Chef Yasuo Suetomi is a true master, a genius technician of Japanese food.
Suetomi offered technically perfect meals, a masterpiece of dedication. Coupled with the perfect execution, only the absolute best and popular (delicious) ingredients were served. For example, my meal was in the winter and Suetomi not only served Taiza crab, but the best crab I ever ate. To the point, honestly, where I could not believe it. How was it that this crab was better than Matsukawa’s and all other crabs? I was blown away. The nodoguro was grilled to a perfection I could never forget. The desserts were handmade by the chef. Tableall explains:
“Because the quality of the ingredients determines everything, a major part of Suetomi’s work is nurturing relationships with suppliers, constantly trying new ingredients, tasting and assessing. He may try one hundred purveyors before he finds one that meets his high standards. One supplier is a friend of Suetomi’s. Rather fortuitously, he is one of a small number of fisherman at Taiza port in Kyoto, famed for rich and rare Taiza-gani crabs. This relationship guarantees delicious product for Suetomi to work with, and a full crab course is highly recommended by the chef.”
Most chefs say that they care about relationships, but this was the first time I could feel the power of relationships. A lesson I can never forget. I felt a connection with him, because I believe we may have a similar personality. I really enjoyed eating there and I commend the chef for welcoming foreigners despite the language barrier.
When I went to Kasumicho Suetomi, the chef had told Tableall: “As for his vision for the future, he says he tosses around with different ideas. Chef Suetomi has this unpredictable element which makes you think that anything is possible.” I cannot wait to hear about what is next for him. Sadly, today on March 1st, the restaurant closed permanently. The chef said he was not sure what he will do next.
If I had to guess, I think that chef Suetomi will find a more beautiful space with a garden like Matsukawa, Ogata and Mizai, and I think this will propel him to the pinnacle of kaiseki in Japan.
Reservations: Kasumicho Suetomi closed permanently on March 1, 2018. It opened in 2006 in a space formerly owned by chef Hiromitsu Nozaki of Waketokuyama, where he trained for ten years. Suetomi had just received the Gold award.
A new restaurant has opened in the same space by the previous sous-chef. The new restaurant is called Kasumicho Yamagami (霞町山上), reservations on Tableall.
Yoramu is a sake bar in Kyoto whose mission is to show how varied and different nihonshu can be. The owner, Yoram, is fluent both in English and Japanese. He has a strong passion for quality, original, complex sake and for sharing his knowledge.
For example, the owner will start a tasting with unfiltered, rich and complex nihonshu. Then, he might served one with high acidity and high sugar, to explain how the acidity cancels the sugar. He might serve one that is slightly sparkling, because it was bottled directly out of the press. Each of his nihonshu has something unique. He ages sake himself and will serve different sake at different temperatures.
I have been twice and people invariably ask the same questions, and he provides the same answers every night. Yet, he maintains his passion and enthusiasm for explaining and sharing his experience. People will ask: “Where is this sake from?” and he will reply “It doesn’t matter where it is from, what matters is who made it.”
I asked him what are the biggest misconceptions about sake. He said:
1) “Nihonshu made from more polished rice is better.” Would you want to drink a wine that hardly contains any grapes?
2) Trying to explain nihonshu the way you explain wine (i.e. focused on the grape) is very simplistic, bordering on idiotic. It’s not just the rice, not just the water, not just the yeast, not just the koji, not just the “moto” (the starter mash) and not just the fermentation process. It’s all of these things and much more.
I also asked him what his favorite sake breweries are. He shared with me the following list:
Akishika Shuzo, Kidoizumi Shuzo, Kirei Shuzo, Moriki Shuzo, Mukai Shuzo, Mutemuka, Mioya Shuzo, Sugii Shuzo, Uehara Shuzo.
One time when I was there, he explained for 20 minutes non-stop the entire process of sake making. Yoramu sake bar was a memorable experience and it is worth going more than once, as he has too many sake for you to try all at once, and behind every single bottle, there is a unique sake and a unique story. Yoramu is not expensive, I believe each sake would cost on average less than 400円 each. I had 14 different ones at my latest visit.
