Friday, December 7, 2007

First Encounter with Saba-zushi

The basement supermarket of Isetan Scotts seems to be perennially organizing one Japanese food festival after another. This time round their stalls featured Kyoto style saba-zushi. Saba-zushi is a dish consisting of a side of mackerel that was marinated with salt and vinegar, pressed and wrapped onto a roll of sushi rice. The result is an ovoid sushi “loaf” that is served cut into thick slices.

The style of sushi was said to bring out the unique taste of mackerel. Moreover curing the mackerel was the traditional Kyotoite way of preparing the fish, as the city being situated inland did not have ready access to fresh seafood in the past.

Having never eaten this sort of saba-zushi before, the stall at the food festival certainly perked my interest. The sushi looked similar to pictures I have seen in sushi books, and there was a native Japanese chef making them behind the counter of the stall which added to the authenticity factor. I was initially apprehensive however as they only sold the sushi in full-meal servings of 8 thick slices and should I not enjoy it I would have a hard time finishing it. Not to mention it would be a waste of 15 bucks.

With some cajoling from my friend though, I finally agreed to take the plunge. The item was paid for, and then brought outside where there were some seats at which I could savour this culinary novelty. As with any food that I’m not familiar with it took a while for the flavours to register and for me to determine whether I liked it or not.

After I had finished the first piece I decided that I did.

The taste of the cured fish – tangy and savoury – was cushioned by the comforting carbohydrates of sushi rice, creating a hearty mouthfeel. The vinegar which marinated the fish was also nicely echoed by the subtly vinegared sushi rice, blending into a refreshing savour that keeps one’s appetite going despite several helpings of rich mackerel and rice.

This is a dish that makes its impact using simple ingredients, letting the natural flavours take the forefront. I’m not too sure how this compares to good saba-zushi in Kyoto, but in general I had a positive impression of the dish and might return to the stall for another go at it before the food festival ends.

The Isetan Japan Food Festival will last till the 17th of December so you have until then to enjoy Kyoto style saba-zushi in Singapore.

350 Orchard Road
Basement 1
Shaw House
Singapore 238868
Tel: 6733 1111

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