Obama Dreams of Sushi

by Kensatsukan Gaijin

This week U.S. President Barack Obama visited Japan, and like any visitor, had a list of things he knew he wanted to do.  First on the list – a visit to what is probably the best Sushi restaurant in the world: Sukiyabashi Jiro. 

This restaurant, one of only a few restaurants in the world that carry the coveted “three-star” rating from the French Michelin guide, is a tiny, unassuming sushi bar located in the basement of an office building off a subway station and seats only 10 people at a time.  Its owner, Jiro Ono, turns 90 next year and is expected to soon be succeeded by his son, Yoshikazu. 

Mr. Ono began making sushi at the age of 9 when, his parents penniless and unable to care for him any longer, he set out on the street looking for work.  Today, apprentices begin by learning to wring out hot towels and spend months washing dishes, cleaning, and saying nothing but “yes.”  From there they graduate to helping prepare other simple dishes – but don’t think that the preparation is anything but simple.  Octupus is massaged for 45 minutes before it is served.  Rice must be kept at perfect body-temperature. 

If you are lucky to get a reservation after the month-long waiting list opens (and usually closes within minutes), don’t bother trying to decide what you should order – there is only one menu:  the chef’s 30,000 yen “Chef’s Recommended Special Course.”  But if you want to check it out, you can also see delicious profiles on Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” and the fantastic documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.”  http://youtu.be/M-aGPniFvS0

If you would like to try the experience but can’t afford the cost or the effort to get a reservation, you could also try Jiro’s son Takashi’s restaurant, located in Roppongi Hills.  A little closer to home, you could also try “Shiro’s,” a sushi restaurant in Seattle operated by Daisuke Nakazawa, a former apprentice of Mr. Ono’s. Mr. Nakazawa even appears in the documentary, retelling how he spent months making tamago for Mr. Ono, suffering hundreds of failures until finally Mr. Ono approved.  Still, if you can try it, it comes highly recommended:  President Obama called it “the best sushi he had in his life.”