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A look behind the scenes - A Traditional Sushi Bar during Prep

  • cgfan May 9, 2009 12:50 AM
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I finally got the chance to make good on an invitation to join my favorite sushi bar during their daily prep. Although I've always imagined that I'll be able to catch them on a Saturday before opening, it turns out that my first chance to see their prep came up today, on a Friday, as I happened to take the day off and had some extra time.

This turned out to be a bonus, as Friday is one of their days where on top of their daily deliveries of Sushi Tane (ingredients) both domestic and foreign, they also receive goods from Tsukiji Market in Japan. This means that I would be able to see their prep of Anago (saltwater eel), a Tane that is more typically pre-prepped in Japan due to the special skills required.

The sushi bar is Kaito Sushi, my favorite sushi bar and the best by my measure in San Diego County. Since they specialize in Tokyo-style (Edo-mae) sushi they only bring in the top ingredients only during their peak season, and takes it as a given that only fresh ingredients should be used.

I apologize in advance for the haphazard nature of this collection. It is by no means complete - I didn't catch all of their prep - by no means is it meant to be a complete documentary of the prep of any one Sushi Tane. It should, however, be of interest to any Sushi enthusiast who has ever wondered just what happens at a traditional Sushi bar before the doors first open.

Enjoy!

Following are links to some photos and videos I took today during Kaito Sushi's prep:

Videos only: http://www.flickr.com/photos/akatayam...
The entire collection: http://www.flickr.com/photos/akatayam...

Specific collections of photos and videos in this series:

Anago - saltwater eel: http://www.flickr.com/photos/akatayam...
Kohada - gizzard shad: http://www.flickr.com/photos/akatayam...
Ankimo - monkfish liver: http://www.flickr.com/photos/akatayam...
Shari - Sushi rice: http://www.flickr.com/photos/akatayam...
Knifework: http://www.flickr.com/photos/akatayam...
Knife sharpening: http://www.flickr.com/photos/akatayam...
Miscellaneous: http://www.flickr.com/photos/akatayam...

Kaito Sushi: http://www.SushiKaito.com

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  1. What I would do for those knife skills...

    Beautiful shots and video Cgfan, thanks very much for sharing! I can see why you like this place so much, here's hoping I have a reason to return to San Diego soon. Or just get my butt to Japan sometime!!

    3 Replies
    1. re: moh

      Thanks moh! And many thanks to the folks at Kaito Sushi for letting me in to film their prep...

      And to think that it's the closest sushi bar to my house! (I always tease them that that's the only reason why I go there!) And yes, San Diego is quite far from Montreal... But if you ever find yourself in the area...

      What I treasure so much with a place like Kaito Sushi is their dedication to staying to tradition and eschewing tempting time-saving alternatives.

      When you're served a sashimi plate there it's extravagantly decorated with what is tempting to call shredded Daikon. I say extravagant as the Daikon only looks shredded but is in fact all the product of skillful hand-slicing. The Daikon is sliced first into thin sheets then stacked and sliced across their length to obtain the garnish, achieving a crispness and a crystalline look that cannot be achieved by shredding on a mandolin.

      It makes me sad how many of even Kaito's customers just simply leave the Daikon behind. Due to the traditional method of preparation I enjoy and treasure its taste and crispness, whereas with the mandolin-shredded Daikon served elsewhere I'll normally leave it behind.

      You can see a very similar process in these videos where they prep the Shoga (ginger).

      1. re: cgfan

        Yes, the difference between sliced daikon and mandolined daikon is huge! I love it that they pay such fine attention to detail, it is a sign of a kitchen that cares and is proud of their art. So uniform, so fine. I have tried cutting Daikon like that, and I can tell you just how hard it is to get it so perfect.

        I also loved watching them sharpening their knives.

        I do have a question, after they wrapped the monkfish liver in the package, what did they do with it? I am not very familiar with this item, it is not often seen in this city. My only experience with it comes from watching Iron chef reruns (sheepish grin).

        1. re: moh

          Although I missed that part of the prep - (following two sushi chefs doing prep in parallel means missing out on half of it!) - I assume it was subsequently steamed, though I did not observe it.