I asked him if there is a brewery that we can visit, and he said: “The making of nihonshu is very, very interesting when you see it happen, but once the brewing is finished there is absolutely nothing to see. However, during the season where they make it, most places making quality sake are using all of their resources for making the brew, and as they are very short on manpower, an unscheduled visit is not possible. The little time they can afford for scheduled visits is reserved for professionals. Therefore, the problem is where you can visit you don’t want to and where you want to visit you can’t.” Like everything worth seeking, there are no easy answers. I recommend the movie "The Birth of Sake" if you would like to learn more.
Reservations: You can walk in, but he speaks perfect English so calling ahead is recommended because the small bar may be full. Link to his website.
I had the opportunity to have a seat at the side counter of Saito, run by chef Shunji Hashiba. The chef has been working at Saito for less than three years. Like you, I was very curious to see how good it is, given the incredible hype: Saito is ranked the best restaurant in Asia by the review-aggregator OAD.
I was happy to be at the side counter instead of the main counter. This is because I agree that the design of the main counter is not consistent with Japanese taste. I am also skeptical of the over-concentration of the chef, which reinforces the stereotype that sushi happens when it is pressed, whereas 90% of the work is done behind the scenes: "There are actually almost ten staff in the back kitchen (from interview)."
Saito's recipe for success and hype is, in my opinion, the most traditional of all: keep prices reasonable, yet never compromise on quality. With several lunch and dinner seatings, the chefs are working very hard. I like that Takashi Saito said: "When I serve sushi to my customer, I don't want them to just think that it is good, because making good food is the minimum we can expect from a restaurant. For example, I want them to tell me things like: I had a hard day today, but eating your sushi gave me power to be motivated to keep working until the next reservation. Hearing that my sushi makes people feel good is much better than hearing that it is just tasty."
The best sushi restaurant is a question of taste, but in my opinion Saito is one of the most sophisticated. The otsumami (small dishes) were impressive and the way the flavors work together was extraordinary. Each otsumami had something remarkable or out of the ordinary, a warmer taste for the crab, a sweeter squid with eggs, a perfectly balanced grilled tachiuo. The sushi was equally remarkable. However, unless you have significant experience at top sushi restaurants, you would not be able to see what these small changes are. All expensive sushi restaurants have the best fish, this is not what Saito is about. It is not the perfect sushi restaurant (because of the significant problems regarding design, the Roppongi location, and the gimmicks of over-concentration), nor is it the best (because that is a question of taste), but it is excellent and the sushi is very sophisticated.
The host of Arry was able to translate questions for me. For example, the plate in the corner was a gift from a customer, and the rice is not a blend of several varieties, but it does change over time. I truly enjoyed the attitude and hospitality of Hashiba-san, despite the language barrier. I am looking forward to, hopefully, being able to see him evolve over time and follow him in his journey.
Reservations: I got my reservation through Arry. A yearly membership to Arry costs 円60,000. Otherwise, the only way to go to Saito is to be invited by a regular who made a reservation at their last meal. Reserving on the phone or through a concierge is not possible. Some regular customers have their own time slot every month, making it impossible to get a reservation.
Tagetsu has, in my opinion, the best value for kaiseki in Tokyo and it is easy to book online. A lunch can cost as little as 5,000円 I have recommended this restaurant to many of my friends for their first kaiseki and they said it was the best meal of their life.
Reservations: Can be made easily at no fee through TableCheck.
Tsukiya is a charming traditional Kyoto home (machiya) with walls made of mud and straw, with four rooms and a shared ceramic bath. A breakfast is delivered to your room, and I wish I could make such a delicious breakfast. I stayed in the 7,000円 per night “sakura” room, which is the smallest room in the attic of the house with a low ceiling. The “Gen” room (larger and with a garden) is also recommended for more than one person.
Every room, hallway, counter and entrance has a tasteful small flower arrangement (I believe in the naturalistic nageire style of ikebana). The centrally located house is charming and rustic.
