Friday, April 26, 2013

Sabazushi at Hanaore - the Best Kyoto-style Mackerel Sushi there is!

Mention the word "sushi" and the mental image you normally get is the ubiquitous nigiri sushi - slices of fish or other predominantly seafood ingredients sitting on a hand-formed, lightly packed ball of vinegered sushi rice. There are many other types of sushi though, and today we're exploring a Kyoto specialty - the sabazushi.

Unlike Osaka and Tokyo which are next to the sea, Kyoto is landlocked. Hence before the advent of refrigeration, Kyoto residents simply didn't have a supply of fresh fish. So what they did was to take the stronger flavored fish and preserve them in vinegar (or salt) - eventually resulting in sabazushi, or mackerel sushi, being created.

Hanaore best mackerel sabazushi in Kyoto

Since the sabazushi's fish and rice were both semi-preserved and semi-pickled thanks to the vinegar, they typically didn't need to be eaten immediately and were often bought and transported (presumably in a backpack somewhere) for hours back home. As a result the rice in this sushi dish is a LOT more tightly packed than your typical nigiri. The mackerel is big - bigger than any saba shioyaki I've ever had back home - and thus makes for a deceivingly filling meal.

Hanaore best mackerel sabazushi in Kyoto

For this Kyoto specialty, word is that there's no better place to sample it than at Hanaore. Also located around the Shimogamo Shrine, this small restaurant prides itself in serving sabazushi and only sabazushi. You do get a choice of whether you'd like it slightly aburi'ed (blowtorched), which cuts through and lessens the vinegar taste and adds on a rather pleasing semi cooked flavour.

Hanaore best mackerel sabazushi in Kyoto

For regular eaters the 3 slices (served with a bowl of clear soup) are just right for a light lunch or perhaps an afternoon snack, but if you're a heavy eater you might need to order extras. The staff typically don't speak any English but you can easily order off the English menu. We highly recommend taking a detour here if your schedule allows it as there are few other (reasonably priced) foods that have its' roots as deeply entrenched into Kyoto's history as the sabazushi.

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