Jiro’s not the only one that Dreams of Sushi
Sushi, believe it or not, is actually one of the main reasons I dropped everything, quit my job, left my friends and family, and moved away from the only home I’ve ever known to a mysterious country where I had few friends and no understanding of the language, the culture, or the food. Well I mean, I did in some sense have it better than most Americans because I was lucky enough to grow up in San Francisco where there is (or was) a Japantown, Japanese people, and numerous sushi restaurants ranging from mediocre to downright poisonous. For reasons beyond comprehension though, my interest in Sushi drove me to do something I could never fathom. Growing up in an Asian household usually means living with your family until you ended up getting married. Rarely, will you see Asian children move away from home for selfish reasons (unless of course those reasons happen to have future financial benefits, i.e. College / great job at famous company). For me though, the reasons were as selfish as they came and for the first time in my life I was passionate about something. I needed to know more, see more, and taste more. I wanted to understand beyond superficial terms, dragon rolls, and the salmon/hamachi/ebi/maguro rut that San Francisco’s sushi scene was limited to at the time. I felt like I had an ocean’s worth of knowledge separating me and I was driven like never before to cross it.
If I had to choose a last meal, before passing from this lovely planet of ours filled with such delectable varieties of sea life, it would without question be sushi at one of the hundreds of extraordinary sushi restaurants in Japan. This brings me back to the title of this story; Sukiyabashi Jiro is just 1 of the many many exceptional Sushi restaurants in Tokyo. Emphasis on many. It’s currently ranked #24 on Tabelog out of all Sushi restaurants in just the Tokyo area. He’s definitely one of the best, but after living in Japan for many years, I came to learn that the sushi scene is so much deeper than a single restaurant. Even though that restaurant is run by a living legend in his own right who’s been making sushi at the highest levels longer than almost anyone.
Is it the best though? To be honest, I never got around to eating there before I moved away, it’s still on my hit-list but at a lower priority because there are so many other Sushi restaurants doing more interesting things. It’s sort of analogous to deciding if it’s worth trying the French Laundry for the first time after already having one the best meals of your life at Saison. Both are renowned fine dining establishments in the Bay Area — the French Laundry, traditional and classical, while Saison, exciting, modern, and inspiring.
The price point is also a tough barrier to overcome. Miyako-zushi, currently ranked #5 on Tabelog, is my current favorite sushi restaurant. I began eating there 5 years ago when the base price of the omakase was roughly $120 (now it’s about $150). The meal includes various appetizers and sashimi before the main nigiri course, then ends with the traditional miso soup. They also have a full sake menu as well as a few types beer. A meal at Jiro by comparison from what I researched, averages 14 minutes in length and only includes nigiri for $300. No appetizers and drinks other then tea. For those reasons, I found it difficult to stray from my normal routine and also because my wife finds it fundamentally wrong to have a 14 minute meal for that amount of money. Tough to argue with her on that one.
Without a doubt, if it weren’t for the very well made documentary by David Gelb, most of the non-Japanese speaking world wouldn’t have a reference point for highest levels of sushi. I never had access to that knowledge when I first moved to Tokyo, so I went in blind and had to do it the old fashioned way. My first real sushi epiphany in Japan was at a tiny family-run hole in the wall named Izumi — a long story for another time.
Japan has the luxury of having so many amazing dining choices available. Some say that even if you dined at a new restaurant every day for the rest of your life, you still wouldn’t be able to scratch the surface of what Tokyo offers. Jiro might be the most famous, but there are hundreds, if not thousands of hardworking sushi shokunin (artisan or craftsman) dedicating their lives to mastering the art of combining fish and vinegared rice. Movies and the media work in mysterious ways; at times, a double edged sword — in the case of Sukiyabashi Jiro, his restaurant becoming infamous to the point of eclipsing every other sushi restaurant on the planet. My hope is to bring a little more balance to that viewpoint. Jiro may dream of sushi, but I guarantee if you look a bit past his enormous shadow, you’ll discover that Japan is a country full of sushi artisans, many of whom share that same dream and dedication.
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Originally published at http://www.noodleinhaystack.com/