This is a difficult list for me! Fish was never my favorite thing to eat as a child. I liked steam fish but that was about it. My introduction to sushi in Singapore was salmon sushi. The first time I came to Japan and tried to order salmon sushi with a sushi snob, I was told to just eat at a chain because good sushi would be wasted on me. I was offended back then, but now understand that salmon is new as a sushi and not considered by some, as authentic sushi. It is still good though and I think young people in Japan enjoy it as well. It has been a fun and interesting ride learning about fish and the history and techniques of sushi through Japanese popular culture and my own experiences eating and fishing in Japan.
Sushi has a long history that can be traced back to South East Asia, but contemporary sushi has its roots in Tokyo, then known as Edo. Fish freshly caught from Edo-mae (Tokyo Bay) was used to as fast food to feed the working class, and known as Edomae zushi. Of course sushi has evolved into many forms today. Sushi (or -zushi as a compound word) references the sourness of the rice made by hand. One cannot possibly make good sushi if one has not mastered the art of the rice.
There is much to discover about sushi, and I intend to attempt that as I go along in later posts.
Today I shall narrow down a list of my Top 10 basic form of Edo style sushi – Nigiri Sushi.
Please not that this list only includes Nigiri (握り寿司, hand-formed sushi) and not other types of sushi like the “makis”, which makes my job of selecting only 10, a tad easier.
Note that as I was compiling this list, questions about sustainability and actual types of fish came up. They may not be fish I have often, but they definitely left an impression.
What are some of your favorites? Share them in the comments section!
10) Shako 蝦蛄 Sushi (Mantis Shrimp)
I could not find a photo of my own Shako Sushi, so here is one temporarily from Sushi Encyclopedia, click on the photo to link to their site. I will set out to snap a picture of my own with roe for this post.
Especially delicious with roe in their bellies, the shako is a traditional ingredient in Edo sushi and usually boiled before used as a topping. The taste and texture is similar to that of its relatives, the shrimp and crab. Biting into the shako sushi is interesting to me because it has a flavor that reminds me of my favorite crab and a texture that reminds me of shrimp and to top it all off, rewards the tongue with the fresh bright orange roe when shako is in season. Yum. Come to think of it, I havent had Shako in awhile but they are coming into season right now! Late spring early summer!
9) Kawahagi 皮剥ぎ (Thread-sail Filefish or Leatherjacket)
A white fish best served with its liver. It is said to be a substitute for Fugu (blowfish/globefish) when they are out of season, and share a similar clean, crisp taste and texture. I cannot say for sure since I have yet to try Fugu but Kawahagi with its liver is a wonderful, wonderful combination.
8) Tobiuo 飛び魚 (Flying Fish)
I was surprised when I first tried this fish, at the lightness of it inspite of it being a silverback fish. As sushi, its roe, know as Tobiko, the tiny orange roe, is more popular. The texture of the Tobiuo is similar to that of the Aji, my all time favorite silverfish, but has its own distinct, lighter flavor. I do not have this often, and have only recently discovered the Tobiuo but I am definitely keeping a lookout for it.
7) Kan Buri 寒鰤 (Wild Yellowtail, Hamachi)
Again, a photo from Sushi Encyclopedia. Click on the photo to link to their site.
This is a very tricky one. Hamachi, buri, hiramasa…?! Sometimes on English menus they all are called Yellowtails, and they have been a hit and miss for me. Once, I had a piece of Kan Buri and it totally changed my perspective on yellowtails.
There are different names for Yellowtail, differentiated by age, methods and season. Generally, most people will say Hamachi and Buri are the same fish – the Yellowtail. Hamachi are young yellowtails younger than 4 years old, less than 5kg, usually farmed (though there are wild hamachi too). Buri or Kan (cold) Buri are wild yellowtails, caught when they migrate during the fall and good in the winter, these are usually older than 4 years and at least 5kg. Anyways, lets talk about the Kan Buri now. It is fatty due to the winter build up, not common for most white fish. The oil has a sweet taste, and combined with the fishy white fish flavor, it really sets the Buri apart. Buri is often served with ponzo instead as the soy sauce is repelled by the oil.
6) Ika いか (Squid)
I love the texture of raw squid. Aori ika is said to be the most delicious. I love looking at the translucent, milky Ika sliced perfectly on top of well made vinegar sushi rice. Aori ika to me, has a clean clear taste with a tinge of the sea and a chewy but firm texture. Sumi Ika seems to have a softer, almost milky texture when chewed on and sweeter. There are many types of Ika and they are mostly best served with drops of lemon and salt so the original taste of the Ika is enhanced. Some are also served clean for you to dip in soy sauce, and the clearness of the squid makes it a good vehicle for soy sauce!
