Angelove Estate

After three long years, my trip to Japan was finally happening. I still couldn’t believe that I won a trip to live out my kanpyo dreams. I was given very minimal information about what I was going to be doing. The TV Tokyo production team had send me a questionnaire about all the things that I would like to do in Japan, but no specifics. I knew that the main elements of my trip would revolve around kanpyo. In order to prepare myself, they said I would be meeting a famous sushi chef and visiting a “yugao” gourd or “fukube” (as it is referred to in the Tochigi prefecture) farm.

Our first two shoot days were in Tokyo. I would be learning how to make proper Edo-style kanpyo at a sushi restaurant in Ginza. The first day was Sunday and the production van collected me after lunch. On Sunday the streets in Ginza are closed to vehicular traffic, so we were able to shoot in the middle of the street. The area had fancy vibes and judging by all of the shops… this was the Fifth Avenue or Champs Élysées of Japan. The director Koki-san asked me if I had heard of Ginza, which I actually hadn’t. Fashion doesn’t interest me in the least, so I wasn’t particularly impressed by all the big name fashion houses. The architecture on the other hand was quite impressive.

I was really nervous about meeting the sushi chef. I had a few phrases that I needed to learn, just to introduce myself and be polite, but they were a lot. Watashi wa kanpyo desuki na Casey desu. Yoroshiku onagai shimasku. As we walked towards the restaurant I was mumbling the phrases over and over to myself. Never quite getting them right. I wished the production team would have given me some key phrases to study before I arrived. Not the morning of.

We arrived at a large building. The entrance had many signs, what looked like an office building was actually a bunch of commercial spaces and restaurants. Our destination was Sushi-Kiyoshi on the 9th floor.

I introduced myself to Kiyoshi-san; I ended up stumbling over the words like I was in a hostage situation, but he appreciated the gesture nonetheless. Chef Sakai Kiyoshi has been preparing sushi for 37 years. He spent a vast majority of his career, 25 years working at the world renowned Kyubey, also in Ginza. In 2020, he started his own restaurant Sushi Kiyoshi. Our first day, I was going to experience his “omakase” menu, or chef’s choice The restaurant was closed and I was the only guest. Kiyoshi-san selected each piece of sushi and I was just along for the delicious ride.

Chef Kiyoshi uses three different types or rice and each rice variety is pared with a different shari-su or “rice vinegar” recipe. The traditional vinegar seasoning uses a simple ratio of 4 parts rice wine vinegars, 2 parts sugar and 1 part salt. Kiyoshi-san doesn’t use sugar in his preparations. Instead, he pairs his rice with varieties of rice that are noted for their natural sweetness. During his research to identify these naturally sweet rice varieties, he developed a relationship with each of the farmers helping to assure a close connection with land and the intrinsic relationship between the farmer and chef.

For the traditional vinegared rice preparation, pairs it with a “Nikomaru” rice variety, grown in the Nagasaki prefecture on Gotō Island by farmer Fukoshima-san. To accompany his red wine vinegar rice, he uses a variety called “ryuno-hitomi” or “dragon eye”, which is cultivated in mountainous Hida Takayama in the Gifu prefecture raised by Imai-san. Chef Kiyoshi’s signature rosé rice vinegar blend is paired with another variety “Uki Hotaka”, which means “snow mountain”. It is grown in the Gunma prefecture, by Koshino-san in Kawaba mura, another mountainous area.

Because we were doing all of this on camera, I didn’t get to take as many photos as I would have liked. I did manage a few pictures between set-ups. This was the first time in my life that I had ever experienced sushi on this level. There are no words to describe the freshness and exquisiteness of each piece. It was during this time that Kiyoshi-san and I spoke about our mutual loves of food and our personal experiences.

The final component of the meal was basis of my entire trip, kanpyo-maki. Kanpyo is made from dried strips of a gourd from the calabash family. The dried strips are then rehydrated and seasoned with soy sauce, sake, mirin and sugar. They are then used in a maki roll.

This was the first day of my experience. I would return on Kiyoshi-sans day off, so he could teach me the art of making kanpyo in the traditional Edo (former name of Tokyo) style. For now, I was basking in the joy that was a private sushi tasting in Ginza at Sushi Kiyoshi.

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