal up at the bar of an Izakaya in Yoyogi-Hachiman near Shibuya.


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Jiro Dreams of Sushi

The first I had heard of Jiro Ono (surprisingly to me) was a few months back when I went into Chef’s Armoury to grab some bits and pieces. While there I was forced at gun point to buy one of their 5th Anniversary Yanagiba’s (thin knife used to slice fish and seafood). My wife’s interpretation of this event was a fat old guy with a sorry look on his face begging to buy a new toy. Either way, I came home with a sensational new knife.

Along with a lovely certificate of authenticity from the factory, included was a signed menu book from the 3 Michelin Star rated sushi restaurant owned and run by Jiro Ono. Although completely in Japanese it is an exquisite little tome outlining the menu items and ingredients utilised in his establishment.

Straight away I hunted for the DVD and I must say it is a gem. For anyone with a penchant for Japanese cooking and want to see extreme sushi at it’s best you must watch this film.

“Once you decide on your occupation,” says Jiro, “you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success and is the key to being regarded honorably.”


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Narukyo – なるきよ

Narukyo has long been one of my favourite Isakaya’s in Japan. I was first taken here by a work colleague in around 2007 during a business trip to Tokyo and have been in love with it ever since. My attraction to it sprung to me on the first night I visited when we saddled up to the bar stools to the left and back and started with a glass of imo shochu and the rest just seemed to happen. Maybe it is because I always go with a regular, but I have never seen a menu (although I am assured they have one) and with just a hint of “what do you feel like” you wander through some courses until you are full.

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I have to admit also that I have never set foot in their dining room, a more traditional Japanese / sit uncomforatbly on the floor type arrangement from what I have heard. Oversized western man no fit so the counter near the bar is right on for me. This is the perfect spot for me as I like watching the food being prepared almost as much as I enjoy eating it (ok, maybe not that much). From our facourite vantage point you can see right across the bar / kitchen area, seeing all the preparation for the food. While we have never been short of good food suggested by the staff, sometimes that dish the crosses your sight is what you want next ;).

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As for style it is very Japanese and very seasonal. I have been there through many seasons and whether it is an appetiser of Oden from the bubbling pot at the front of the kitchen to the seasonal vegetables and seafood. Narukyo himself is a frequent visitor to the Tsukiji fish market for fresh produce and there are always fresh vegetables and fruit procured that day balanced on mounds of ice ready at hand to be crafted into something special.

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There are always an array of grilled items available including sensationally marbled Japanese beef, tataki of tuna or bonito, and I am quite surprised at how many different ways I have been served what began as a chicken thigh.

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The standard issue ending dish for me has always been Champon – a noodle dish quite unlike any other I have tried. If you search the internet you will be bombarded with simple explanations of this former peasant dish but no comments or photos will do justice to the flavour. This beast is part ramen, part yakisoba with an interesting array of fish cake, seafood, pork and other items included from time to time. The stock is vaguley ramen-esque but when quized the only answer I could get roughly translates to “secret sauce”. When in for a real treat, close your eyes and open your wallet and ask for the “deluxe” champon which with include oftern uni (sea urchin roe) or ikura (salmon roe) or sometimes even a giant hard shell prawn.

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The owner, head chef, master of ceremonies and stand up comedian Narukyo of the restaurant of the same name ;). He is a colourful character as anyone who remembered what adorned the walls four years or so back but has a great eye for food and always keeps you entertained. I only wish my Japanese was better to understand the complete entertainment package.

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So when you have a few hours of hunger to kill and Omatesando is nearby, find the nearest Japanese speaker and head down for a great meal and entertainment all round. Contact details can be found on their facebook page.


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Santaro – Sushi in Singapore

After a week in Melaka (Malaysia) for a business meeting I have a couple of days to myself before spending next week in our Singapore office. Many people had given me a recommendation for a Thai restaurant in the hotel I was staying in; but I didnt feel like Thai. So on the second floor of the Amara hotel on Tanjong Pagar Road I tripped over Santaro Japanese Restaurant.

In one corner of the second floor is a simple looking doorway with a neat blue noren monogrammed with the restaurant name in Japanese and English. As I ducked my head and walked in I was greeted with the traditional Japanese screaming that brings you into any restuarant. At the time there were only a couple of tables taken and I sat at the counter. (many more patrons came in over the coming hour, it just appears 7pm is too early for dinner in Singapore 😉 )

Sitting down at the counter I was greeted further by a chef who I was later to find out was the owner. My favourite position was unoccupied which was great; I love to sit right near the display of ingredients with a view of the preparation surface so I can get a look at the knife work. Ordering a small bottle of a semi-dry cold sake I continued my discusssion with the owner as a couple of appetizers were delivered for me to enjoy with my sake.

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I seemed to make his evening by asking for a mix of sashimi. Not so much by the order, but by requesting his choice of the best selection. I can only assume that he gets a few patrons come in and point to salmon and tuna and take a very safe but unadventurous journey for their meal.

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The selection was delicious; salmon and tuna of course but the salmon was from the belly and two types of tuna were there (two sweet pieces of the fatty tuna hide behind the shiso leaf to the right of the photo).

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I followed this up with a few recommended pieces of sushi with the favourite of mine being the ikura sushi above. The ikura had been well prepared and it was finished off by some small flecks of yuzu zest which was quite a surprise.

Others in the restaurant enjoyed more of the dishes but I was only in the mood for some casual sushi. The restaurant has quite an impressive set of kaiseki menus and an affordable range of luch sets. Price is quite fair for the quality of ingredients, preparation and service but it is not your local sushi train; this is the kind of quality sushi restaurant I have experienced in Japan. Also, considering it is located inside a hotel I suggest the pricing quite fair. Head chef Santaro-san is a lively and talkative fellow with a passion for japanese cuisine that you can see in his eyes and knife work. Having a few of my sashimi pieces served from his other chefs he is certainly the craftsmen so I would try where possible to have him serve you.

So, when you are in Singapore but want to have dinner in Japan, try Santaro.

Santaro Japanese Restaurant
165 Tanjong Pagar Rd, Singapore 088539
Amara Hotel
+65 6324 8388