The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G.K. Chesterton

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Exquisite Edomae Sushi @ Karaku, Ginza (Tokyo)

When our Japanese tutor found out that Rob and I love love love sushi, she recommended a sushi restaurant in Ginza which she thought served the best Edomae sushi in Tokyo. Apparently she's not alone in that thought because Karaku has been featured in magazines, on websites and even on national television! It is an establishment that has been around for 20 years, and it's no surprise that the sushi-ya maintains a strong reputation because the owner, Chef Togawa, was already highly acclaimed as head chef at one of Tokyo's leading high-class sushi restaurants, Nakata. Our tutor did warn us that the food is quite expensive, and advised that visiting during lunch time when more affordable sets and meals are available would be a lot nicer on our pockets. One of Rob's American collegues said he felt like eating sushi, and knowing that we regularly eat sushi, suggested that we go eat sushi together on the weekend. It gave us reason to try out a recommended place!

Edo is the name given to Tokyo around 200 years ago, and a popular type of food in that era consisted of fish and shellfish caught off the shores of Edo, which were lightly preserved with vinegar, salt and other seasonings, and then laid on shari (vinegared rice). It is said that Edomae (literally translates to "Edo front") sushi is the ancestor of modern day sushi. With that in mind, most of the sushi toppings and fillings at Karaku have undergone some form of preparation rather than presented as it is. The fish and shellfish are prepared one or more days before being served. The restaurant itself is quite small, with only perhaps eight seats at the counter and a couple of private tatami rooms. Naturally, we opted to seat at the counter, which is the best place to be in a sushi restaurant. The kitchen and work bench were kept meticulously clean and spotless at all times, as it ought to be (the high standard of food hygiene in Japan is one of the reasons why I don't think it's such a health risk to eat sushi and raw food in Japan while pregnant. Indeed, many Japanese would be surprised to find out that pregnant women in other countries are advised to stay away from raw fish). Karaku caters well to the English-speaking foreign clientele, with English menu available (presented to us even when not requested!), and Chef Togawa also speaks good English. The price of courses start from 3150yen (~AU$31).

Chef Togawa at work to prepare our lunch:

I went for the Chirashizushi Set (3150yen) while Rob ordered the 7-piece Sushi Set (3150yen) that also came with a roll of kanpyo (dried gourd) sushi. Both sets came with clear soup with a small amount of noodles and a strip of fried tofu skin. I loved the variety and colours of sashimi (raw fish) and cooked items in my bowl of chirashizushi, which included maguro no zuke (marinated tuna), madai (red sea bream), anago (conger eel), gyoku (an egg 'cake' that had a spongy texture due to the addition of white-meat fish paste; not the usual tamagoyaki that we're used to), kohada (shad), crabmeat, hotate (scallop), ika (squid), ikura (salmon roe) and a couple of others that I don't know the names of. The kuri (chestnut) was a lovely sweet surprise in the midst of all the seafood. Every item in the bowl was beautifully fresh - something that you can enjoy visually and taste-wise. The shari (sushi rice) had the perfect balance of sweet and sour and a lovely texture.


As for Rob's sushi set, he informed me that everything on his plate was excellent. I love kanpyo sushi for its simple, uncomplicated flavour, and I ate a couple of these from Rob's plate.

Sushi Set with the kanpyo sushi:

Rob then asked Chef Togawa for his o-susume (recommendations), and the chef whipped out the o-toro (fatty tuna belly). Over the past year of regularly eating sushi, we've come to recognise good melt-in-your-mouth o-toro, or grisly chewy o-toro, and the ones the Chef used were the perfectly marbled types. Rob and his collegue eagerly ordered one each, while I look on longingly. (For the benefit of those who are not aware of the reason why I haven't been indulging in maguro (tuna) lately: tuna flesh contains high mercury content, and especially unfortunately for me, pollutants tend to accumulate around in the fatty areas of fish). Before Chef prepared the o-toro, he warned that one piece would cost 1500yen (~AU$15), because he only sourced fresh tuna meat and not frozen ones as is usual at most sushi restaurants. Not blinking their eyelids, Rob and Chris were still eagerly nodding their approval. This is one of the few nigirizushi that is presented as it is without any prior preparation or marination, simply because it is the best way to savour the gorgeous flavour and texture of o-toro. I know it tasted good even without Rob having to tell me.


Then Rob asked for more o-susume, and Chef Togawa took out a container of tai (sea bream) marinating in a sauce that included shoyu (soy sauce) and goma abura (sesame oil). This was excellent - the flesh was very tender and had the melt-in-your-mouth texture, and the flavour of the marinade was really good. Chef looked a bit surprised when Rob asked for one more recommendation, and he presented the skin of the tai. It was served hot and fresh from the oven, and it was surprisingly soft and tender (I'd half-expected the skin to be chewy).

Tai and its baked skin:

The bill for the three of us came to around 17,000yen (~AU170), which made it a pretty expensive lunch, but we all felt that the food fitted the bill. I am so glad that I can still eat sushi and sashimi even when pregnant! Afterwards, we went across the road to Pierre Marcolini for some ice-cream.

Double-scoop cone with hazelnut praline and chocolate:


  1. Good quality!
    Your photo proves the quality. They looks really great.
    On the other hand, it is sad all good "edomae" fish are sold out to authentic restaurants in Tokyo. It is really hard to buy such good fish for daily table in Tokyo. Quite strange, it is rather easier here in NY.
    See you soon in Tokyo.

  2. Yum!
    Wow ... I'm impressed by the diversity and quality of the sushi. It all looks so delicious! I'm currently compiling a list of things to see and do when I go to Japan next year and this definitely makes the list.
    Marie :)

  3. Re: Good quality!
    Yeah it's a shame that the general public don't have access to the 'edomae'-quality fish.
    Hope you enjoyed the foodie experiences in NYC as much as we did!

  4. Re: Yum!
    It's awesome - you'll be blown away by the number of different types of sushi you can get in Japan compared to the limited types we eat in Australia. Glad my blog could help you!