Last week The Daily Meal had the chance to preview Jiro Dreams of Sushi, David Gelb’s documentary about legendary sushi chef Jiro Ono, of Sukiyabashi Jiro in Tokyo. Needless to say, we left with an intense craving for some chutoro sushi.
So when we got a chance to chat with Gelb, we had to ask, why a documentary focusing on one sushi chef?
"Well, I love sushi," he told us. "And I thought, how can I make it my job to eat the best sushi in the world? And the answer is to make a film about it."
Initially, Gelb told us, he wanted to make a film about four different sushi chefs. "But after I ate at Jiro’s restaurant and I met Jiro and I met his son I thought that there’s something much more compelling," he said. "It wouldn’t just be a movie about sushi. It would be a movie about a father and a son relationship, and a man’s pursuit of perfection, and a son who lives in his father’s shadow."
It’s also, Gelb says, a movie to change the perceptions of Japanese food.
"I think sushi is incredibly misunderstood," Gelb said. "I know people who have sushi four or five times a week even; they’re filling up on spicy tuna rolls and things like that. [I think] the best way to enjoy sushi is to go to sushi infrequently. Instead of going for sushi six times a month, go once a month and pay six times as much. It’ll be a much more memorable experience."
Here’s what Gelb had to say about eating in and around Japan:
What to Get When You’re in Japan:
"You should try the hamaguri, which is a hard-shelled clam that you can really never see in the United States," he told us. "I would say that’s true of a lot of the clams; you don’t see much of them in the U.S."
In Japan, the fish selection is much more varied and expansive than we see in the United States.
"In the United States, you can’t get all the different varieties of uni that they have there, depending on which region they’re getting it from," Gelb said. "If you go to a Japanese restaurant and you have the opportunity to order, you can say, ‘Yellowtail,’ and they’ll say, ‘Which one?’ What to us is just one fish, there are 30 varieties of in Japan."
Gelb recommends a type of yellowtail called "buri," a wild yellowtail.
"That’s a striking difference that I learned, the difference between a farmed yellowtail and a wild yellowtail," he said. "It turns out that yellowtail is only white because it’s been eating fish food and a wild yellowtail that’s out in the waters (the natural habitat), its flesh is going to be pink. There’s a lot more complexity and a lot more going on with the flavor."
Four Key Phrases to Know in Japanese:
"'Oishī' is very important, which means 'delicious.' If you want to ask for something, you should say 'Onegai shimas,' which is, 'please,' basically. 'Itadakimas,' is what one says at the beginning of the meal when you start eating. And the best thing to say at the end of the meal is 'Gochisousama deshita,' which basically means thank you for the delicious meal."
Where to Go in Tokyo for...
Tempura: "Jiro’s favorite tempura restaurant is called Mikawa-ya, absolutely delicious, and in Japan tempura is actually served behind a bar also at the best restaurants. They kind of fry it right in front of you and serve it as it’s ready. There’s a mastery of tempura."
Soba: "The best soba restaurant is in Roppongi Hills and it’s right next to Jiro’s son’s restaurant. I forgot the name, but it’s the top soba in the Roppongi Hills shopping center. Jiro took me there and it was incredibly good."
Sushi (besides Jiro’s): "I also recommend Jiro’s apprentice Harutaka, which may be a little easier to get into, but it’s an incredible sushi restaurant, extremely delicious. He was Jiro’s apprentice for 12 years and then opened this restaurant. He’s only 36 years old, a young guy by comparison, but he’s also very adventurous and creative. Some say he’s the next generation of Jiro."
Where to Take a Day Trip:
"I recommend taking the bullet train to Kyoto and seeing the temples in Kyoto, which are incredibly beautiful," Gelb said. Some food specialties? "Yakisoba, which are fried noodles, and okonomiyaki, sort of a mixture of a lot of different ingredients bound together by egg, like a pancake sort of. You can get both of them at a yakisoba restaurant."
Jiro Dreams of Sushi will be released March 9, 2012. Check out the trailer here.
The Daily Byte is a regular column dedicated to covering interesting food news and trends across the country. Click here for previous columns.