          Glad you enjoy and appreciate the traditionally cut Daikon! Yes, the difference is huge, but given how most people overlook it as an afterthought it's all the more impressive to see the few shops who take the care to do it right.

    2. Brilliant and sad. My Mom and the Aunties and some of the older cousins did the same. But back then I was too much into the endless studies, sex, car racing, ...

      31 Replies
      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

        I could understand. I remember when I was a teen in the mid to late 70's going to parties of a family friend who would invite Shibutani-san of Shibucho to setup an in-house sushi bar. I would gulp it down without much thought and only marvel not at his knifework and skill, but at the live seafood that he would bring in for these events.

        And little did I know that I was witnessing the very dawn of the nascent sushi movement in the U.S., which was all but lost on me at the time in my relative youth. It would only be a couple of decades later that I would look him up and find his sushi bar in Costa Mesa after building-up an appreciation for what he did and his "old-school" techniques.

        1. re: cgfan

          Ohhhh! What a treat! The creation of art is a fascinating process. Thank you for the preview. What an honor to be able to witness their rituals.

          1. re: cgfan

            Worse, My family is/was full of great cooks. One cousin had a sushi restaurant in Japan Town in SF. Another the original "Oishi" in the Farmers' Market in Fresno. Another was the cook on a Coast Guard Cutter and went from there. Mom and the Aunts were masters - not unwittingly, but proudly so. I still claim that the sushi I grew up eating (and do know how to prepare - but with much less finesse) is the only way it should be done.

            And I ate great sushi until I left the US in the mid-70s prior to "the very dawn of the nascent sushi movement".

            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

              I probably wasn't precise enough in my statement. What I was referring to was the growth of U.S. restaurants serving nigiri-sushi.

              Of course many of the more casual forms of sushi were already being served up in the homes throughout the JA communities of L.A. well before the appearance of the first restaurants serving nigiri sushi. I also have early recollections of my Mom picking up bento boxes of mixed sushi In Little Tokyo to take to our school Undoukai (field day) events, but honestly it's exact contents are all a bit hazy. Wish I had pics of the food we ate back then!

              1. re: cgfan

                Unlike you and applehome, I think of the traditional "casual" (in your words) forms as "sushi" - complex, culturally relevant, difficult to do well, easy to de badly, and not at all known internationally. To me, nigiri was, albeit with a long history, aided and abetted by Americans and Japanese as the latter grew to economic superpower status in the 70s' and early 80s prior to their meltdown. Food of the new rich. My personal pantheon of cooks make BOTH traditional and the hakujin sushi that you have so nicely shown.

                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                  No, in my mind it's all sushi, and I'm quite sure that applehome would say as much. But for quite a while now I started to use the term sushi to refer to nigiri sushi alone and add-on various adjectives only when referring to other forms of sushi. It's the only way to be understood these days as very few are familiar with the broader meaning of sushi.

                  For me the most nostalgic forms of sushi is not nigiri sushi but rather inari zushi, chirashi sushi, various hosomaki, futomaki, and oshi zushi.

                  The battle to preserve the colloquial use of the term sushi to refer to all forms of sushi beyond and including nigiri sushi has long been lost. The irony is that in spite of the overly specific meaning of sushi as it is now commonly understood in the States, the current "battle line" is now drawn out over its broadening to include Americanized sushi, one that I have all but given up hope for but still do lament its loss.

                  But this erosion of words happens on both sides of the Pacific. I do feel sad that so many native Japanese words are now considered archaic in Japan, such as Gyuunyuu (milk), Kudamono (fruits), Gyuuniku (beef), etc... (Though these are probably bad examples as an argument can be made that these food words are more associated with foreign vs. Japanese cuisines...) I'll really start to worry when they start saying "Fisshi" to mean "Sakana" (fish)!

                  1. re: cgfan

                    My battle is strictly with the low-end Americanization. Sushi's popularity is its own demise. I've heard "let's go eat sushi" as meaning let's go eat something vaguely Japanese. That's a little too inclusive. The high-end and ultra-traditional places represent interesting trends, but I don't think they're negatively affecting the traditionally trained Itamae just trying to make a living by using his expert skills day in and day out, to make wonderful sushi for people who appreciate it.

