The art of soba: Muto in Nihonbashi (Tokyo)

Sitting in my room in Tokyo last year, suddenly a desire striked me: I love soba and what could be a better place to taste those lovely noodles than Japan itself ?! So I was looking for a restaurant that served classic soba menus.

So I started to google around a bit and found a wonderful article about Muto Soba in Nihonbashi. Finding the small restaurant in „real life“ was trickier than I thought though. After walking around the block 3 times and not finding it, I googled the Kanji for the restaurant’s name and looked for that…which was more successful.

Muto soba-ya: Outside

Muto soba-ya: Outside

Muto soba-ya: Kanji

Muto soba-ya: Kanji

Muto is a very small place. I was received by a middle aged lady (I think it was the chef’s wife) who told me – a little bit scared that a stranger found his way here – that there is only a 5-course fixed menu. After accepting that she guided me to my table in a small room. Soon she thawed and was very friendly and tried hard to talk to me in english which was really sweet. I started with a beer.

Turnip soup

Turnip soup

The first greeting was a turnip soup, very dense though elegant and full of taste. It was simple, yet beautiful. After some time Mr. Muto came to my table and we talked for a while. He is not only a wonderful cook but a very kind and polite person.

Dumpling of soba dough filled with fatty pig in a clear broth

Dumpling of soba dough filled with fatty pig in a clear broth

The next course was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten: A bit of Mr. Muto’s raw soba dough which literally melted on the tongue and built a mellow ground for the intense, meaty filling. This taste bomb was balanced by some horseraddish and greens, that added complexity to the dish. Just wonderful.

Cured baby fish

Cured baby fish

In the meantime I changed to Sake. It went perfect with the small cured fish – they have the texture of toffee. Kind of chewy and a bit sweet, perfect with the clean taste of sake.

Tempura (fish and wild vegetables)

Tempura (fish and wild vegetables)

Then some tempura was served. There was some fish (I think it were sardines) and wild vegetables, I’ve never seen in my life. The fish was perfectly fresh and tasted clean, the vegetables were wonderfully green and had bitter notes. The highlight in this course was the perfect execution: Only an idea of dough surrounded the pieces, fried to wonderful crunchyness. Not a bit fatty or heavy – you wouldn’t believe that fried food can be this elegant. Together with the dip this was shere perfection.

Soba

Soba

Then the main course came: SOBA. Mister Muto serves soba seiro style, meaning that the cold noodles are presented on a bamboo tray next to the rest of the ingredients. And what should I say – the noodles were the shere idea of soba. Nutty, crunchy, earthy – the beauty of simplicity. Together with the incredibly intense sauce they were a wonderful meal. Again different raddishes gave additional complexity.

In the meantime two gentlemen had started eating opposite of me. I tried to eat the (rather long) noodles „european style“ as I’ve learned from my childhood on…making no noise. At some point the lady came to me, looked somehow pityful at me and said „no no no“. Looking back at her she said: „You have to make noise. Japanese style“ and showed me with gestures how to eat. This was maybe the most beautiful service experience ever 🙂 So I started so sip loudly. But compared to what the two gentlemen next to me did some minutes afterwards I was still…silent.

Dip sauce with soba cooking water

Dip sauce with soba cooking water

After finishing the soba themselves I was served a vessel with cooking water of soba noodles. The dip sauce together with the water were blended into a thick umami-bomb-soup. This soup, containing all the wonderful components of the main course, was everything toghether: A childhood meal, a warm soup on a cold day, the soup your mother gave you when you were sick, the meal you will have when being old. It was all together. Simple, pure beauty. This is the soup I will never ever forget.

Desert (red bean mousse with roasted nuts)

Desert (red bean mousse with roasted nuts)

The desert was very good too, nutty and light.

Visiting Muto soba was a wonderful experience. It was not only an unforgettable meal but also a very good experience of Japanese hospitality. When I left Mr. Muto greeted me, gave me his card (excusing that it is only in Japanese) and even shaked my hand – an act that I appreciated very much (normally Japanese people seem not to be comfortable with it). So thank you, Mr. Muto!

Neue Veröffentlichung: Aufsatz zum Thema Selbstreferentialität in Graphic Novels

Im Anschluss an die wunderbare Tagung des Netzwerkes zu „Hoher/Niederer Literatur“ in Yamaguchi (Japan) ist nunmehr auch der Tagungsband erschienen:

Zwischen Kanon und Unterhaltung

Zwischen Kanon und Unterhaltung

In meinem darin enthaltenen Aufsatz untersuche ich das Phänomen, dass sich AutorInnen von Graphic Novels immer wieder selbst zeichnen und damit in ihre Werke einschreiben. Das Vollzitat des Aufsatzes lautet:

Wenn der Zeichner sich selbst zeichnet. Selbstreferentialität in Graphic Novels. – In: Annie Bourguignon/Konrad Harrer/Franz Hintereder-Emde (Hg.): Zwischen Kanon und Unterhaltung. Interkulturelle und intermediale Aspekte von hoher und niederer Literatur. Berlin: Frank & Timme, S. 71-88.

