Dreams of Sushi
Learning about the Japanese food from the experts
Case in point: he has a project due in a couple of weeks on Asia for his geography class. Entirely apart from the fact that we did not have a geography class when I was his age, what strikes me as most distinct about our experiences is that his projects tend to require Power Point slides or videos or other things that were beyond our technological means back in 1981.
His current assignment requires him to earn 100 points by completing a bunch of different tasks in several categories, each of which is worth between 10 and 25 points. It’s a neat concept that gives the students flexibility and correspondingly places a good bit of responsibility on them to choose the best way to get to their goal, and the tasks and point values assigned ensure the kids will cover a lot of ground.
One of the categories the kids could complete was to eat at an Asian restaurant and write about it.
My son had something of a leg up on that one; he’s been eating with me since he was old enough to swallow solid food. One of my proudest moments was watching him express interest in tasting the fried bones of an aji mackerel at Kanno a few years ago, and he knocked out the 25 points he could pick up in that category pretty rapidly.
Then last weekend he and I watched a movie called Jiro Dreams of Sushi. It came out in 2011, and I received a screener DVD not long thereafter that I’d been meaning to watch but never did. The movie is about an 85 year-old man who runs a 10-seat sushi restaurant in Tokyo. It’s not an action movie: It’s really a meditation on a man and his two sons, dedication to craft and the sacrifices some make to further their careers. There’s an anecdote Jiro tells that illustrates the point. When his older son was 4 or 5 years old, he saw his father one weekend and ran complaining to his mother that a strange man was sleeping in their apartment. Jiro, you see, had left their home before his son woke and returned after he went to bed so often that his son did not recognize him. There was some sense of regret about this, but the overall message I took from the film was that this was the kind of effort required to achieve greatness.
The movie is also about sushi, of course and in that respect it’s fascinating if you’re a fan. Jiro’s restaurant serves only sushi, and from what’s shown in the film his restaurant has to be the only to receive 3 Michelin stars while serving such simple, straightforward food. Most of what’s served is no more complicated than carefully sliced raw fish molded over rice. Now and again there’s a dab of sauce applied to the fish with a paint brush, but other than that the most complicated preparation I saw was for the egg omelet sushi, and that wasn’t terribly complicated.
More often what you see is the repetitive nature of the work these men do – toasting seaweed by wiping individual sheets over a charcoal brazier, or massaging octopus for a steady 45 minutes to ensure it’s not tough – and the attention they pay to that work.
I’ll never eat Jiro’s sushi. I would love to think that someday I’ll get to Tokyo, but I’m 45 and my days of traveling the world for sushi are likely behind me. I can’t vouch for Jiro’s food, but if you’re interested in my opinion about the movie, it made me hungry and I recommend it. I’m not a movie critic by any means, of course, so perhaps you should instead read Roger Ebert’s review from April, 2012.
My son was not quite as interested as I was in the movie, but to his credit he stuck it out and at the end was happy he did. He learned a lot about sushi and, I think, a good bit about Japanese culture as well. I’m grateful that his school project finally motivated me to watch a movie I’ve been meaning to get to for a couple of years.
For the record, my advice with regard to sushi restaurants is to find one you like and go regularly. Get to know the sushi chef and let him get to know your tastes as well. If you do that, and the chef is worth his salt, you won’t need a menu and you’ll damn near always have a good meal. If you’re particularly lucky, as I have been at Kanno, you’ll get to learn a lot about sushi in the process and you’ll get to taste things you wouldn’t have thought to order in a million years.
Here’s hoping you find your own Jiro.