                    I've always ordered all kinds of makizushi along with nigiri, even at the most expensive places. Although, for sure, it is rarely included in omakase. I'm a big fan of negi-toro in a hosomaki as a delicious way to use the scrapings of toro. I probably first had that in the 70's at an authentic Japanese place - but no Chinese restaurant sushi bar does that today, even if they will do crispy salmon skin all day long.

                    You don't have to have fancy tane to make great sushi. There's a place in Boston (Cambridge, actually), that is regularly written up poorly, even here. Most gaijin just don't get their appeal because they serve just plain stuff - but it's done well. They don't even have uni. But they also don't have junk, like flying fish roe. There are always Japanese folks sitting at the counter - the conversation is often in Japanese. I get sushi to-go there a lot of times - several six-packs of kappa-maki, teka-maki, along with some basic nigiri. No salmon. Nothing that would impress anybody, except that compared with the pre-made packs of junk at the grocery stores, this is the real deal.

                    Hey great videos, CG, and nice commentary - I enjoyed them all. The garlic one is posted sideways, but I leaned my head ;-).

                    1. re: applehome

                      Well the way I like to describe the experience at a sushi bar to folks who have not had the experience is that it's very much like having your own personal chef. Not in the sense that you strictly tell them what you want to have made, or that it's all up to the chef even during an omakase, but that its a give and take, with most of the meal progressing w/o a need to say anything at all. The itamae-san will know you and your preferences, can tell when you're tired, hungry or not, out of sorts or not, and you'll always come out with an experience that's hard to match in any other cuisine simply because it is so personalized.

                      And so on so many occasions the only time I'll request anything at all is at the very end of the meal, though it's amazing how often Morita-san will be a step ahead of me and deliver exactly what I would have requested! And there will be those days where I want to close my meals with nothing more than a simple kappa-maki.

                      Sometimes choosing that simple closing kappa-maki is more important to me than any other item that had preceded it. Not that that would be the item that I would remember the most, but rather that it provides the perfect culinary vehicle to "downshift" from the thrilling theater that is nigiri-sushi to a gentle return back home.

                      Then there are the times where I feel like I need to wake up my palette before beginning my meal and so request nothing more to start with than a hot green tea and an Umeboshi. Again like the kappa-maki I wouldn't necessarily expect to remember the Umeboshi above the other items, but the whole meal somehow just wouldn't be the same without it.

                      As exalted a cuisine as nigiri sushi can be, deep down inside I like to think of it as a humble cuisine that can succeed or fail depending on the support of the other elements in the meal.

                      Ahhhh, I so love Nihonshoku!

                    2. re: cgfan

                      Why worry about the broader meaning of sushi? "Nigiri sushi" IS the de facto meaning of the word sushi in modern Japanese. Other than specific regional variations such as oshi-zushi, nigirl is the closest to the traditional form of sushi still popularly eaten. Inari zushi, chirashi, any kind of maki, have nothing to do with sushi traditionally. It is those items that have simply co-opted the term "sushi". Sushi means vinegared rice only as far as a preservative for fish- with the fish being the main element. Traditionally, it had nothing to do with vegetables or umeboshi or tofu pockets. The irony of overstating the meaning of the word sushi in the U.S. is itself being overstated here. If you told a Japanese in Japan that you like "sushi", they will assume you like raw fish slabs on top of vinegared rice. People shouldn't get caught up in the fact that inari and maki use the term sushi. They are sushi in nomenclature only. People should understand that nigiri zushi IS sushi. This is one of the closest food you can get to traditional Japanese cuisine.

                      1. re: Silverjay

                        I beg to differ regarding the meaning of the term sushi, even though we both seem to agree on the historical development of the cuisine. Nowhere in my reading have I ever come across a clear history on the development of sushi as a word (versus the development of the cuisine) and so in my mind its semantics is still open to question. In fact perhaps you may know this - I have always wondered when and in what context the term itself was first coined.

                        So I continue to stand by my belief that the term stands for the broad family of dishes based upon vinegared rice, though I'll be the first to concede that its colloquial use in the States refers to nigiri sushi alone. Growing-up I don't ever recall our more broader understanding of the term to ever be contradicted, despite regular and frequent contacts with friends and relatives from Japan.

