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Monday, May 2, 2011

Beyond Sushi: A South Bay Japanese Food Adventure

There's more to Japanese dining than raw fish sushi, teriyaki and tempura

Over the years I'd noticed my foodie friend Carl didn't seem to be a fan of Japanese food so recently I asked him about it. He said he usually orders vegetable tempura (pronounced tem-poo-rah rolling the "r") and watches with a bit of envy as his dining companions relish the opportunity to order raw fish sushi. I've never been a fan of raw fish myself so I suggested he try cooked meat and vegetarian sushi and other less well known dishes instead.

Then it hit me! Our April food adventure could be an opportunity for him to discover a few more dishes he can order besides veggie tempura.

I had a pretty good feeling that Carl would like at least a few of the the foods he would sample that day. It turned out he liked or loved ALL of them!

Our adventure focused on two areas in the South Bay: Winchester Blvd and San Jose's Japantown, one of only three remaining in the United States.


Our day began at Mizu Japanese Restaurant.

Agedashi (Fried) Tofu ($5.95)

I brought Carl to Mizu to try one of my most favorite dishes called Agedashi Tofu (pronounced ah-gay-dah-she). The funny thing is I don't particularly care for tofu but I love it prepared this way. The squares of soft tofu are lightly battered and deep fried then placed in a bowl of broth called dashi (pronounced dah-she). It is often garnished with dried fish flakes, slivered strips of nori seaweed, finely grated daikon radish and freshly sliced green onions.

It's delicious and economical. A typical serving runs around $4 - $6. Combined with a bowl of rice and miso soup it's plenty of food as a meal.

And Carl loved it! Yay!

Wakame Salad ($3.95)

Another favorite is Wakame Seaweed Salad (pronounced wah-kah-may). The seaweed is thinly sliced and flavored with a lightly sweet dressing with hints of sesame and chili pepper flakes.

It was another hit!

Sushi 101 Tutorial

If you already know all you need to about sushi just skip past the yellow box to go straight to April's Food Adventure.


Did you know that "sushi" doesn't mean raw fish?

Sushi actually translates to cooked, vinegar flavored rice that is combined with a wide variety of cooked, pickled and raw toppings and/or fillings. Popular not-raw-meat-options include fried tempura shrimp, deep fried soft shell crab, teriyaki chicken, boiled crab, smoked salmon and BBQ freshwater eel.

Raw fish may be the most well known topping or filling but many other ingredients can be added to the seasoned rice to create sushi including cooked meats, raw, fried and pickled vegetables, nuts, cream cheese, cooked and raw egg, caviar, condiments and even fresh fruit can be found on sushi menus!

Confused? You don't know what qualifies as sushi? Here's a quick sushi tutorial for you. There are three basic types:


1. Maki Sushi (pronounced mah-key) are rolls of rice. Some are wrapped in nori (pronounced no-rhee rolling the "r") while others may be wrapped with rice on the outside or other toppings like avocado, illustrated above. They can be large or small and can contain one topping or as many as ten or more! They can range in price from as little as $1.50 for 6 small pieces with cucumber in the center to over $20+ for a large fancy roll that usually consists of 8 pieces and multiple gourmet toppings or filllings.


My Favorite Maki Sushi Restaurant is Michi Sushi in Campbell

Michi Sushi's rolls range from $7.50 to $35.00

Pictured here: Orange Blossom ($22.00), Pookie Roll ($19.75), and the third roll was a custom roll.

LOL When I messaged Michi Sushi to find out what the name of the third roll was I was told it will now be called the Flirty Blog Roll :)

Inside: Cucumber, Mango, Kani
On top: Slices of Avocado, Unagi Sauce, Macadamia Nuts, Tobiko, and a hint of Love.

At Michi Sushi they use an incredible variety of ingredients to create gorgeous and decadent rolls! Pictured above you can spot salmon, avocado, faux crab, fresh mango, cucmber, thinly sliced green onions, macadamia nuts, honey and caviar known as tobiko (toe-bee-ko).

Vegetarian Sushi at Mizu and Apple Inc.'s Cafeteria

Left are Garden Rolls at Mizu filled with avocado, asparagus, cucumber, kaiware (radish sprouts), green leaf, oshinko (pickled daikon) & yamagobo (sweet gourd strip) wrapped in a thin layer of toasted seaweed.

To the right are rolls from Cafe Macs ($1.50 for 6 pcs) filled with fresh cucumber, pickled daikon radish and fresh avocado sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds wrapped in seaweed.

"Sake" Nigiri is Smoked Salmon with Wasabi

2. Nigiri Sushi (pronounced knee-gee-rhee rolling the "r") is a small pat of hand formed rice with a topping laid over it and is usually served in pairs. The toppings are often strips of raw fish, cooked egg, cooked and raw shrimp, BBQ'ed freshwater eel, octopus and more.


Here is my dog Kitai dressed up in his custom, couture, Smoked Salmon Nigiri dog costume for Halloween in 2005.


3. Temaki (pronounced tey-mah-key) are the least common of the three popular sushi styles. Temaki (aka Hand Rolls) are cones of seaweed filled with rice and toppings. Michi Sushi makes incredible hand rolls. You can see two in a post I did last year if you CLICK HERE.