I am not an expert in housing in Japan, I can only share my limited experience. They have been really helpful for me to make reservations and inquiries on my behalf. They provide responsive assistance by email, they even sent postcards for me to make reservations at temples and gardens. The breakfast, ikebana, simple and quiet house, and their help in making reservations and the charming ryokan are memorable.
Reservations: They accept reservations 4 months in advance by email. Because the price is the same every day, this ryokan is especially good value during high season compared to hotels. Link to their website.
Matsu has been open since 1973. It was a tempura-only restaurant for only three years and it is now a kaiseki restaurant.
The book by Matt Goulding says that the reason why the price is so low is that the chef is known to drive a hard bargain with his vendors. I think this is quite unusual for a top-level restaurant, where chefs usually will pay a high price, if necessary, to sustain a relationship with their suppliers. The result? A 20,000円 meal with generous amounts of male and female crab, fugu shirako, ise lobster, otoro, and konoko sea cucumber ovaries. The same ingredients would cost more than double at some other restaurants.
The restaurant is family-run and the serving staff, mother okasan and daughter Mariko, were welcoming and happy to speak English. The kitchen looks old, but in a good way. Matsu is very charming, but do not be fooled. The food is extremely good. Toshio Matsuno trained at Alain Ducasse and Kitcho, as well as under his father Shunichi.
Affordable price, tasteful presentation, extremely delicious food, luxurious ingredients, and sincere hospitality, a meal to remember. And the tempura? Some of the best I have had anywhere, made by Hirofumi Oyagi, a chef with more than 40 years of tempura experience.
I think Matsu is a great example that Tabelog reviews cannot always be trusted. All it takes is a couple of people that thought the meal was too long and they missed their Shinkansen giving you bad reviews, and you lose your “silver” Tabelog award. I hope you will make up your own mind. What Matsu offers is genuine and exciting. I have extreme respect for this restaurant. It is not an easy task to keep prices down and deliver a feast of this quality.
Reservations: Ask your concierge to find out how long in advance they will take the reservations. Mine was taken 2 months in advance. Cash payment only.
You can read about my first two visits and how to make a reservation here.
It is honestly difficult to understand and appreciate this restaurant. In my most recent visit, I got the feeling that Jiro is Zen buddhism for today’s world.
At 5:30pm for dinner, two thirds of the seats were filled. I was happy that this time, for the first time, Jiro Ono would be serving me. But again, because I was the first sitting down and because some of the seats were empty, the speed was relentless. Approximately 15 minutes later, all of the sushi was gone, including an extra order of abalone and octopus, with a price of 40,000円. That is insane.
Even the third time, the fact that they rush you by giving you the sushi while you are not done eating the previous one, no matter how fast you eat, is stressful. But I can confirm that there are no other guests after you. They are not trying to fill the seats with more people. This is really the experience they want you to have.
In my opinion, the sushi has a Jiro flavor, they all somehow have the same aura and taste. I am 100% certain I could tell his sushi with my eyes closed. The rice has an incredible and satisfying texture, I would say it is unique. All of the fish is flawless, truly flawless, but not in a way to impress you like Sushi Kimura would. The octopus is not as soft as many other places, instead has a satisfying chew and a kick of salt.
I can understand why some people do not like it. Honestly, it remains a strange, somewhat uncomfortable and puzzling experience for me.
My own theory is that Jiro is an experience that teaches a lesson, it is a Zen temple for today's world. No one would put together this type of insane experience without such a philosophy behind it. Jiro is like a kōan (公案). You have to struggle and keep trying. It really is a struggle at times.
It made me reflect on the role of expectations, and why we are uncomfortable with things that don’t last. By delivering the “best” food in this uncomfortable experience, Jiro may be giving you a priceless warning: seeking the best is not where happiness comes from.
If you are in Japan for a short period, a hotel concierge might be the most flexible option, especially if you want to dine at a particular restaurant, for example maybe you heard about Tempura Matsu or you really want to go to Sukiyabashi Jiro. Since you are traveling to Japan, you also need a place to stay, which is why a hotel like the Park Hotel Tokyo is probably the best option for a short stay.