                        1. re: cgfan

                          The colloquial use in Japanese is almost always as nigiri-zushi. Though yeah, semantically it refers to the other items and a broader category. No dispute there. But many people say they like cats, but they aren't referring to a lynx or a tiger or a jaguar when they say it. The origin of the term sushi is fuzzy, but it's pretty well linked with the origin of the cuisine. Several hundred years ago, rice was packed with fish as a preservative. The rice was discarded and the lactic acid preserved fish was kept. Narezushi is this type of legacy item. Then someone came up with a short cut for preservation by mixing the rice with vinegar. Now acetic acid became the preservative. People found the tart taste of the rice, the combination with the fish, and easy preparation appealing, and the dish went from preserved food to fast food. After that, items with vinegared rice seemed to have been called sushi to reflect this. But outside of narezushi and oshi zushi and other regional preserved fish dishes, nigiri-zushi truly continues the legacy of the dish today and is the defacto meaning in Japan, despite its broader ultimate meaning. The written manner of conveying sushi has evolved from "寿司" to "鮨" - notice the radical for fish in the second term. There were Tokugawa Era surveys of restaurants in Edo that listed sushi stands and shops, not to mention woodblock prints of nigiri zushi. And there are Meiji Era books that depict drawings of nigiri sets as well.

                          Inari-zushi is originally from the Nagoya area and is probably a result of the area being historically a vinegar producer. Maki zushi is a late 19th century invention. They were already methods of preserving vegetables, so maki zushi or anything with items other than seafood is like a second tier sushi created after the original. They are stomach stuffers really. Chirashi and bara zushi are most likely similarly co-opting the term sushi and may likely be 20th century creations or simply appealing to people's enjoyment of the combination of raw fish and vinegared rice.

                          Ultimately, sushi means vinegared rice in as far it is a vehicle for fish. Despite semantics, and despite a rather crude, un-subtle manner, the best way to explain sushi to someone is fish on top of vinegared rice. Beyond that IS semantics and probably unnecessarily pedantic.

                          1. re: Silverjay

                            Again we both agree on the history. But beyond that to claim that the word sushi IS nigiri sushi is making a claim on its semantics, which requires more than what you've delineated so far.

                            I'll just simply repeat what I posted above: Nowhere in my reading have I ever come across a clear history on the development of sushi as a word (versus the development of the cuisine) and so in my mind its semantics is still open to question. In fact perhaps you may know this - I have always wondered when and in what context the term itself was first coined.

                            Now back to our regular programming... :-)

                            1. re: cgfan

                              Nigiri is a closer legacy of whatever the original sushi was (more like narezushi, oshi zushi, or some other preserved fish, not tofu or cucumber or burdock root) and this is usually noted by Japanese researchers who, I've noticed, enjoy noting how things today are a legacy of ancestor ingenuity.... I'm happy to share a good article with you on the subject if you ping my email.

                              The origin of the term is a mystery. But by the middle of the Tokugawa jidai, the urban street stall and restaurant culture had become so vigorous, one wonders if it could have been any old merchant dude in Edo who simply advertised it as such and it caught on.

                              1. re: Silverjay

                                Sorry to drag this out so long, I'm probably just not saying it right, but i don't have an issue with the historical development. There's many sources that cover it and I've done my share of reading on the subject. But the part that I think is at the heart of the semantic-side of the debate is in where, when, and in what context the term itself of sushi was first used and coined. Outside of that there really is little we differ on as the history is quite clear and well-documented.

                                That really would be an interesting addition to the literature, though I'm sure a treatment of that question exisists somewhere out there in printed form...

                                I would even just love to see an early woodblock print depicting a typical Edo-mae sushi stall with a banner proclaiming sushi, if it was even used as a term back then... Or was the term's first appearance even earlier, or even perhaps much later?

                                Someone out there must have a (well-researched/referenced) answer...

                    3. re: Sam Fujisaka

                      What is "hakujin sushi" and why do you use that term?

