Bowled Over by Donburi and Chirashi in Tokyo
Seafood on rice. Given the quality of these two ingredients in Japan, I’m always eager to indulge in any dish of this nature. During my recent trip to Tokyo, I enjoyed three distinct versions of seafood on rice, including one version that included three different ways of eating it.
My first stop was Poseidon, in Shimbashi. (Shimbashi or Shinbashi? I’ve yet to figure out why it’s sometimes an “m” and sometimes an “n.”) I love the name, which plays on the Japanese word “don,” meaning “bowl”. Poseidon serves donburi (a rice bowl dish, with the bowl typically ceramic), specifically kaisen-don, which is a bowl of sushi rice topped with sashimi. Their namesake bowl comes with a wide variety of seafood, but I was intrigued with the more simple bowls.
For example, a bowl with all ikura (salmon roe) is 1,000 yen at lunchtime. Replace some of the eggs with actual salmon slices, and the price drops to 800 yen. There’s a tempting bowl that’s half ikura and half uni (sea urchin) for 2,100 yen, but loving the sweetness of scallop, I sacrificed a bit of both to get the scallop, ikura, and uni bowl for 1,800 yen. (All bowls come with miso soup.) Order and the donburi comes quickly, full of fresh, oceanic flavor, though the size of the bowl was disappointingly small.
I stayed a few nights right near Tsukiji, which gave me a great opportunity to explore the fish market. While much of the action is in the morning, dinner one night was at Tsukiji Itadori Uogashi Senryo. Here, nearly everyone orders the Ganso Kaisen Hitsumabushi, which I believe roughly translates to Original Mixed Seafood Bowl. This dish is a type of chirashizushi; chirashi means “scattered,” so it’s sashimi pieces scattered on sushi rice.
For 2,100 yen, you get a “hitsu” (the wooden bowl for chirashizushi, not as tall as a don for donburi) of rice topped with ikura, uni, maguro (tuna), and other small pieces of fresh-catch fish. The workers will help explain the three ways to eat this dish. Basically, you first eat one-third with wasabi and soy sauce, leaving out the uni. Second, you mix in the uni (with wasabi and soy sauce) to eat some that way. Finally, you pour dashi (fish broth) over the remaining third to enjoy as ochazuke.
My third seafood-on-rice meal was at omborato (their lower-case spelling) at the Hyatt Regency Tokyo in Nishi-Shinjuku. This was a rather elegant affair, with my lunchtime “Special Chirashi Sushi” comprised of a small appetizer, sashimi, chirashizushi, Japanese pickles, soup, and dessert for $4,200 yen. Service was attentive at omborato, and the attention to detail extended to every aspect of the food.
The chirashi was very delicate, with precisely cut pieces of renkon (lotus root), snow pea tips, carrot cubes, kampyo (Japanese gourd), baby corn bits, shiitake mushrooms, ikura, kohada (gizzard shad), ebi (shrimp), and nori shreds in the lacquered hitsu. This was a bowl to eat with the eyes as well as the mouth.
If the chirashizushi bowl lacked in seafood compared to other places, the bowl of sashimi made up for it. Inside I found ika (squid), maguro, aji (mackerel), hirame (flounder), tairagai (a type of Japanese shellfish), fish cake, and komochi kombu (herring roe on kelp), along with tamago (egg) and shiitake mushrooms. All the fish was beautifully cut, fresh, and delicious, with unusual items like the komochi kombu elevating the experience.
Actually, as I think back to my seafood-on-rice dishes in Tokyo, if I can be liberal with the definition, I should mention my favorite: the uni set I ate for breakfast at Suzuki Fisheries in Tsukiji. This little eatery/seafood shop is just up the main road from one of the popular Sushi Dai places. (The address, if helpful, is 4-11-2 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku.) You can buy little trays of uni to go for 1,000 yen. But why do that when, for the same exact price, you can take a seat and treat yourself to an amazing meal that comes with miso soup, rice, a small piece of simmered fish, a smattering of maguro, some pickles, and that whole tray of uni? Lesson to learn: do it yourself, and you’ll get great value with this seafood on rice.