A year ago, a hotel concierge was the way to go. However, in my opinion, Tableall has truly become the best option in most cases. There is another online concierge service called Pocket Concierge, but I think they pale in comparison.
Tableall has built a database of quality restaurants, whose description, I was surprised to find out, are accurate and informative. Even if you went to a restaurant, you would not find English information about the chef's biography and youth, where he finds his ingredients, what his vision for the future is, or why he chose this particular tableware. I read the Tableall descriptions for fun in my free time, that is how good they are.
How this website, started by a former GS trader, has convinced top restaurants where you could otherwise not go to, such as Sushi Kimura or Ogata and many others, to participate and welcome foreigners is incredible.
They are very responsive by email and more transparent than the other reservation services. On one day where it snowed, they sent me an email with suggestions on how to reserve a taxi in advance. On a day where the restaurant became available earlier as my reservation was late in the evening, they asked me in the afternoon if I want to come earlier in the evening. All of this service for a flat fee of 4,000円 (especially when a 5% credit card fee on an expensive meal can take half of this money away from them). Their service is worth more than what they charge in my opinion.
Make sure to reserve months in advance for the most sought-after restaurants and keep visiting their website often to see if new reservations are available from cancellations. I am extremely grateful to have come to Japan in the era of Tableall.
Japanese food is not all about expensive sushi and kaiseki restaurants. One of the greatest pleasure in Japan is to have soba, tempura or unagi. I find that out of those, soba restaurants have remained the least expensive. There are 10,000 soba restaurants in Japan according to Tabelog. The best soba restaurants are dispersed throughout Japan and are not concentrated in Tokyo.
Tamawarai is a memorable restaurant for its quality, good taste and humility. I have a lot of respect for this restaurant. The tableware is very tasteful and the dishes are delicious. This is the where I fell in love with natto. Definitely try the cold soba with natto. The meal is calm and contemplative. It is one of my favorite restaurant in Tokyo for lunch. Expect to pay around 3,000円 for soba with 1 side dish, which is good value for lunch. Although you can walk-in without a reservation, they are almost always full so I highly suggest making a reservation.
Kyourakutei is a soba restaurant in Tokyo with a different atmosphere. The restaurant has more energy. You can go there and relax, be yourself, order what you want from the chef making the tempura in front of you. They have two kinds of cold soba (darker and lighter), make sure to order both. This is the fun of soba, it is not pretentious. There are many more great soba restaurants, but if you are unsure where to go, I think you will enjoy these two.
Tamawarai ranks third in all of Japan among restaurants that only make soba. Despite the Michelin star and the stellar reputation, there is no blog or website anywhere on the internet that mentions the chef’s name, which speaks to the modesty of the restaurant, and in my opinion, that people underestimate soba.
I sought to understand more about it and I went to a soba-making class. If you don’t have the opportunity to do it yourself, you can watch it on video. It was a great experience that I highly recommend. Perhaps the reason why soba is not hyped like unagi or tempura is that the differences between extraordinary soba and good soba is subtle and difficult to explain. However, if you start to learn more, you will see the magic.
The name of the chef at Tamawarai is Urukawa Masahiro.
A year ago, I visited Usukifugu Yamadaya. You can read about my first visit here.
Once again, I fell in love with fugu and this restaurant. Just one fish, the ultimate simplicity, the ultimate pleasure. At many kaiseki restaurants, some of the excitement can come from new or exotic ingredients. At Yamadaya, I felt truly comfortable. In a way, eating fugu for all dishes is a very simple meal. But it was one of the most "enjoyable" and one of the most "delicious" meal of my life. This would be the perfect place to celebrate your birthday, if it is in the winter.
I was looking at the chef Yoshio Kusakabe, cutting the glamorous sashimi, but also spraying water on a metal tray so that the aluminum paper would stick to it, putting plastic on the plates for the guests in the private dining room, spraying water on the dishes to make them look fresh, and at least twice I heard the chef sigh.
These two sighs I heard made me appreciate the meal even more. Maybe when you have fugu for the first time or once a year, fugu is special to you. But if you have been cooking only one fish all of your life, how can you remain excited about one single fish? It cannot be easy to do the same thing every day, 6 days a week, all of your life. It has to require incredible dedication, perseverance and sacrifice. All of these efforts were not in vain.
