命の出汁 – broth of vigour

an adventure in japanese cuisine, an obsession with the izakaya

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Sushi on the fly

One of the few bonuses from travelling so much is access to the better lounges. Heading home from Tokyo on JAL and on the terminal side of the gates, the First Class lounge has a sushi bar. Time to get a last hit before I head home. At least I can eat in first class before I get on the back part of the plane home 😉

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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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Sushi Bar Yasuda – Tokyo

Let it be known that I am a Sushi Junky, 100%. What started in the Edo period as a street food and eventually took over the world and became something to add to in every country (sometimes not so well) grabs me with it’s simplicity and intensity.

Towards the end of 2013 I saw an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown” on CNN that featured Tokyo. Well, it featured parts of Tokyo that were not really up my alley for the most part (being tied up and having wax dripped on me for one) but it did highlight a sushi chef in his restaurant – Sushi Bar Yasuda.

Now that I have you back . . .

This story really dragged me in. Firstly, someone who had made for themselves a name overseas and then returned back to the mother ship to prove themselves. Sushi is everywhere in Japan and with the movie “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” and the plethora of Michelin Star sushi only restaurants in Tokyo this is not an easy feat. Secondly, a wild passionate martial artist running his own sushi bar and sticking to his “guns”. And lastly, a top quality sushi restaurant in Tokyo where the master actually speaks english.

My first visit to Sushi Bar Yasuda was with my wife in August 2014. The majority of folks that evening were international visitors who had booked there prior to their arrival with the hope of having some sensational sushi. They were not disappointed. Many of them had suffered from the impact of “global sushi”. By this I mean that they have had limited exposure to much beyond salmon and tuna and thought more of the fish than the rice. Yasuda-san politely tried to nudge most people out of their comfort zone without being too pushy to enjoy some more different toppings. I tried to help having long ago had my sushi apprehensions shattered by friends and colleagues desperate to feed me the weirdest things the sea has to offer.



Yasuda is very clear to comment when you are in the restaurant (as he states in the Bordain segment) that sushi is about the rice, “Sushi is Rice culture, not Fish culture” and this is evident in his end product. There is something a step beyond just a nice piece of topping on good rice going on here. From the video also you will see that he spends much time in preparation. Unfortunately the video gives you the impression that he is incredibly cheap when it comes to selecting ingredients. One night at his place and you will realise that this is more him using his skill to find different tasting morsels from various parts of the fish. Ask where his Uni (sea urchin roe) comes from and you will realise that he seeks to find the best for his customers.

Keeping a 14 customers satisfied and under control like I have seen no one else accomplish on there own, Yasuda-san fires out perfect balls of sushi mixed with banter and in English and Japanese. You can get mesmerised just watching him put together sushi. See the small video below.

There are several sushi items that have surprised me at this place. Delivering Uni (sea urchin roe) without wrapping it in roasted seaweed, oyster sushi, and having sushi with nothing more than sprouts; the latter being one I often ask for seconds of and the taste still surprises me.


Yasuda-san often refers to his place as “sushi bar public house” and he loves to have a buzzing atmosphere. This is completely at odds with the majority of more high end sushi places I have visited which are very somber and quiet. Feel free when you come in to get fire off some questions and the mood will flip immediately. He is more than happy for you to take photos and to not only enjoy his food but have a great time. On subsequent visits with work colleagues I have moved with them and others to the small table behind the counter and held court with more drinks until the shop finally closed.



OK, so this is not the place you will come to every night for sushi. Or if you do, please contact me through the blog so you can adopt me as your son. However, compared to many other upmarket sushi places (or Normal Sushi instead of Fake Sushi as Yasuda-san would say) the price is reasonable, the atmosphere incredible and the sushi extreme. I always go for his YASUDA style Omakase and trust him but there is a fixed menu if you want predictability on price. See his website for information on pricing but as a guide we tend to pay about 2/3rds of what that place in Ginza charges for food alone including drinks.


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New York State of Mind . . . Blue Fin

In New York a day or two before starting a 2 week course with for work, needed a sushi hit (my 30 minute layover at Narita didn’t really lend itself to the opportunity). Staying right near Times Square was great location wise but I had Sunday day time which dropped off some of the “must see” ones I had on the list (such as the original Sushi Yasuda).

After a small google I decided on a short wander for an early lunch to Blue Fin only a few minutes walk from the hotel. The sushi was good, but a little pricey no doubt due to it’s location but I can’t complain about the variety.


Technically I arrived for “Brunch” which seems to be an insanely popular concept in New York. Half the menu was a Raw Bar and Sushi and the other half full of eggs, muesli and other brekky stuff.

My mental illness kicked in and I asked the waiter if it was technically possible at brunch to order a plate of sushi with a side of applewood bacon. “Of Course, Sir” was the reply. I didn’t, but I can’t say I wasn’t tempted. The Gaijin in me showing wildly. Going to run that idea past my Japanese circle when I stop there for a week on the way home ;).

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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.


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 😉


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.


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!


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.


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


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.


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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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.”