Lieben Dank an die engagierten und großartigen Herausgeber – vor allem an Franz und Konrad und ihre Hilfe bei der Finalisierung des Beitrages!

Please get in line for Sushi Dai…and wait 3 hours

Last year I had the chance to visit Tokyo for a conference. Having a really hard jet lag it was not much of a thing to get up at 3 in the morning to visit Tsukiji fish market and see the tuna auctions. After the auction I headed for a sushi breakfast at Sushi Dai, a sushi place very famous on the net.

Sushi Dai is listed as one of the places to go for Sushi – beside the Michelin-starred high end sushi-yas. Many visitors claim, that they’ve had something like „Michelin-quality“ (whatever that is) for a much cheaper price. When I read about queuing for 3 to 4 hours I thought it would be an urban myth. But as I went over rigth after the tuna auction had ended, I found this:

Sushi Dai - The queue

Sushi Dai – The queue

And it was like…6:30 in the morning! Since there was nothing to do I lined up and: waited. A long time nothing went on, a lot of folks from China. It took a while until I found somebody for a chat. The thing is: After waiting for 2 hours there’s no way back. Losing 2 hours seems worse than waiting another one 🙂 At least I could take a walk, since a buddy kept my place in the line. A lady from the sushi-ya even brought us some tea since it was quite cold.

Just a few more steps...

Just a few more steps…

The worst part was actually the end: About 3/4 of an hour you see the shop – you are right in front of it and wait. All in all I waited 3.5 hours to get in. The good thing: I had nothing else to do anyway 🙂

Sushi Dai - Inside

Sushi Dai – Inside

It is a tiny place with maybe 8 or 10 seats. I sat down and my sushi chef greeted me. After ordering the omakase (fixed menu, but very unusual for a Japanese menu you can choose one last bit by yourself). The selection was in contrast to Europe excellent – for high quality sushi-ya it was rather conventional though. The overall fish quality was good. But have a look:

Sea bass with salt and chu-toro

Sea bass with salt and chu-toro

Both excellent – I liked their rather lean chu-toro very much. The sea bass with a twist of salt was very fresh and tasty.

Tamagoyaki

Tamagoyaki

I am not a big fan of tamagoyaki anyway. This was quite sweet, but far too cold.

 

Red Snapper

Red Snapper

Nice fleshy texture, clean taste. Very good, also with the chewy twist of the skin that formed a good contrast.

Uni - sea urchin roe

Uni – sea urchin roe

The sea urchin was actually very good, but served too cold. The taste was excellent – like a mustardy sea-ice-cream.

Mackerel

Mackerel

Soft, intense, beautiful. I just love mackerel!

Clam

Clam

The clam was served „alive“ (though I think it was a trick stimulating the nerves). Very firm with a waxy core texture. Nice.

Maguro (tuna loin)

Maguro (tuna loin)

Guilty pleasure: Blue fin tuna loin. Amazing, like liquid wax.

Maki rolls

Maki rolls

The maki were rather conventional. Good but nothing special.

White fish

White fish

Slightly grilled/flamed white fish. Was good, but nothing more.

Stuffed calamari

Stuffed calamari

My greek grandmother would make it similar to this 🙂

Tuna trinity - Magura, chu-toro, o-toro

Tuna trinity – Magura, chu-toro, o-toro

The o-toro was not 100% my thing. It was not very beautifully marbled and had a bit of a sluggish aftertaste.

Shrimp, chu-toro - abalone

Shrimp, chu-toro – abalone

The shrimp had a soft, waxy texture with a clean taste. And the abalone…well, this one was extremely chewy. I think they didn’t cut it perfectly, since usually the cut makes it at least „biteable“.

Baby shrimp - scallop

Baby shrimp – scallop

The baby shrimp were great, very sweet and rich. The scallop was not special, rather neutral.

My personal sushi chef

My personal sushi chef.

My visit at Sushi Dai was surely nice. I had a LOT of sushi in decent quality and payed about 70 Euros with drinks for a satisfying breakfast. Not to mention that I could hardly move out of Tsukiji market afterwards 🙂

Sushi-Dai is not compearable to a Michelin-starred sushi-ya, don’t let the internet fool you about that. Regarding temperature, cut, variation, fish quality and finishing this place is good average. Rest assured – the Sushi is far better than in any standard European sushi-place. But from what I’ve learned in a REALLY good sushi place, it does not reflect the very idea of Japanese sushi. But that is another story…