I think it is the first time in my life where I felt that every dish was better than the last. At first you have the fugu sashimi which everyone loves, then the shirako which is the most expensive, then grilled, fried (so delicious), then simmered, and finally the rice porridge, which is just incredible. What is it in the fugu broth that makes this zosui so good? So simple, so delicious. It is very rare that you hear chefs sigh and perhaps I was projecting my own feelings, but it cannot be easy to dedicate your life only to one fish, especially a fish so misunderstood. Instead of being known as a master, you are known as a chef cooking the poisonous fish.
Reservations: Taken two months in advance. You can reserve through Tableall.
Even if going to Ogata is a rare event, the chef's philosophy is to find "a little happiness every day."
Toshiro Ogata opened his restaurant in 2008 (Matsukawa opened in 2011), after having trained part-time for several years at Ryokan Hiiragiya and 13 years at Wakuden. In my opinion, Ogata shares the same magic as Matsukawa. It is minimalist, simple, has a small garden, Kyoto walls, is creative in subtle ways, and magical.
Ogata, like Matsukawa, is about magic. Not magic tricks, but magical feelings.
Reservations: Taken on the first of the month one year in advance. If you are extremely lucky, once every couple of months, you might find a cancellation on Tableall.
The teahouse called “Tai-an” is inside a small temple called “Myoki-an” slightly outside Kyoto. Tai-an is designated as a Japanese national treasure, as it is the only extant teahouse designed by Sen no Rikyu, who was pivotal in the development of Japanese aesthetics and whose influence went beyond the tea ceremony. It is the oldest teahouse in Japan.
I learned of Tai-an two years ago, but there was not a lot of information about it. I could only find a few pictures which seemed old, and I was unsure where it was, what it looked like, and whether you could visit it.
I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect, I thought that maybe it would not have an effect on me. After all, it is only a small two-tatami empty teahouse. I did not know where it was or it what condition it would be.
I am grateful for visiting Tai-an, where I was charmed not only by the teahouse but also by those who take care of it at Myoki-an. The temple is really small, perhaps like a large house with a garden. Yet, a throw’s stone away from the JR station, in this small temple, there is this historic and serene teahouse, next to a third-generation pine tree called (Sode-surino-matsu, the old pine tree), in the middle of a small moss garden.
I was given a private your by the son of the temple, who is perhaps around my age. Upon seeing that I was genuinely interested, we spoke for half an hour through Google translate. He told me that this small temple is run by a family of 5. He lives at the temple and works there, but he also studies growing matsutake mushrooms. I was surprised at how nice the small garden was, with the moss extremely luscious even in the winter and the garden being extremely clean and well-maintained. He told me that he spends one hour every day cleaning up the small garden and picking up the fallen leaves.
I would say the tea house was in pristine condition. Inside the tea room, the calligraphy says the name of the temple, and a small wooden plaque on the ceiling says the name of the tea house, Tai-an. I think the tea room looked big even though it is only two tatami, plus the tokonoma and preparation room. It was made for one-on-one meetings.
Tai-an and Myoki-an was all about simplicity. Myoki-an is only a large house with a tea room in a small garden, yet everything is of the highest quality and ultimate simplicity. I think this is what temples were meant to be.
At the entrance, three shodo were on sale. They were made by the grandfather of the family, which passed away. One calligraphy said "古今無二路", meaning: “There was never two ways”. Another calligraphy said something like: “the sound of the wind on the bamboo leaves”. The last calligraphy said: “春(spring) 千林 (thousands of woods) 処々(everywhere) 花 (flower)”, literally meaning: “In spring, flowers bloom everywhere”. Two of these Zen sayings speak of nature, and perhaps metaphorically of the state of mind necessary to see the true nature. The other saying is quite mysterious and can be interpreted in many ways.