                      1. re: Silverjay

                        You know that I bow to your wisdom and knowledge. I can only speak from my own individual experience as a member of a family of Japanese cooks and from my earliest visits to our family in Japan after WWII. We all prepared and ate what you do not consider sushi (but called it sushi); and we never perpared and ate what you do consider sushi (nigiri). I am sure that we are and have been simply wretchedly mis-informed. I first encountered nigiri as popular in the US and Japan at the time of the first post-war economic boom in Japan; and it just seemed to me to be a bit of a symbiotic development: very expensive ingredients and an American/hakijin emphasis on such great and mysterious technique - that to me has always been un-Japanese (or at least not Buddhist).

                        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                          I had plenty of nigiri growing up in the 50's in the Yokohama area (including my grandmother's haunts in Yokosuka where we had a different set of sushiyas). Plenty of makizushi as well, although I never ate chirashi-zushi until I came here (I don't believe it was popular in the Tokyo/Kanto area). All this was take-out mostly delivered on bicycles, (I was too young to be going out to eat much, but luckily, my parents were well off enough to order a lot of sushi). Certainly my father was the rich gaijin, but the availability of this sushi never was related to that. I think that my mother and her mother and sisters felt very lucky to be able to have delivery sushi as often as we wanted - it's probably why my mother and her family never made sushi ourselves, even though they were all great cooks. My great uncle, ironically, was a trained European chef and cooked for the Germans during WWII and at the US Officer's clubs after the war. Sushi was special food, but I never got the sense from them that it was washoku, or foreign food, in the sense of kare or tempura.

                          Great and mysterious technique is abundant throughout Japanese cookery. Long apprenticeship and studious effort in craft is absolutely a part of Shinto belief, if not Buddhist, as is reward for effort, and acknowledgement of mastery. Japanese revere their living treasures - Ningen Kokuho. I believe that there are soba masters that are Ningen Kokuho, although I'm not sure about sushi.

                          I'm sure you've watched Tampopo, where even as a send-up of itself, the reverence for the great and mysterious techniques of Ramen comes through clear as a bell.

                          I don't think these things are hakujin oriented at all. And neither do I think that there are not some related seriously weird and ugly things within my heritage that are awakened at the worst of times. This pride in technique and accomplishment may be another face of that. But it isn't ugly in and of itself - it's competitiveness and can deliver great quality under the right circumstances. The point is that Japanese are fully capable of such hubris and complexity without external help.

                          The real glory of sushi is the tradition, even if it's not thousands of years old, but only hundreds. If the economic boom has brought about anything, it's the popularization, from robot sushi to model trains to kewpie mayonnaise, that reduces sushi to its nadir. The best stuff is made by experts, is expensive, and requires some understanding (if not necessarily genuflecting) on the part of the consumer. It's part of the history of the transition that Meiji forced on Japan, taking the merchant class out of its lowly servitude and giving them traditions and honor of their own to uphold. I think it's been that way for a long time and didn't require any American/hakujin help to make happen.

                          1. re: applehome

                            Applehomoe, I lived in the Zushi/Kamakura area for 11 years and Yokohama was my stomping grounds. I visited recently and walked the back streets of Yokohama, reminiscing.

                            Have you been back?

                            1. re: bkhuna

                              I lived in Kamakura too, but closer to Enoshima. The areas of Sakuragicho & Kannai, Yokohama to the bluffs in Yamate used to be a great place to get in trouble. But since they started developing Minato Mirai, it just hasn't been the same.

                              1. re: Silverjay

                                The whole area from Bashamichi to Kanni is wonderful. Still is.

                              2. re: bkhuna

                                Yeah, I have been back a couple of times. My grandmother's house in Yokosuka was surrounded by tanbo in the front when I was young - when I came back in the 80's it was all paved, a small sandy playground in one area, but the rest just houses and small industrial buildings. Fortunately, the house was built on a small mountain/hill with the back just full of bamboo going up into the hillside - so no development there (yet) - my relatives still go takenoko "hunting" in the spring.

