Rice is a staple of many Asians, and when you travel for a while, you start to think about the fluffy white starch that you make at home in your trusted rice cooker. Ando in Akasaka, Tokyo would reduce your rice cooker to shame.
Ando is a traditional Japanese restaurant that do set dinners for banquets(会席) like Kitaohji Akasaka Sayro 北大路赤板茶寮. The 2F is dedicated for that purpose. However, a little known specialty of Ando is their dedication to making the perfect cooked rice. Yes, make no mistake, the ordinary and humble cooked rice takes centrestage for once in this fine dining restaurant.
【Taste of rice】
“Koshihikari” (越光) rice served in Ando was sent directly from the foot of Mount Joetsuyama in Joetsu city, Niigata prefecture to prepare the rice. The beautiful rice planted by Ando’s own contract farmers overflows with sweetness and umami. Koshihikari was sought after for their beautiful appearance after cooking and is nowadays planted in Taiwan, US and Australia. So for those who claimed that their rice was prepared with 越光米, they meant they were made from the rice strain called Koshihikari. If we are really particular, there can only be one place that can claim this, i.e. rice that are planted along the stretch of Fukui and Yamagata that was referred to in old times Esshu 越州.
(Source of this trivial is undetermined, so don’t spam me, my Japanese friends. I am no native speaker of Japanese for crying out loud.)
So why do we call cooked rice 銀シャリ Ginshari? Shari (酢飯) is a technical term of sushi rice, which refers to vinegared rice. It is rice which is seasoned with vinegar, salt and sugar, and is also referred to as すしめし (sushi meshi).
The origin of the word Shari was because cooked rice resembles granular bone remains after cremation called Sarira 舍利 in Sanskrit, but no one would call their food “remains”. So the F&B industry (basically the pioneers of eating places in Japan, with their wits and sarcasm) decided to call ordinary cooked rice 銀シャリ, which literally translated to Silver Sharp objects. Of course instead of charging ¥100 for it, you can now charge ¥750 for the same thing because it’s silver :_) .
There are many meaning attached to the Japanese word for “rice” – cooked rice, a meal consisting of rice, etc. So as a differentiation, 銀シャリ Ginshari came to mean high quality, freshly cooked rice. So don’t expect any fancy meal with Ginshari, you only get a really well-prepared fluffy cooked rice prepared a la minute for you and not via a massive rice cooker.
【Art of eating rice】
In Japan, you do not just eat plain rice. You will accompany rice with おかず / Okazu.
おかず（御数、御菜）Okazu is the collective name for one or more dishes served in a traditional Japanese meal. These dishes complement the basic starch food, traditionally rice, served at the same time. A dish may be protein based or may be some type of vegetable or mixture of vegetables. Outside of Japan the word is often used to refer to a meat and mixed vegetables dish served with rice.
ご飯 Gohan, the word for cooked rice, is also used in Japanese to mean “meal.” Okazu adds seasoning, texture and nutrition to that of the rice; a meal will usually include two or more types of these dishes, and most diners add bits of each to bites of rice. Soup, usually made with miso, a fermented soybean paste, is the third part of a traditional Japanese meal.
The primary okazu in a meal is most traditionally some type of protein based dish. Fish dishes are very common. This may be any one of a number of fish, and be cooked in many different ways, from stewed to fried, or even pickled. A dish made from surimi, a formed fish paste, is another possible protein based dish, while chicken and pork are other possible traditional choices that can be prepared in a variety of ways such as grilled or deep-fried.
Many of the dishes are made with vegetables; おさい (お菜) osai, a synonym of okazu, literally means “vegetables.” Some are made from starchy vegetables such as potatoes or yams. Others are based on green vegetables, possibly green beans, spinach or cabbage. Dishes based on cooked beans, typically soybeans, are another possible choice. 箸休めHashi yasume, literally means “chopstick break” is a particular type of okazu meant to offer a strong contrast to the bland flavor of rice. Various pickled vegetables are often served in this role.
おかず / Okazu
There are many choices of Okazu in Ando, including the perennial favourites like
- ちりめん山椒 Dried whitebait in seasoned pepper
- 焼バラ海苔 Grilled salted seaweed
- 温泉玉子 Onsen egg
釜揚げしらす | 明太子 | いくら | まぐろ の 煮物
I picked 4 of my favourites
- 釜揚げしらす Boiled Whitebait
- 明太子 Mentaiko Spicy Pollock Roe
- いくら Ikura Salmon Roe
- まぐろ の 煮物 Simmered Tuna
炊きたて銀シャリ Takitake Ginshari / Freshly cooked rice
The rice was the star, not the Okazu. Every grain was plump and complete after cooking. The starchiness of the rice made them sticked together naturally, but without the mushy, powdery taste of really poor quality rice. The cooking was perfect, the right amount of water, the right temperature and the perfect timing in a earthen pot that distributed the heat evenly. The pot did not introduce any further taste to the rice, which could happen if you intended that to happen like the Singapore Claypot Rice 砂鍋飯 when you want to infuse some hint of smokiness into the finished product.