I was touched by the simplicity of this temple and tea house. We build incredible castles today, but will they stand the test of time? And do they truly fulfill us? Maybe there is something special at this small temple where you don't take pictures, that requires an appointment by postcard, with an empty tea house taken care of by a family of five, and whose grandfather left some hand-written Zen sayings after a life in Zen Buddhism.
Simplicity is always best and always what is most difficult.
Reservations: Ask your concierge to send a return postcard (往復, ofuku hagaki) one month in advance. Pictures are not allowed. The temple would prefer if you go with a Japanese speaker. You can also ask this website to send the postcard for you, which is what I did.
Entrance fee is 1,000円.
Address: 56 Ryuko, Oyamazaki-cho, Otokuni-gun, Kyoto Postal code 618-0071.
Directions: You can see the temple from the Yamazaki station. Alternatively, it is 3 minutes walking from Oyamazaki station. (It takes 15 minutes from Kyoto station)
My priority was always to discover the traditional kaiseki restaurants before anything creative, which is why it took some time for me to visit this restaurant. Although the restaurant is described as “creative cuisine,” I think “modern and playful Japanese cuisine” is more appropriate. Actually, the words on Den’s website from Zaiyu Hasegawa say it best: “Homemade food is food prepared while thinking about others being happy.”
Den serves delicious, fun and unpretentious quality food. Den is extraordinary. But it is more powerful than that. It made me wonder: why aren’t all restaurants like this? In a way, Den should be a normal restaurant, it should be how most restaurants are. Simple, delicious, fun, unpretentious and quality food made and delivered from the heart. Marco Pierre White, the youngest at the time to have received three stars, said about Michelin: “One day, I had one thought: that I am being judged by people who have less knowledge than me. So, what is it all worth? Very little.”
We were all amazed not only by the quality of the English service by Emi, Zaiyu-san’s wife, but also by the sincere and welcoming atmosphere. More than the puns, Emi's smile or the Dentucky chicken, I had a feeling I did not expect. Like Ishikawa, the food and hospitality at Den are truly sincere. I can never forget this powerful feeling of sincerity.
Reservations: Den accepts reservations exactly two months before the day of your visit (for example December 14 for a reservation on February 14). They speak excellent English. Some reservations are also available on Arry.
Because I am interested in kaiseki, the high-end multi-course meal, I wanted to learn more about its origins in cha-kaiseki, the tea ceremony preceded by a very rudimentary small meal. One day, I found a posting for such an experience at a very low price with no reviews, and I thought that I would take a chance. I was rewarded with something extraordinary.
I went to a traditional house near Daitoku-ji temple in Kyoto. I was greeted by the owner, Dairik-san, an architect who studied in the United States for a long time and whose English is native, and who became interested in the tea ceremony and simply wants to share his experience with his friends. The house was beautiful, with a tasteful calligraphy. Around the new year, the items in the tokonoma were charcoal, paper, and a type of fern that stays green for two weeks after being cut.
I was served sake that we shared. I was then served one dried sardine (from the sea) and two grilled shitake mushrooms (from the mountains) with salt. Then, the host started the preparations to make the tea, and made the matcha tea which I drank, and then I left.
But this series of event only tells part of the story. Over two hours, Dairik-san who is around my age shared with me the mechanics and the philosophy of the tea ceremony. I could tell that he was attracted by the same elements that were now attracting me.
The tea ceremony is like a moving meditation. The matcha tea is the end product, but not the central focus. For the host, the most important thing is to be totally present in the moment, during each step. In fact, the tea ceremony started before I entered the house. Dairik-san had gone to a shrine to get and bring back some of their water (he sometimes goes to a temple, but they make him do work like cleaning their garden, which takes more time). Being present at every moment, physically carrying the water once a week, is more difficult than it would seem.
In zazen (sitting) meditation, you are told to focus on a point in front of you. In the tea ceremony, the point is moving. Dairik-san showed me where the points were in the objects, and how the points and the objects were aligned on the tatami floor. While the host is making tea, he or she focuses their attention on the points that they are moving around them. When you become good, the movements become second-nature and you can totally focus your mind on the points. It is like a moving meditation.
