I arrived today in Tokyo around 12:30 pm. Given the length of my journey, I have to cut costs. Thus, I googled how to get to Tokyo from Narita International airport. Google Maps was useful in bringing me to the city limits, but the app “guessed” once inside the city. Instead of relying on my technology, I was forced to rely on people to guide me to my destination. After pointing like an ape in the direction I wanted to go (the locals looked as confused as I was), I still made it successfully to the hostel without wasting much time. I unpacked, made my bed and put my valuables into the dedicated locker for my bed. Once I completed my now routine check-in procedure, I went out for sushi.
Having heard that there’s no bad sushi in Japan, I directly went to the nearest spot according to google maps and I didn’t look up its rating on TripAdvisor. After walking for one little block, I arrived at Nihonkai Kototoi.
My face was filled with horror upon glancing at the menu: nothing but symbols. There were no servers, only a counter and the sushi chefs.
But quickly, I noticed what I presumed to be the Menu For Dummy’s with pictures and English translations. Yes! It even had cartoon instructions on how to order and how to set your own table on the chef’s counter. I tried serving my own tea from the available hot water faucet on the counter and a guest quickly came to my aid. Pointing and mimicking the actions to perform to get me some green tea. Nice old man.
Upon inspecting the menu many times over, from beginning to end, I ordered. I started with the gateway sushi, tuna. (If you thought California roll… then I don’t know you)
My mom doesn’t eat sushi or any kind of raw food for that matter. She’s…old fashioned. 🙂 So I encouraged her to try sushi because it’s freakin’ Japan. She decided to give it go…except she told me that she doesn’t know how to use chopsticks. While I was teaching her, the old man that helped me with the tea returned to teach her to use chopsticks. Shortly, everyone—literally—in the small restaurant was rooting for her to pick up a piece of sushi and put it in her mouth. Upon doing so, every guest and every chef congratulated her on her ‘achievement’. It was an honest gesture, and that made us feel at home with family.
I’m not going to say it was the best sushi I’ve ever had—if you ignore the price. I’ve had some excellent sushi in New York. It shouldn’t be surprising since New York overnights sushi daily from Japan. But for the price, it was the best damn sushi I’ve ever had in my life. For that price, nothing comes near it.
The quality of fish compares to that of high-end sushi restaurants in New York, or anywhere that has it delivered overnight from Japan. I couldn’t tell if there was a difference with the one I had today. Aside from the cheaper price, what stood out was the rice and the seaweed wrapper. I can somewhat understand why, in the Netflix documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi, Jiro makes his apprentices learn how to make the rice for the sushi rolls for ten years before he teaches them how to incorporate the fish in the roll. His demands seem absurd, but perfection requires years of commitment and discipline.
Now, I’m not saying that this local sushi restaurant ranks with the finest sushi restaurants in Japan. But even in this local little restaurant with no tables, their focus and dedication is noticeable in the sushi they prepare, down to the rice and seaweed. I don’t have a memory of any sushi restaurant where I thought the rice and seaweed wrapper were memorable and yet complementary to the delicate and subtle taste of great quality fish. Up until today, I expected the rice and the seaweed paper to fade in the background and just add texture and hold things together, respectively.
My taste buds aren’t actually ready for the nuanced differences in the fish though. I have much to learn. I had five different types of tuna, including toro, my favorite. Had I been blindfolded, I don’t think I’d be able to tell the tunas apart. I could probably tell the difference between the regular tuna and the fattiest, and buttery variety, but not discern the other types in between the two. The fattiest tuna was $3.26USD for two sashimi pieces. For two pieces of regular tuna, it was a mere $1.40USD. I overate. I know it. Yet, everything was just about $33USD. I’m pretty sure back home, the same would’ve cost me around $100-$150USD.
I cannot wait to go to the famous Tsukiji Fish Market, the biggest in the world, and try the sushi there. This market is responsible for shipping the expensive sushi you buy in New York, Dubai, etc. I’ve lost weight during my journey and I fear I’m going to regain some of it in Tokyo. Look at my stack of plates! On my way to becoming a tuna. 🙂
Oh and if you were wondering what’s the second thing I did in Japan after sushi? My laundry. 🙂