Sushi in Tokyo

As a vegetarian of 19 years, I’ve had to modify my strict no-fish rule in Asia. Korea is nowhere near as meat-heavy as Russia, but I just accept that there will be fish broth in soups, kimchi and rice rolls. Japan is even harder for vegetarians – at least for those without local knowledge – so I became a pescetarian for a week and decided to eat sushi. It quickly became an addiction. I don’t like cooked fish, and the taste of raw fish flesh is a little stomach-churning. But soaked in soy sauce and wasabi, accompanied by seaweed and rice, it’s soft, chewy, salty and spicy. As a vegetarian I have nothing to compare it to, except maybe faux-sushi.

Real Japanese sushi slides around on a conveyer belt, with the chefs standing in the middle. They’re required to shout greetings when you walk in, which is rather nice after a hard day’s touring. You can pluck what’s sliding past, or you can ask them to make you something from the menu by pointing at it. Plates are colour-coded by price, and the closer to major shopping areas you get, the higher they are. But there was no difference in quality between a 160 ($1.60) yen plate in classy Harajuku and a 100 yen plate in seedy Shibuya. This shop, in Shimo-Kitazawa, started at 120 a plate – you can see the colour-coded ovals in the middle – and stood out for me for its plain, 1980s decor:

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I was digging the marbled turquoise pleather and faux-granite tiling, but mainly I was digging the food. I got addicted: I could have had pizza, pasta, even Thai food, but about 8pm every night I began craving raw fish. My waistline got pudgier, but I couldn’t stop.

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When I saw Life of Pi here in Seoul, and the main character apologised to the fish for killing it, the audience laughed. I remember being mildly offended. But after a week in Tokyo, all thoughts of apology had fled – I wanted raw salmon and tuna. They say bacon is the vegetarian-killer, but I tried it in Russia and wasn’t that impressed. Sushi, on the other hand, is worth depleting the oceans for.

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2 thoughts on “Sushi in Tokyo

  1. Um. You did NOT try bacon in Russia. You tried bacon bits. Which often have no bacon in them at all. Just for clarification.

    • While I’m flattered that you remember my meat intake – possibly because I complained about it so much? – I had bacon salad in Vladivostok the morning after you left. Or rather, salad with large chunks of whole bacon on it. Memorable but not the taste explosion certain vegetarian friends of ours had led me to believe!

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