The danger of a really tasty rice was that you could eat to much of it. Plain. With Okazu. I can taste why they called it Ginshari and not just rice. One gets delight with the simplest of life’s pleasures and here it’s called plain white rice.
【 The Rest of the Meal 】
I started this blog in the wrong sequence. The rice actually came last, but because it was the main attraction and the reason why I decided to walk into this restaurant, I blogged about it first. Here’s the rest of the meal, which were equally good and surprising not too expensive for a fine dining place.
先付 / Amuse Bouche
Usually, amuse bouche was given free. Here, they charged you for it. Hack, it’s like the peanuts and pickles you get in Chinese restaurants, just treat it like cover charge at a club.
The two delightful amuse bouche presented was Hokkaido Scallop and Scallions with Sesame Yuzu Sauce, and Vinegar Mozuku Seaweed. The Mozuku was the perfect cool-down appetiser for a hot summer night, served cold and just the right acidity. I slurped it down like a whisky shot. The scallions were lightly poached and squeezed out of their liquid and a whole scallop was placed on top and drizzled with a sweet, savoury, sour sauce. Perfect start to the evening, even if you have to pay for it.
泉州水茄子 | Senshu Water Eggplant
Usually you do not eat eggplants raw. However, this particular varietal of eggplant 泉州水茄子 from Senshu, Osaka, is locked with water it can be eaten as a fruit.
You can see from the close-up the eggplant is not as dense as their normal cousins. It was said that they were specially planted in the shade so that they can get the maximum moisture and not get too fibrous.
The texture was like eating a crunchy Java Apple 蓮霧. There was a hint of sweetness, but it was not that kind of sweetness that you get from other Japanese fruits like their famous Rock Melon. Dip in the salt on the skin side and try again, it will bring out even more delicate tastes in the fruit. Another excellent choice for a hot summer night.
お造り 五点盛り 刺身盛り合わせ5種 / 5 Type of Sashimi
Quality sashimi in any restaurant is never cheap. In Tokyo, you can get really high quality sashimi for a fraction of the price in Singapore, but still you would not normally order this is a banquet restaurant unless you are having it as part of the set. This portion was ¥3,900 and consisted the freshest picks of the day.
- 島根の九絵 / “Kyoto” Longtooth Grouper from Shimane
- 青森の鮪 / “Chutoro” and “Maguro” Fatty Tuna Belly and Lean Tuna from Aomori
- 銚子の金目鯛 / “Kinmedai” Sea bream from Choshi
- 富山の白エビ / “Shiroebi” White shrimp from Toyama Bay
- 北海道の活タコ / Live Octopus from Hokkaido
I wanted to skip the Wagyu, and fish was the only other choice besides chicken. Luckily the quality of the sashimi compensated greatly for the high price.
大根とやまゆり豚の角煮 / Simmered Japanese radish and Yamayuri Pork Belly and Boiled Rice
This was the surprised dish for the evening. One tender piece of braised pork belly, not unlike the Teochew braised 三層肉, with Daikon (radish) cooked in the same braising sauce of Dashi stock and other ingredients, topped with a savoury porridge grub (Chuk-like texture) that you cannot even see the grains anymore. At first I thought it was grated yamaimo, then at first taste, I was totally overwhelmed. Unfortunately this was a seasonal selection. I am not sure if I would be able to order this again the next round.
【1 F | Bar Counter】
If you are dining alone, you will be ushered to the 1F Bar Counter. It looked lonely when I went for dinner at 8pm. And I was disappointed I couldn’t order the seemingly reasonable set dinner with 8 courses (and their famous rice) for ¥6,500. And nobody spoke English.
But the friendly Bar Waitress tried her best and showed me a Google-translated menu. Luckily, I could understand Japanese food, if not I would have order 10 starters 🙂
The texture of the top board makes the sake cups seemed to be floating up due to indirect lighting, and the bottle of sake that are lined up against the wall is inviting you to savour them. The atmosphere of the first floor counter seat was excellent, together with the friendly bar staff, you cannot stop at one drink.
Unfortunately you have to reserve for the banquet. Would really want to try that the next time.
〒107-0052 東京都港区赤坂3-11-1 難波ビル1F
3-11-1, Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo, 107-0052
Tel : 03-3584-6068 (+81-3-3584-6068)
Date Visited : Jun 2018