                                My father, the engineer, built his "mansion" in Hodogaya, all through the 50's and early 60's. In that time, a GS-13 salary made you a millionaire over there. He was a Usonian - complete follower of Wright - just loved the Imperial hotel (which was still standing). I grew up with daiku-san, a constant employee building rooms or furniture or something every single day around the wonderful house - incredible tall ceilings, beautiful, functional beams not carved but with hand finish and millwork - simple and straightforward, but work that could only be done by a master carpenter. All western fixtures, of course, no tatami rooms or shoji. In fact, when we sold the house, we were still very much afraid that it wouldn't be attractive to most Japanese - ceilings for my 6'2 father, western toilets, etc. The house still stands proudly on top of the hill in Hodogaya - the current owners let us in for a quick visit. It's worth millions, now, and is very desirable.

                                My brother and I took the yellow/blue line every day to Shinagawa to go to a private school (St. Mary's International - run by the Jesuits), in our little uniforms. The military base schools were so, so bad in those days. I remember most the little food booths in the floor level of the Yokohama station (which has since been totally rebuilt) - yakitori, sushi, oden, takoyaki, all the pastries - and my ultimate favorite food that I still crave all the time - the Yokohama shumai. Complete with the little ceramic shoyu container. They let me take some on the plane on the way home the last time - I assured them that none would come off the plane in the US.

                                1. re: applehome

                                  One of my best buddies was a ex-pat whose mom taught at St. Mary's. Both he and his brother and sister were St. Mary's alums.

                                  His father was The Destroyer.

                              3. re: applehome

                                Good points all. I'd guess that my family is stuck back in the Tokugawa.

                                Yes, great craft and technique has long been revered in Japan. But I still feel that open self-aggrandizement came about with Japan's post WWII emergence as an economic super-power. I found the blatancy that emerged in those years to be shocking. I agree fully that inflated ego and “knowing” that you’re the best at something is very Japanese – for the samurai and nobility classes.

                                It’s funny: we all always had great sashimi, but the preference was to have it (as carefully cut as for nigiri) with hot gohan. Something about the chilled fish, the hot rice, and no vinegar to interfere with the taste of the sashimi.

                                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                  Unless your Tokugawa era ancestors were samurai, wealthy urban merchants, or daimyo/ Tokugawa regime members, they probably ate more barley and millet than rice. And interestingly, I've read recently, the traditional way of eating sashimi was chopped and mixed with miso, or a vinegar sauce, or a combination of both. (There are several dishes like this still around.) Shoyu appeared as a mainstay rather late in the Tokugawa era.

                                  1. re: Silverjay

                                    Tororoimo with maguro poured over hot rice... mmmmm

                                    1. re: applehome

                                      ...count me in... Comfort food for sure!

                                2. re: applehome

                                  Applehome, I've often marveled at the focus, care and 'manicuring' (for lack of better term) of Japanese food and design, and the tradition of conjuring amazing tastes from ingredients whose appeal would not be immediately apparent to others. It really is a kind of genius.

                                  I've often wondered why this happened in Japan. You've addressed this a bit above. But for a Westerner to understand a bit more: Do you consider this focus to grow largely out of Shintoism and the reverence for living things and place, or partially out of some past sense of triumph in the face of scarcity? Or what combination? Every culture I'm aware of to some extent respects mastery/tradition, but why do you think this became such a focus in Japan - how did these refined, beautiful things result there, where in other places they'd be a little wilder, more haphazard?

                                  This is going to sound like an odd thing to mention, but when I've traveled to the English countryside, I've noticed the precision and small scale of the fields. Aside from the difference in vegetation and temperature extremes, it seems so much more 'settled' than America's countryside - that kind of thing makes me wonder if the length of Japan's history or even the size of the country also has a significant part to play.

                                  1. re: Cinnamon

                                    You should perhaps read:

                                    Geertz, Clifford. 1963. Agricultural involution: the process of ecological change in Indonesia. Berkeley: University of California Press.

                                    The island of Java has always had deep, rich volcanic soils. Productive soils allowed agricultural output to support huge amounts of people, who in turn then controlled water for irrigated rice - boosting production even further. Both agriculture (or human's relationship to the land) and culture / religion simultaneously became complex, with great attention to detail and special skills. Java, Japan, and to some degree, parts of the UK are similar in having developed intensive, high population food production systems. Geertz' further contribution was the idea of "involution" in which more and more labor was poured into more and more small details of life - and that was achieved all based on the soils and water. To support the point, Geertz contrasted the outer islands such as Sumatra that look more like the US (in your words). The weathered soils could not support large populations nor intensification / involution.

