If you knew sushi . . .

A raw-fish fan gets to grips with an an­cient sta­ple

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - CATHER­INE MAR­SHALL

MY ap­petite for a fine sushi din­ner has been piqued at Shimizu Sushi Mu­seum in Shizuoka City on Ja­pan’s main is­land of Hon­shu. Strolling through a re- cre­ated 100-year-old vil­lage filled with para­sols and rice bar­rels and tem­ples, I dis­cover that sushi is a food­stuff first eaten by the Ja­panese in its sim­plest, fish-only form more than 2000 years ago.

Its evo­lu­tion was grad­ual, with vine­gar- spiked, fer­mented rice added to the fish as a preser­va­tive around AD1400, and the sushi with which most of us are fa­mil­iar — fish and rice rolls sealed in a layer of kelp — made an ap­pear­ance in the 1700s.

At nearby Tairyo Ichiba sushi res­tau­rant, I an­tic­i­pate a sim­ple sup­per but haven’t reck­oned on the diver­sity of seafood served up in this city that lives off the ocean’s fruits.

My meal starts with del­i­cate shrimp tem­pura and a hot pot lined with con­certi­naed pa­per and filled with crab, clams, cod, shrimp, squid and a rich miso broth. A flame be­neath the pot causes the broth to bub­ble and hiss around the juicy cara­paces bob­bing within.

These cour­ses leave me re­plete, but there is more to come — chawan mushi (cus­tardy steamed egg with fish and mush­rooms); crispy fried abalone served inside its pearles­cent shell; and sushi that some­how looks more authen­tic and grown-up than the sushi I eat back home. There are six lit­tle mounds of rice on this plat­ter, each with raw seafood draped art­fully across. There’s red shell mol­lusc, roe-scat­tered sea­weed, but­ter­flied prawn, sea bream, crab and glazed ocean eel, which con­tains less fat, I’m told, than its fresh­wa­ter coun­ter­part. I lift these morsels to my mouth with my fin­gers, hav­ing learned at the mu­seum that true sushi lovers never use chop­sticks.

This is a feast fit for an em­peror, but now there is a yel­lowfin tuna worth about $3000 ly­ing fat, glassy-eyed and shiny on the bench. Un­der the watch­ful eye of the res­tau­rant’s chef and pres­i­dent, Miyazaki Shinji, young fish­cut­ting spe­cial­ist Kawase Toru slices con­fi­dently through the tuna’s sil­ver-grey skin. He re­moves the head and seg­ments the body, lift­ing out thick, pink flanks, cradling them as though they are ba­bies; then he scrapes the bones clean with a spoon.

The ex­posed tuna fil­let is silken, its colours graded from white to deep red. Shinji slices it into sashimi sliv­ers and hands them to me on a plate. The red flesh, okomi, is ‘‘like or­di­nary fish’’, he says dis­mis­sively; the pink flesh, chutoro, is ‘‘mid­dle of the range’’; but the white flesh, otoro, is most valu­able of all. Sweet and fatty, it melts in a pool on my tongue.

Shinji holds aloft the de­nuded bones, and the fish’s yel­low fins frame a skele­ton of which I’ve con­sumed just a frac­tion — just as well, con­sid­er­ing the fish’s value.

CATHER­INE MAR­SHALL

Toru turns his at­ten­tion to mak­ing fish broth from the tuna’s head, and re­coup­ing the fatty, tasty meat and eyes for a spe­cial menu. Shinji looks up at the bones, still held aloft, and laughs. ‘‘It looks like I’ve eaten it all my­self . . .’’ Cather­ine Mar­shall was a guest of JTB Cen­tral Ja­pan and Sin­ga­pore Air­lines.

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