Monday, August 16, 2010

Tokyo Eat: Sushizanmai - The Sushi That Melts in Your Mouth

The bewildered head chef caught off guard by my camera flash. Sumimasen!

Sushizanmai Roppongi Haiyuzamae-ten

Sankei28 bldg, 10-9 Roppongi 3 Minato-ku Tokyo 106-0032
5 minutes on foot from Roppongi Station Exit 5 on the Hibiya or Oedo Lines (Tokyo Metro)

Even though it has been almost 2 years, I can still vividly remember the taste of the melting sushi and sashimi in my mouth. And this is all thanks to my good friend and ex-colleague, T.H., who is currently staying and working in Tokyo with his Japanese wife, and is almost a Japanese himself. T.H. treated Samurai T and I to the most wonderful meal at Sushizanmai's Roppongi branch during our first trip to Tokyo in 2008. And we will forever be grateful.

According to T.H., he patronises Sushizanmai up to 3 or 4 times a week! Part of the reason is because his house is only a 10-minute walk away (lucky ass), and the other is that the restaurant serves REALLY great sushi at reasonable prices, with the freshest seafood direct from Tsukiji Market. T.H. who has spent half his life (or more) in Japan, is one of the restaurant's VIP customers and hence he gets a good discount as well. All the staff know both him and his wife and they chat like old friends. Although it is quite a big restaurant, it has a cosy and homey atmosphere.

During that particular dinner, all 4 of us sat at the counter, and like the pro he was, T.H. was ordering the best foods left, right, centre, and we were served directly by the head chef. Unfortunately, I was digging in with too much relish to take a lot of pictures for this particular gastronomical journey. In fact, I am ashamed to admit I did not even take note of the name of the restaurant and had to find out from my fellow contributor Bee Furn (also a friend of T.H. and was treated at the same restaurant!!!) to write this blog post.

I cannot remember exactly what we ate, but there were at least a gazillion permutations of the Toro (tuna) sushi. Looking at them will probably give you a heart attack with their layers of fat, but they tasted out of this world. We had both the freshwater and saltwater Unagi (eel), and T.H. the connoisseur was explaining the difference in taste although I did not really care and just gobbled them down - both were GREAT. Then there was the crab sushi that we had (below), and it was so fresh, chewy and totally yums! Also not forgetting the lovely and humongous oysters sprinkled with cut spring onions, roe and some magic miso sauce. Alamak! My mouth is watering.

Crab sushi, I believe. Drool....

Fresh oysters!!! Died and gone to heaven.

The highlight of the dinner though was a live horse mackerel being sliced skillfully by the chef while leaving its heart intact and pumping. So as the fish was being served (as it was below), the fish was still alive, heart pumping, mouth gasping and eyes bulging. While this seemed really cruel (for awhile, I did not think I could eat), it is apparently a testament of  a chef's skill that the fish lives even as customers are feasting on its flesh. According to T.H., there used to be a practice of chefs throwing the sliced fish back into the tank, and they could still swim even with their body cut out!!!(Of course they will still die after awhile.) But as a result of an uproar over the freak show, mostly from Westerners protesting intentional cruelty, this practice died out.

The horse mackerel that wouldn't die. Its heart was still beating while we ate its succulent flesh.

Yes, I did eventually eat that poor horse mackerel. Only after T.H. assured me that fish do not have nerves and they could feel no pain. I was like, are you sure??? T.H., an avid fisherman himself, said that there are university degrees in Japan on fishing and fish and the Japanese have conducted the most in-depth studies on these sea creatures. But as I looked at his Japanese wife who had declined to join in the feasting, she had a pained look on her face. Even if the horse mackerel did not feel any pain, I think she did, a most unusual thing, since the Japanese cannot live without their sushi and sashimi.

The horse mackerel tasted good, but next time, I would forgo the privilege of watching it die in front of my eyes since that took some pleasure away from my dinner, pain nerves or no pain nerves.

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