My Hosts Threw a Dinner Party: ‘Twas Lit
As I was tapping away at my keyboard, my host Hiro-san told me that a friend was coming from his home area – Toyama. This friend was going to bring freshly caught local fish and treat us to a sashimi dinner. I asked Hiro, “what fish is your area famous for?”
“Buri (yellowtail/Hamachi) and aji (horse mackerel).”
Well butter my biscuits, err, teriyaki my chicken. Those are my favorite sushi/sashimi fish. Ever.
On the day, I realized that showing up empty-handed with an appetite rivalling the Sarlacc would be in poor taste. The Friend, Masa-san, turned up early in the day in time for the fish to arrive from Toyama. A crate of flying fish, aji, and the buri was in front of me – fresh caught the morning before and couriered to Tokyo. They smelled faintly of a sea breeze and looked incredible versus the fish I’d see at a US market.
Knowing that Hiro-san would furnish the sake and Masa-san the fish, I opted to wander through the nearby Matsuya Department Store’s food halls in search of a dessert. The cream cakes seemed intensely heavy given the amount of sake and seafood we’d be having. A suitably sized lemon “Baumkuchen” (Forest Cake in German – basically a ring cake) presented itself. Marvelous. That would be a light treat to finish off what was promising to be a heavily-laden dinner table.
Our night began with a beer toast (when in Rome Tokyo!) and a kampei to Masa-san who’d be preparing the fish. The other guests furnished fruit, onirigi (rice balls), Scotch eggs (!!!), salad, BBQ chicken, and teriyaki bacon over the course of the night.
Sparkling wine appeared, and Masa-san got down to work on the flying fish, doing a preparation of curing the sashimi in seaweed and putting it in the fridge. It would be ready when we forgot about it, he said. In the meantime, there was bubbly to attend to.
Hiro-san’s wife Erica had prepared inari-zushi – sushi rice packed in a bean curd pocket. Her variant used a special recipe of her mother’s that incorporated shrimp, green onion, and a little more mirin for a slightly sweet touch. They made for a delicious appetizer.
At this point, the sake came out. It was a balanced (between floral and dry) daiginjo (top quality) that had been specially bottled as a gift for when Hiro and Erica had opened Chapter Two back in March. Erica also started taking a collection of ¥1000 (US$9.12) per person to help cover Masa-san’s costs. Given what I saw in that box, I gladly chipped in.
And now it was aji-time! Aji is rather uncommon stateside, but it’s a sushi bar standard here in Japan. It tends to be inexpensive (¥150-200 per order at a normal-ish place). My guess is that it’s a nutritional goldmine considering its protein and fat content, while the small size of the fish means that it would be very low mercury (relative to a tuna). Yes, this is what I ponder during a party.
For our next course in our Japanese dinner party adventure, Masa-san grilled a couple of the aji. As great as the sashimi was, the cold-water richness of the aji really came through when pan fried with a wee bit of salt.
The texture and taste were sublime – melt-in-the-mouth goodness with a freshness that you don’t find at Samurai Sushi & Steakhouse in Strip Mall, America. It emerged later in the night that when all was said and done, the aji was the crowd favorite.
At around 8:30 p.m., Nishi-san arrives bearing the Scotch eggs and teriyaki bacon. Total bro. Immediately, I like this guy. After a number of drinks, he complimented myself and another American Kevin on our wisdom in not rushing to get married. Oh, how I restrained myself, my reader. I didn’t feel like interrupting Masa-san (who lived in the Bay Area) to help with the idiomatic translation of “In the gay world, why buy the pig when it’s practically begging you indulge yourself for free?”
Having narrowly avoided traumatizing Nishi-san and Kevin, the buri was ready. Ah, buri. We go way back. I’ve been responsible for the demise of many of this fish’s kin over the years. Again, it’s a textural marvel. Notably, this buri is wild-caught. In the US, yellowtail/hamachi is farmed. I found the wild caught buri of tonight to be of a firmer, meatier texture as opposed to the more buttery imported, farmed hamachi.
Oh the happy plateau. Masa-san took a quick break to enjoy some food, and Erica produced a bottle of nigori (unfiltered) sake after hearing that I wanted to try it. I had mentioned this to Masa-san when he was questioning me on my experience with Japanese food much earlier in the day. I was in full bashful mode at the thoughtfulness. It speaks volumes of Hiro and Erica’s thoughtfulness.
So, I sipped the nigori and was regaled with tales from Hiro and Erica’s guests – including two volunteer teachers who taught in Gabon, pre-war Syria, and Djibouti. I rapidly concluded that Hiro and Erica have interesting friends.
The fun soon continued when Masa took some leftover buri and produced a full-grilled version as well as aburi (seared) sashimi. Had I managed to go to heaven without the messy dying bit! I thought so.
To go with it, the final item was a bowl of fish soup (the soup having a heavy pour of sake in it) passed around the table, each of us taking a draught as if it were the Holy Grail.
Finally, it was dessert time. My cake and Kevin’s cherries disappeared right quick. This wasn’t surprising, as both were delicious. Seeing that the mass of plates, glasses, and chopsticks in quantities more commonly seen in a military mess hall, I decided that Erica and one of the other ladies who attended could use some extra manpower in the cleanup, which they appreciated.
By 12:45, I was a dead man, not even walking. I had been up since 5 AM, so I bid everyone goodnight (oyasumi) and marveled at my awesome, unplanned night.