Crunchy Bottoms

Striking the caloric balance. Barely.

Monthly Archives: July 2012

Tokyo, Japan 2011-12: Sushi Zanmai

24-hour chain restaurants are deigned to be viewed with no less disdain as mass-produced pink slime.

Such places don’t seem to possess any redeeming factors. You don’t need intricate knowledge of the restaurant industry to know that the food will have been sitting limp and listless since morning, and that ‘freshness’ can – at best – only be something of a foreign concept, a level simply unattainable by chain standards.

But as with all things normally distributed, you will have the outliers, the daredevils, the reality-benders – those that are allotted the tiniest of probabilities of ever being good, but are. They exist, says statistics.

Sushi Zanmai is possibly the only 24-hour, 365-days a year sushi restaurant, with over 30 outlets scattered about.

The numbers alone inspire cynicism in me the likes of no other. But as luck would have it, I knew nothing of their business, only that its name sounded vaguely familiar, and that we were beside ourselves with hunger at 10pm, on the verge of withering in the bitter cold, and that the warm lights past the restaurant glass front was salvation.

Sushi Zanmai proved that there is hope in life, if only in Japan. This calls for rejoicing.

The menu has both Japanese and English, and although there is a kaleidoscope of unfamiliar fish, as long as you can read Pictures, you’ll be well on your way ordering up a massive amount of sushi. Don’t bother with portion control. Unless your idea of portion control is multiple orders of ten sushi at a time, then you have my green light. Other than the main menu, there is a set menu on the side entirely in – no not Pictures – Japanese, for sets that span a range up till ¥3,000. But figuring out what each set has to offer is only a matter of matching the words to the pictures on the main menu. Child’s play, I say.

Sushi is not cheaper in Japan. Sorry to have to break it to you this way. Unlike how coffee in Italy, bread and cheese in France, dim sum and congee in Hong Kong are at least half the price and double the quality, dining in Japan is at a cost only slightly less expensive than Japanese restaurants here, but at an unbeatable quality.

I had the ¥2,500 (around S$40) set of 12 nigiri that came with a bowl of miso soup. Every piece of nigiri, with the exception of the lacklustre sea urchin and rubbery herring roe, was beautifully draped atop the rice and fresh.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I have the sneaking suspicion that the waters around Japan have mystical properties, ancient mumbo jumbo happening below the surface, producing not merely fish, but creatures of the culinary Atlantis. It’s easy to forget that you’re eating seafood.

The girls got themselves heaps of maguro (tuna), shake (salmon), ika (squid), hamachi (yellowtail), and waved a waitress over for another round because, much to their own surprise, they absolutely adored the tuna. While clearly not from premium maguro (usually coloured a vibrant ruby), it tasted very clean.

So yes, while I will still keep my reservations on dubious-looking 24-hour chain restaurants, Sushi Zanmai has cleared my radar with an exceptional score. I should emphasize though, that its winning element lies in how much bang for your buck you get – at any time of the day.

Although the original outlet is located at Tsukiji, the one we stumbled into was in Asakusa, where we were staying. It’s safe to assume that the Tsukiji outlet is trustworthy, but there are plenty of other outlets as listed on their website 

Sushi Zanmai

Address: Sushi Zanmai, 4-11-9 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku

+81 (0) 3 3541 1117; open daily, 24 hours.

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Tokyo, Japan 2011-12: Toritsune Shizendou – The Holy Grail of Oyakodons

 

There are worse things in life than a writer’s block – physical pain, for instance.

But while I am sure that physically throwing myself at a wall (repeatedly) would feel infinitely more excruciating than the mental equivalent of encountering the dreaded writer’s block, life sucks anyway.

Clearly I’m not going to be able to spit out a beatific ode to Dario Cecchini, butcher extraodinaire, and the gorgeous Italian meats we had in Chianti anytime soon, so I better kick start my other posts lest I crumble in self-pity and shrivel up in a corner.

Where were we? Right, Japan.

I know that it has been about eight months, but let’s rewind to the start of the year, the fourth of January in Tokyo, where shops and restaurants still threatened to remain closed from the New Year festivities. It was a time of great uncertainty, and the fear that Toritsune Shizendou would be closed was very, very real.

Their Oyakodon was highly praised by The Dirty Stall, and he had all but ordered me to find it because it was that good. He also ordered me to traipse all over Tokyo in search of other things, like Toriki, but I suppose it should suffice that I even managed to find Toritsune Shizendou.

The girls and I did find it, going around buildings in the morning chill, slipping through a deserted alley and stopping outside its shuttered door. Amidst worrying about the possibility of it opening, a Japanese businessman calmly strode up to the door, and stood with his hands in his pockets, staring straight ahead at the wooden sliding door, unmoving, and resolute in stance. That was as good an indication as we could get. We also, obviously, got sniped from being the first customers.

While we were the second customers through the door on the dot at 11am, the restaurant very quickly filled up, first with the locals, and then with a handful of other tourists, walking in bleary eyed and having to wait in line.

The menu is entirely in Japanese, but we knew that we wanted the Tokujo Oyakodon (¥1,600), a large bowl of rice topped with an omelette with chicken strips and the runniest eggs of a blinding, vibrant orange. I am not adept at Japanese, unfortunately, so for a better description of the other dishes, this blogger does a thorough job of it. By ‘thorough’, I really mean Eaten-Every-Single-Thing-On-The-Menu-Because-I-Can.

We weren’t seated at the counter, but the tiny table in our quiet corner yielded an excellent view of the chef at work, effortlessly handling at least three individual pans of omelette at a time on high flame, cracking eggs and lightly whipping them up before sliding it deftly into a bowlful of rice and serving.

What you get from the moment your bowl is set down in front of you is a moist omelette of chicken, scallions, sweet dashi, soy sauce, and gorgeous eggs with their yolks literally running all over the place, soaking into the rice, staining it a bright, oozy orange. It took about five seconds of revered silence on my part as I watched the yolks trickle out before face-diving in all my glory.

The eggs are what make this dish. I’m not sure what chickens they came from, but I’m guessing they must have been very happy chickens. Those eggs are a wonder of nature. To be reasonable, I don’t doubt that there is someplace else with oyakodon so sublime that will top this. I’m not certain, but all I’m saying is that there may be. In the spectrum of things, there are such leeways, but whatever the case, this is the best oyakodon – a shining example of a humble dish done well – I’ve ever had.

Take my advice and googlemap/googleman the address, just so it’s easier to find.

 Address:

鳥つね自然洞 (Toritsune Shizendou)
5-5-2, Soto-Kanda, Chiyoda-ku