                                    You see something similar if you look at the east side of the Central Valley of California: good soils, climate, and plentiful (until now) water resources led to small, intensive, high value farming.

                                    So, it is not size or islands - it is the foundation of soils, water, climate.

                                    One of the government sponsored colonies in the Amazon - Theobroma - was located on purpose on a patch of richer soils (alfisols) to attract and keep settlers there. Today farm sizes have become much smaller than the original land grants; and the area produces high value crops like cacao, fruit, and cheese. This has not happened in other Amazon colonies where soils are poor.

                                    1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                      Wonderful to know. (Just watched a "No Reservations" show on Java. It's on my "love" list.)

                                      1. re: Cinnamon

                                        Both Buddhism and Confucianism have had much more prevailing influence on Japanese cuisine than Shintoism. Dr. Naomichi Ishige is actually an expert in this area if you can find English publications by him.

                                        I'd be interested to consider more Geertz' theory applied to Japan, but it's worth noting- rather surprisingly and extraordinarily- that it was not until late Meiji Era (the years before 1900) that Japan was able to produce enough rice for the entire population.

                                        1. re: Silverjay

                                          Tokugawa Japan was agriculturally inherently productive, but was a highly stratified society in which farmers were taxed at about 40% of their output. Rice was exported early in the Tokugawa and later used to build and support feudal armies and to wage mischief in ways that had long been common in western Europe. At that time more marginal lands were used for millet, buckwheat, and barley production (on lands that have long since gone back to forest) to feed the poorer sectors of society.

                                          The Meiji saw even greater population shifts to the cities, industrialization, and a breakdown of the feudal system - huge economic and social change. Tax revenues began to come from other sectors; and although agriculture was slightly "modernized", it was really more equitable distribution of rice that meant that the small, minor cereals no longer had to be the staples of the poor.

                                          The Javanese kingdoms were stratified societies, but without a central Edo type government control with such powers to extract high taxes. The tropical climate of Java also allowed 1.5 to two rice crops per year compared to the one crop of Japan.

                  2. This is so, so cool...not only that you had the opportunity but that you're sharing it with us. Thank you!

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: tatamagouche

                      That's what I was gonna say! Thanks from me, too.

                      1. re: MGZ

                        Well the thanks goes out to the awesome folks at Kaito Sushi who allowed me to observe and video their prep.

                        Now picture what one would see videoing the prep at the "typical" sushi bar in the States, though honestly videoing folks just simply unboxing, dethawing, unwrapping, and taking out bottles of pre-manufactured sauces just doesn't make for interesting viewing!

                        Oh, and with all of the time left over just waiting for things to dethaw, one might video them carefully leveling out that long Japanese scroll that they don't even realize is hanging upside-down! :-0

                    2. Wow. Excellent "presentation." I'm so darn envious that you have such amazing sushi available to you.

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: salsailsa

                        Indeed I always count my blessings and let them repeatedly know how lucky I am to have their shop so close to my house - it's the nearest sushi shop for me!

                        It's puzzling to me but Kaito Sushi has yet to be really "discovered"... They're still mainly patronized by an avid group of locals, with a few coming in from more distant parts of the county and even country. Perhaps that's a good thing?

                        Something tells me, though, that this will be the year where it will garner more recognition by the local food blogs and press. Until then it's still very much an almost neighborhood secret! (They don't advertise and they barely have any signage at all...)

                        1. re: cgfan

                          Interesting videos. Thanks for sharing! How many samples were sacrificed during the filming?

                          1. re: Fritter

                            Fritter: Thanks for the comments...

                            ...as to the comment on sampling during the video, well the huge irony of it all is that I'm in the middle of a 2+ week fast from seafood for an upcoming iodine uptake test!

                            I'm not sure which is more excruciating - watching the prep and not being able to consume it, or staying away altogether from the sushi bar until the 2 weeks are up...