Next we went to Sushi Boat Kazoo in Campbell


There is a dining-at-tables area but I wanted Carl to sit at the sushi boat bar so he could see all the different kinds of sushi pass by.


The boats circle around the bar in a moat of water. Each carries three plates of sushi, or in this case also appetizers and desserts, allowing diners to pick and choose which plates they want. You can also order directly from the sushi chefs in the center of the bar area who continuously refill the boats with more sushi.


Carl tried three kinds of sushi. Clock wise from the top are:

Umekyu Maki ($2.50)  filled with tart, pickled, umeboshi plums and fresh cucumber strips and wrapped in nori seaweed

Oshinko Maki ($1.90) filled with a piece of sweet, crunchy, pickled, daikon radish and wrapped in nori seaweed

Santa Cruz Rolls ($3.50) filled with tempura shrimp, fresh avocado and nori seaweed wrapped in slices of fresh avocado and drizzled with teriyaki sauce. Carl is pescatarian (not vegetarian) which means he does eat fish and seafood from time to time so the fried shrimp wasn't an issue.

He tried three, liked two and loved the Santa Cruz roll. At last! Sushi he can enjoy too!


If you go to a sushi boat sushi bar you'll find a pricing diagram affixed to the bar or as a menu. The way sushi is priced is by the pattern of the dish the sushi is placed on so you can keep track of what you're spending as you eat.


This was funny. LOL you won't see chocolate cream pie come around on a sushi boat at every sushi boat restaurant.


Our next stop was Kumako in San Jose's Japantown.

I'd been here once before and really enjoyed the vegetarian ramen noodle soup with the vegetarian broth.


While most people are familiar with the ubiquitous Top Ramen soup found in their local grocery stores, not everyone has had restaurant style ramen soup before. They are quite different.


We split this bowl of Vegetarian Ramen ($9.95)


The toppings included fresh tofu, bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, radish sprouts and green onions. I had to pull the noodles out from under the toppings to show them to you. After taking this photo I poured broth over them and ate them all up!


If you live near a Japanese market you may be able to find fresh ramen noodle soup in the refrigerator section. This fresh package came with a broth packet to add as the soup base.

This is an inexpensive dry ramen I made at home. After adding fresh asparagus, sugar snap peas and fresh daikon to the soup it was much healthier and pretty gourmet. Even if you don't have any fresh veggies handy you can always add frozen corn, carrots and green beans to the soup. It turns a not so nutritional noodle soup into a fantastic way to eat more veggies.

Daikon Salad ($4.00)

We also ordered a julienned daikon radish and carrot salad with a miso dressing topped with more radish sprouts. The dressing was a bit salty/strong for my taste but I really love fresh daikon so I ate half the bowl. Daikon is crunchy, light and full of health benefits.

Una Don ($4.00) is Unagi, pickled ginger and radish sprouts

By then Carl was willing to try Unagi (pronounced ooh-nah-gee) which is BBQ freshwater eel. When people hear the word eel they usually cringe or recoil a little or a lot but if they try it, they almost always enjoy it. The meat is very mild in flavor, tender and is always served filleted and coated in a sweet teriyaki style glaze. He liked it!

Unfortunately I just learned Unagi is on the Seafood Watch list meaning it's sustainability is threatened :( So if you enjoy it, you may want to order it sparingly for special occasions and not every week.

Mission accomplished? Not quite yet. There was still dessert just two doors down.


We are so lucky. The Shuei-Do Manju Shop is one of the best, if not the best, manju shop in the nation. It's best described as being like a Japanese patisserie. They make their confections fresh each day and as the day goes on they'll sell out of the most popular choices.

The Manjus range from $1.30 to 1.50 each, cash only.

Carl sampled four that day:
Top left: White Inaka baked and filled with whole adzuki beans
Top right: Kuri baked and filled with smooth white beans
Lower left: Yomogi chewy sweet rice filled with smooth adzuki beans (mugwort)
Lower right: Pink Shiro chewy sweet rice filed with smooth white beans

Carl doesn't have a sweet tooth so I wouldn't have been surprised if he didn't care for them but he did like them and his family LOVED the leftovers he brought home to share with them.


Here is an example (not from Shuei-Do) of what the white lima bean paste looks like on the inside wrapped in the sweet chewy rice.

So Carl tried nine new things and enjoyed all nine of them. That exceeded even my expectations!


Just for fun I wanted to introduce Carl, and you, to Nikaku Japanese Arts and Crafts, one of my favorite stores not just in Japantown but all of San Jose. I've bought many kitchen tools and serving ware pieces, lots of origami paper and gifts here over the years.

Carl purchased a really unique and beautiful vase while we were there.

Dishes, ikebana containers/vases, origami paper and sushi molds at Nikaku

They have a little bit of everything and all of it is from Japan. If you go down to Japantown to eat you should stop by and take a peek for yourself.

And we were done!

I hope this post may have relieved any fears or anxieties you've ever had about sushi and opened the door to trying new dishes the next time you go to a Japanese restaurant. Just like Carl you may discover you're a fan after all and never again will you choose to sit at home while your friends or family go out to eat Japanese or feel left out as you watch your dining companions enjoy their food more than you :) You'll be right there enjoying your food right alongside them!

If you enjoyed this post you'll probably like these too:

Meet the Kids on The Harley Farms Goat Dairy Tour
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