OSAKA, JAPAN (THE JAPAN TIMES/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Yoshino Sushi has been making sushi in Osaka for more than 170 years, and has become well known for its hako (boxed) sushi, where the rice and seafood are pressed together in a rectangular wooden mould. Made from cypress wood, the mold creates sushi so pretty it could be mistaken for confectionery. A version of the mold is also used as Yoshino Sushi’s logo, and can be seen outside the restaurant’s three locations scattered around central Osaka.
The flagship store, a 25-minute walk from Osaka Station, was remodeled a few years ago. Out went the zashiki (floor seating) in favour of a more modern, austere setting with tables and chairs. A place at the beautiful Japanese cypress wood counter is the best seat in the house.
Hako sushi features prominently on the menu, but there are alternatives. No bite-size sushi came with my Mushizushisen set lunch (¥3,000, S$38.14), a seasonal option that is only offered in winter. Instead, the meal’s centerpiece — the mushizushi — was a bowl of steamed rice topped with bright yellow threads of sweetened omelet.
Lunch opened with an exquisite barracuda carpaccio. Chef Daisuke Sakaue first gave the petit fillets a quick flame-grilling before adding spinach and persimmon to the mix and coating them in konbu (kelp) jelly. Barracuda, a meaty fish I don’t come across often in Japan, was an excellent match with the briny spinach, sweet persimmon and kelp marinade — and it looked stunning.
On the menu, the image of the mushizushi looks bigger than it actually is. Its size and bright yellow topping caught my eye, but the bowl that arrived was a little underwhelming. What’s inside, however, is not your standard bowl of white rice. Rice is so quotidian in Japan that it can easily fade into the background. Not at Yoshino Sushi: The rice here is simple, elegant and deceptively filling. There are no free refills, but I doubt I could have made room for any more.
In the Mushizushi set, the rice contains thick pieces of shitake mushroom, anago (conger eel) and little flecks of nori seaweed. The yellow threads of dashi tamagoyaki (dashi-sweetened omelet) on top are delicious, if a little too sweet. Chef Sakaue explains that the shitake mushrooms are sourced from Oita Prefecture and slow-cooked for hours in soy sauce before being added to the steamed rice.
Lunch was rounded out with a delicate shiro miso, a lighter, less salty type of miso soup.
A meal at Yoshino Sushi will give you a new appreciation of rice, which is not only the basis for gauging good sushi but for understanding so much else in Japan.