Reading takes you places. After reading ‘The Culinary Calling In Tokyo’ in Wall Street Journal, I put a note in my Evernote to remind me to dine at Shiojiri Jozojo. Lucky for me, the chance arrived earlier than I expected.
Again, I don’t have much time for this personal blog (too many things to do in Tokyo to sit in the hotel to write a novel) and the reason of its existence is to document interesting things I don’t want to forget. So here’s some interesting facts and a lot of photos:
- Reservation I did not know that this restaurant does not accept walk-in diners. What’s amazing is that its fully booked in June! We were very lucky to have gotten a spot on the same day. If I buy lottery, I think I would strike.
- Communication Unfortunately, the chef and his staff speak little English. Part of the enjoyment of fine dining is understanding the science/art/idea behind each dish. Though I must applaud them for trying their best to explain to us. The waiter use a translation app on his iPad.
- Menu Don’t expect an English menu; there are none. It’s omakase style. It means the chef will choose for you/ menu is decided.
- Price It cost 8000 yen. When I read the article late last year, it was only 5000 yen. Looks like it’s high in demand!
- Course I didn’t even know how many courses we’ll have or what will come next. Surprisingly, it makes dining so exciting as I wonder what amazing thing will be on the table next.
- Time Our reservation was at 6 am and we ended after 8.30 pm. It took us about 2 1/2 hours to savour the food.
- Food Everything served here contained fermented food. The chef made everything from scratch including seasonings like soy sauce. That’s a 6 years old soy sauce which he extract right before serving. So precious! (I wasn’t sure if it was rude to go near the chef so I was looking from faraway with my head stuck out. I wish I can smell it!)
- Ambience WSJ reports there is only 19 seats, but it feels much smaller than it. There were only 4 people (including us) that night.
- Hospitality Chef Nobuaki Fushiki is the friendliest, most hospitable chef I know. He gave me some homemade miso to take home as gifts and insisted on giving us umbrellas as it was raining. He was there all the time, explaining to me in limited English and searching for translations upon seeing my interest in his bottles of bubbling food.
I would normally bring home the menu from fine dining restaurants but there’s none in this. Here’s an explanation from all that I can remember:
#1 – I started with a fermented drink made from apple and yeast. It’s sweet, fruity and with some depth. Definitely a good start!
#2- The appetiser was tasting pure fermented food, I feel. It’s two different type of miso, salted fish, fermented duck (which was hanging in the restaurant like jamon in Spain)
#3 – Looks like chawan mushi but it’s not. It tofu with broth and eel (?) at the bottom. It’s sprinkled with black pepper. Soft, warm, umami and spicy. Very interesting.
#5 – This is the most meaningful dish. Four sushi with a side of pickles. The first one is 2000 years ago – just fish. The second, is 500 (?) years ago – probably when sushi was created. The third is now – salmon sushi with a lot of rice (does it mean abundance?) and the last sushi represents the future, rice was replaced with avocado, indicating people are getting more health-conscious (?). So profound!
#6 – When he bought a plate of vegetables on a bamboo tray, I was like ‘huh?’. But that’s not the star. It’s the stuff on the aromatherapy burner (looks more like for essential oil than for cheese/chocolate fondue!). Chef created this special sauce. He wrote down the ingredients for me somewhere…
#7 – Chicken skewers/ yakitori. He said ‘fermented chicken’. As far as I know, fermented food are usually dried. Perhaps its chicken marinated/ glazed with fermented seasoning like soy sauce.
#8 – Dessert with sweet potato, chestnut and almond. The chef explained that he used glucose not sugar. If he spoke English, I have so many more questions for him!
There were a few more dishes but this is all for now. Sorry!
I was study-reading ‘The Art of Fermentation’ by Sandor Katz among many other books, devoured every article on this subject and even made fermented food/drinks (try my simple Ginger-ale recipe!). So you can imagine my excitement to finally try homemade and unpasteurized amazake, miso and shoyu. Things in books suddenly come to life!
Though I think I might know about fermented food more than most people, I must say that evening had taken by surprise. It was the most bizarre meal I’ve ever had.
To say that I thoroughly enjoyed all dishes would be a lie. Rather, it opened up my mind and palate to new taste and idea. It was very different from regular meals or even fine dining restaurant.
Chef Fushiki made all the fermented food from scratch. No miso from the supermarket. It’s made with koji. It’s hard to imagine fermented food can get more authentic than this.
I was thinking to myself that before industrialisation and commercialism, this was what food is suppose to taste like. How different it’ll be! So if you plan to pay this restaurant a visit, go with an empty stomach and an open mind (I was boggled and stuffed). I must warn you that Japanese fermented cuisine is not for the faint-hearted!