5) Sayori 鱵 or 細魚 (Halfbeak or Pinfish)
A thin, long silverfish, it is said the skin of the Sayori is difficult to take off. Sayori sushi is beautiful, with that thin silver/black line running in the middle of the delicate, translucent flesh. I like Sayori because it has that taste of fish that all silver fish have, yet it is still really clean and it has a delicate texture not quite common with most silver backed fish. Some places will wrap the skin of the Sayori around a stick and grill it after you order Sayori sushi, instead of discarding the skin so nothing is wasted.
4) Shima Aji 島鯵 (White Trevally or Striped Jack)
The most rare of the Jack family and considered an expensive, luxury fish by the Japanese. I once asked a sushi chef if this was a white fish (shiromi) or a silverback fish (hikarimono). I was under the impression that it was a white fish, but apparently neither. Shima Aji has a firm texture with the lightness of a whitefish but a light sheen of oil like a silverfish. There is a sweetness in its flesh as well and combined with vinegar sushi rice, it always sets me nodding my head as I slowly chew on a piece of Shima Aji sushi.
3) Aji (Horse/Spanish Mackerel)
You might notice by now that I prefer my sushi clean and slightly oily, not favoring the fishy taste and smell that is common with sliverback fish. Yet the Aji, most common of silverback fish (hikarimono), and one of the cheapest, ranks as one of my favorite, must have sushi staple. They are best served with grated ginger and scallions instead of wasabi, and the chef usually brushes it with soy sauce so you don’t have to. This really brings out the rich flavor of the fish, and I must say, Aji sushi is very satisfying! I have fished these little guys before and an old, retired fisherman once showed me the difference between an Aji bite and other fish. There is a staccato rhythm to the line when an Aji bites. The Aji is good grilled, fried, raw and I am really thankful to nature that these versatile and interesting fish are common!
2) Ebi – Kuruma 車海老（Shrimp)
My first love. If I stepped into a sushi shop and could only eat 1 piece, it is likely that I will choose an ebi. Kuruma Ebi and Botan Ebi are my favorite, though they differ very much in texture. Botan Ebi is sweeter, almost soft and slimy when raw. Kuruma Ebi when served raw, are usually de-shelled while still alive and placed before you still moving. It is kinda barbaric actually if I did not develop such a taste for its delicious, firm, almost crunchy and mildly sweet taste.
Often, the sushi shop also grills and serves the big shrimp head and that makes a very yummy, crispy snack. I have realized though that Kuruma Ebi served boiled, with the “shrimp brain” (goodness from the head) as a topping over the shrimp, is a less barbaric and even more delicious way to enjoy the Kuruma Ebi.
1) Kimedai 金目鯛 (Golden Eye Bream/Snapper)
Now I realized that when I said “in no particular order” I was not completely honest. I think #1, #2 and #3 on this list are definitely my top 3 favorite. Kimedai is a very pretty, red scales fish with pink flesh I could recognize anywhere. The fish is named after their big distinctive eyes, probably because they are deep sea fish and need all the sight advantage they can get.
Raw Kinmedai has a fresh, clean flavor typical. It is good with just salt so the clean flavor of the fish. BUT we need to talk about my favorite preparation of the fish – Kinme no Kobu-jime 金目の昆布締め. Kobu-jime is a way of preserving the fish, or marinating it, in kombu (kelp). When prepared this way, Kinme has Umami うま味. Umami is a mild, lingering aftertaste that evolves on the tongue. Kinme no Kobujime has a buttery texture that *melts* in your mouth. I have never tasted anything like this before, a complex symphony that starts mildly savory, with the focus on texture and peaks with a flavorful, mild mix of sweet, sour and savory that releases a lovely aroma that you can taste. I have eaten other fish kobujime style, and they are all good but Kinme is my favorite hands down.
Engawa 縁側 (Fin of Hirame or Karei)
Engawa is rare because it is that one strip of flesh near the fin of certain types of fish, like Hirame (Halibut) or Karei (flatfish/flounder/fluke). Since the fin is probably one of the most developed muscle of the fish, the texture and flavor of Engawa is considered more intense and concentrated. Each fish yields only a few slices of Engawa, hence it runs out often and is sometimes sold at a premium. It is considered by some to be a delicacy and a loved favorite of some people. Personally I enjoy Engawa and find it very interesting, but I have not had it often enough to have a ‘blow my mind’ experience with it the way I have with my top 10.
How about you?