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Editor’s Notes

Hello, this is Pocket Concierge editing team.
I’m sure that many of you have a favorite sushi topping like tuna or salmon, but did you know that there’s actually different kinds of shari, sushi rice? Today, we’re going to explain about the differences between red and white sushi rice, and about the history of Edomae sushi (Edo-style sushi) that became the origin of red sushi rice.

Contents

1. “White sushi rice” is for general sushi

2. “Red sushi rice” inherits the traditional Edomae sushi

3. Toppings that go great with red and white sushi rice

1. “White sushi rice” is for general sushi

Shari, sushi rice has the role to draw out the flavor of the topping, and every sushi restaurant is very particular about the sushi rice it makes. The vinegar used in the sushi rice also varies. Some restaurants use only one, while others may combine several vinegars. Even the portion of the vinegar varies, since you’d need to adjust the sweetness and tartness of the sushi rice.
The general sushi restaurant uses white vinegar made by brewing rice. Sushi rice that’s made by mixing white vinegar and rice is called shiro shari, white sushi rice. Some sushi chefs nowadays have started to add the dashi (Japanese stock) flavor to the sushi rice by topping konbu (kelp) when cooking rice, which shows that you can enjoy the different flavors offered at each sushi restaurant, even just by focusing on the sushi rice.

Sushi Fujita


3-minutes from Higashi-Ginza, hidden away from the bustle of Tokyo’s main streets, is Sushi Fujita. Using 2 different ‘shari’ to orchestrate a delicate balance in fish and rice with every piece, the chef, formerly of the Ebisu Westin Hotel among others, is truly a master amongst his peers.

2. “Red sushi rice” inherits the traditional Edomae sushi

In contrast, there are some sushi restaurants who are committed to using red sushi rice, which is the traditional sushi rice of the Edomae sushi (Edo-syle sushi). Red sushi rice is sushi rice made by mixing red vinegar and rice. Red vinegar is made by brewing sake lees. The fragrance is stronger than white vinegar made by brewing rice, and has a mild flavor. The nutrients in the sake lees make the vinegar change color to dark brown.

Although red sushi rice is no longer made by most sushi restaurants, it was the general sushi rice when Edomae sushi first started to be trendy in the Edo Period. While there are different definitions for Edomae sushi, it originally referred to sushi made using fish caught in the Tokyo Bay. The famous sushi chef, Hanaya Yohei who is considered to be the person who completed Edomae sushi, also used red vinegar for his sushi rice.

Many sushi restaurants during the Edo Period operated in a stall-like fashion during the Edo Period. Customers would choose the sushi they wanted to eat lined up in a wooden box, instead of the chef making one in front of you like today. Although the “nigirizushi” style of topping seafood over vinegar rice hasn’t changed from today, the size was said to be double or triple of the size today.

Refrigerating technology hadn’t developed during the Edo Period, so it was quite hard to sell raw fish outdoors. This promoted the development of all kinds of techniques, including grilling with fire, pickling in vinegar or salt, and simmering. Just like different techniques for the topping, sushi chefs also started to mix vinegar in the rice as a way to prevent sushi from drying or spoiling. This shows that vinegar is added to prevent the sushi topping from deteriorating and increase the flavors of the topping and rice.

Sushi Marufuku


Nishi-Ogikubo is known to gourmands as a quiet foodie haven west of town, but proudly standing in the midst of this fierce competition is Sushi Marufuku. Melding its signature ‘aged-sushi’ pieces with a ‘shari’ of blended Akita-and-Nigata rices and 4 different vinegars based on the red variety, the chef creates uniquely rich flavors that keep customers begging for seconds.

3. Toppings that go great with red and white sushi rice

Toppings that go great with red and white sushi rice
As explained above, red sushi rice pairs great with traditional Edomae sushi. It is said that the Tokyo Bay was wider and had much more catch of seafood during the Edo Period, compared to today where the reclaiming has advanced.

Tokyo Bay was known for being able to catch all kinds of seafood, including whitefish like founder, and bluish fish like spotted shad, and even tuna and conger eels. Here are some of the famous Edomae sushi toppings. Tuna is definitely the star of Edomae sushi. Tuna has always been the decisive factor to determine the class of a sushi restaurant. Sushi restaurants were so particular about this topping, to the point some restaurants would say, “We won’t open our store unless there’s good tuna.” Maguro was’t offered raw for most of the times during this time, which is quite a surprise. Since refrigerating technologies did not exist during this time, only limited sushi restaurants near the port could serve raw tuna. By the time the tuna reached other sushi restaurants, it wasn’t the freshness that could be eaten raw. Then how did people eat tuna during this time? The answer is “zuke,” marinated tuna in a sauce including soy sauce, mirin, and sake. Zuke, marinated tuna was the main dish of Edomae sushi. Even today, zuke is often served at Edomae sushi restaurants.

Flounder

Flounder is best when eaten at the beginning of your meal.
Even among white fish, flounder prepared by konbujime (sandwiching fish between kelp) is considered to pair great with red sushi rice. The konbujime cooking method prevents the ingredient from deteriorating, and draw out the delicious flavors of the topping. Large clams called hamguri, the famous topping for “nimono” (simmered dishes) is also a great option. With every bite, you can enjoy the deep flavors of the large clam. Large clams became a common sushi topping in the Edo Period since a lot of them could be caught in the Tokyo Bay. It’s a topping that shows the skills of the sushi chef, since if you simmer large clams too long, it’ll loose it’s flavor and become hard.

Kobire

Kobire, indispensable in Edomae sushi; Kobire, medium-sized gizzard shads picked in vinegar are a must for Edomae sushi. Taking away the small bones is very time consuming, so it shows the true skills and commitment of the sushi chef. This is way it’s said that “Eat kobire, and you’ll know the true colors of the restaurant.” The traditional topping, conger eel is also a sushi topping that shows what kind of sushi chef the chef is like. There’s a lot of different ways of cooking it, including simmering and grilling. The flavor can drastically change depending on how you season it, using slat, wasabi, or sauces.

Concluding Notes

As mentioned earlier, most of the toppings are served today with white sushi rice since most stores uses white sushi rice. There isn’t really a topping that doesn’t pair well with white sushi rice. However, there are some sushi restaurants that use white or red sushi rice depending on the topping, to change up the flavors. Although “red sushi rice” is not so common, we invite you to try visiting an authentic Edomae sushi restaurant to find out more about it.

Nishi-Azabu Sushi Ichi


An ‘Only-One'; master Sato of Sushi Ichi, a 16 year veteran at esteemed locations such as Kanpachi and Keisuke, merges 2 different ‘shari’ of white and red vinegars apiece with varying seafoods to make mouth-watering exquisite delights. Even today, with 3000-plus competitors in Tokyo alone, Sato envisions creating sushi unique to his realm; and lucky visitors are fortunate to be witnesses to his ascents.

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