I asked about his rock garden, and Dairik-san told me that he got most of his rocks from the Kamo river in Kyoto, transporting them one by one, experiencing the process of choosing and taking something, feeling its weight, only taking what you need.
I was touched by Dairik-san’s incredible and undeserved hospitality. I was also grateful that he answered my questions about Zen Buddhism. I could tell that he had similar questions to mine years ago. His tea ceremony teacher used to be a Buddhist monk and I found his outlook incredibly attractive. Zen Buddhism allows different abbots to reach different conclusions and employ different methods, it does not preach a particular answer or try to convert people to its religion, nor is it particularly commercialized. It is introspective and challenging. It has many teachings, but it emphasizes that you have to discover them yourself through experience and intuition, not logic or reason. This is why, for example, they use koans.
Reservations: I do not know if Dairik-san will accept to make a tea ceremony for you, but you can ask him. This is his website.
The first time I saw funazushi, it was when Karl Pilkington tried it. He is known to be an average British person and he did not like it, and looking at it, I thought, it is possible that it does not taste good. Then, I saw this great and instructive video about funazushi. The host still seemed to say that it tasted strong and very sour, and that maybe you needed sake with it. I thought that perhaps it is similar to Hongeo-hoe (홍어회). I was a little bit afraid, especially because funazushi is not really available in the big cities, and you would think that if it was good, it would be more well-known and available.
I took the JR train from Kyoto station and door to door, less than 40 minutes later, I was at Shiseian, the funazushi shop in Otsu that was featured in the "Only in Japan" video. It was faster than going to many temples within Kyoto. They also have a small restaurant (called Koshu) just next door where you can sit down and order it with sake with an English menu. A dish of funazushi, white crucian carp caught in Lake Biwa (Biwa-ko) fermented for one year in rice, only costs 1,080 JPY.
So how was it? Funazushi was totally delicious. Not just delicious, but even addictive! Was it strong? Not at all. If you bring it under your nose and try to discern its smell, it reminds of the smell of blue cheese. As for the taste and texture, it is delicious, rich, and satisfying, but not stronger than blue cheese.
Although the high-end sushi and kaiseki restaurants of today are probably the best food that ever existed on earth, given the access to fresh produce from everywhere in Japan that was not previously possible, eating funazushi nevertheless made me think that perhaps 1,200 years ago, people were eating better food than we are today on a daily basis.
Actually, funazushi is really addictive. I immediately ordered another plate and I purchased 3 packages to go. Even the rice use to make the funazushi is delicious, more salty and tastes more like cheese than the fish, whose taste is more subtle. The yellow eggs inside are the most valuable part because they are from the females, the slices with the eggs are the most delicious. They are caught in early spring in lake Biwa.
Shiseian is not the only place to try funazushi in Otsu. Perhaps the most famous restaurant that serves it is Tokuyamazushi (I have not been because it is quite difficult to make a reservation and it is more difficult to access). I would recommend going to see Kanta Inoe-san, the 24 year-old that makes the funazushi at Shiseian. They were extremely happy and welcoming, he and his mother sat with me while I had their wonderful funazushi and delicious Shiga nihonshu. We spoke through Google Translate. I asked him what his dream is: "To share funazushi with the world".
Directions: https://goo.gl/maps/sgDqyGiuiSF2 (approx. 30 minutes from Kyoto station)
Address: 520-0861 Ishiyamadera 3-2-7 Otsu city Shiga pref. (if you follow the link above from Google maps it is very easy to find)
Phone: +81 77 537 0127
Shiseian (志じみめし 湖舟)
Open from 10am to 4pm
The only true voyage of discovery would be not to visit strange lands, but to possess other eyes.
Matsukawa (revisited), Learning Japanese, Advanced Japanese Manners, Hakone, home cooking.
Making Restaurant Reservations in Tokyo
Cafe de l'Ambre
Sushi Sho Masa
Bear Pond Espresso
Park Hotel Tokyo
New Year in Kyoto
Quotes from Chefs
Quotes from Farmers
Quote from Zen monks
Kwon Sook Soo
Yau Yuen Siu Tsui
Art Museums in Tokyo