                            1. re: cgfan

                              Bummer! ;(

                              1. re: cgfan

                                Great videos cgfan, we just missed you by a few minutes! Sorry you have to miss out for a couple weeks, the Katsuo was especially good again. :-)

                                1. re: Pablo

                                  Pablo: Yes, the Katsuo has been incredible! I still can recall the one we had when veteran Chowhounder Tom Armitage joined us at Kaito. I can still taste the clean minerality of its lean, violet-red flesh. And certainly seeing him quickly fillet the loin, sear it, then serve the sashimi from the whole Katsuo was a sight to see.

                                  As I was talking to Kaz during prep he was saying how at this time the Katsuo are heading North and feeding heavily. So right now they're pretty lean but as they progress up North then start to head back South they get higher and higher in fat content at which point it will have an entirely different taste. It's just amazing how much he knows about the feeding and migratory patterns of so many species of migratory fish!

                                  Can't wait to get back in there... In the meantime hold up the fort!

                        2. How come you didn't take any photos of the blocks of creme cheese. Everyone know that Sushi is suppose to have creme cheese in it (or avacado, or surimi, or brown rice, or ... you get the picture)

                          And they call themselves traditional......

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: bkhuna

                            bkhuna: Well here's your chance to go into your average sushi bar and film their prep... It would be interesting to see...

                            Unbox, unwrap, thaw, straighten out the Japanese scroll (the one that's upside-down but nobody realizes it), done!

                          2. Were the fish and eel prep videos using a deba knife? Also what is the knife used here with the veggies - looks from afar like a conventional Western chef's knife... is it something else?
                            http://www.flickr.com/photos/akatayam...

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: Cinnamon

                              I believe you're correct on both counts, but cannot be sure short of asking the chefs what they each used.

                              1. re: Cinnamon

                                It appears the chef was using a small deba for the fish fabrication and a usuba for ginger

                                1. re: scubadoo97

                                  Thanks both. Debas are tempting to look into.

                              2. Wonderful post and inside scoop! So many folks don't know that most of the time the dude making your sushi (if at a place like this) spend all morning and day prepping.

                                If you get a chance to do this again, I'd love to see tamagoyaki and kanpyo prep footage. Also wonder quite a bit about nikiri making process.

                                You are so lucky to have this place down the street, that is not only a non Michelin star type dining trend hype, but a really skilled classical place! Sure beats the one nearest me that generalizes in everything but specializes in nothing.

                                鮨, if you break down the kanji, the left side means "fish", and the root of the right side character means "fingers".

                                Does Kaito rely on distributors like IMP, or do they use other sources (like from a local fish market or fisherman?)

                                Finally this travelog's issue of sushi (I believe originally posted on the Japan board) is stupendously good reading, sexy photos galore, and includes a Japanese sushi restaurant disciple's day (mostly photographs)

                                http://web-japan.org/nipponia/nipponi...

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: K K

                                  Yes, there's still quite a bit I'd still like to see. They're certainly very open and welcoming about it, so I'm sure if our schedules align just right I'll be back to further document their prep.

                                  Regarding 鮨, yes, the left side is fish, or "Sakana" [JIS 357B], but the right side is "Uma", as in Umai (delicious) [JIS 3B5D].

                                  However the right side, when combined with a left-side "Te-hen" (hand) [Nelson 270], is the kanji for "Yubi", or finger [JIS 3B58].

                                  So in a sense the link to "Yubi" (finger) is, in a sense, one degree of separation further than it's link to "Umai" (delicious).

                                  As far as their distributor for fish, I'm not sure if I can disclose who Kaito uses, other than to say that they use a boutique L.A.-based supplier that caters to only a handful of cutomers in San Diego. They also do sometimes use a regional diver for Uni; however the quality through their diver was not consistent enough to meet their standards, so I believe that source is now used infrequently. (They have to buy the whole catch unopened; I've seen them toss out an entire day's worth for not meeting their standards...)

                                  K K: Thanks for the link. I wonder why I haven't stumbled upon it before. The content reminds me a bit of Kateigaho, a quarterly Japanese arts and culture magazine that I subscribe to at home...

                                  1. re: cgfan

                                    Ah yes, "fish delicous" ... wrist left, right?
                                    "Factually" , there's little (yet quite a bit) to contest with the above.
                                    The loss
                                    the loss, however, ...