The certification program of Japanese Food and Ingredient Supporter Stores Overseas
Interview of Suppoter Stores Sushi Sakuragawa
Dazzling the discerning palates with select wild seafood from across Japan, prepared with
top-notch Edomae-style technique
Bangkok / Thailand
Enticing Thai (not to mention Japanese) guests with the dazzling Edomae-style sushi-making technique
Bangkok is home to hundreds of fine sushi restaurants run by Japanese chefs. The young owner of one such restaurant, Sakuragawa Sushi, is Takuya Komada, who is widely regarded as one of the top up-and-coming sushi chefs in the city. Born into a family running a sushi restaurant in Fukui, on the western coast of central Japan, Mr. Komada aspired to become a sushi chef at 18 and is trained mainly in the Kansai area.
“Fish turns into something amazing when processed properly, sprinkled with salt and soaked in vinegar,” explains Mr. Komada, who honed his Edomae-style sushi-making skills working at various kitchens of restaurants ranging from high-end to casual, with the ambition “to excel at preparing ingredients that taste better and increase in value when served as sushi.” Gradually he set his eyes abroad and flew to Thailand, where at first he worked in an established restaurant in a bustling area of Bangkok; then, in 2013, he opened Sakuragawa Sushi. It did not take long for Mr. Komada’s minimally adorned, artistic nigiri to become a new sushi favorite and Sakuragawa a must-book restaurant.
Ingredients are mostly wild seafood sourced from Japan
Sakuragawa is known for its authentic Edomae-style sushi featuring sushi rice seasoned with red vinegar. No detail is spared in the quest for the best tasting sushi: The temperature of rice and the way the rice is shaped into a ball, for example, are adjusted according to the topping. Most of the ingredients used are from Japan, and for the toppings, the chef will go to great lengths to secure wild seafood. “Nothing beats the naturally produced taste of wild fish migrating around the ocean, where natural feed is abundant. Also, fish need to be ‘closed’ (killed) and drained of blood in an appropriate manner to maintain freshness for raw consumption. Stressing out the fish can trigger a defense reaction and result in less flavor. And that’s why I prefer to use fish caught in Japan: Japanese suppliers use excellent Ikejime butchering technique and also provide safe and stable transportation.”
Dinner at Sakuragawa is seasonal “omakase” (chef’s recommended) course, which includes kelp-sandwiched broiled Nodoguro (blackthroat seaperch) from Tsushima, Nagasaki, which can only be described as fatty, sweet, and delicious; wild yellow jack, known for its superb taste and rarity, sourced mainly from the Kyushu region; and white shrimp caught only in parts of Toyama Bay, served with sudachi citrus produced in Tokushima. The course also features many other ingredients of impeccable quality seldom found at other establishments, such as sea bream from Akashi in Hyogo, red bream from Choshi in Chiba, swordtip squid from Nagasaki, marbled sole from Miyagi, and sand borer from Awaji, Hyogo. To go with the meals, Sakuragawa offers six brands of sake including Kokuryu Daiginjo, Fukui’s premium quality sake, along with three brands of shochu and one umeshu plum wine. Carefully selected to complement the sushi dishes, the astute selection of alcohol makes it easier for international customers to choose their drinks.
Guests are knowledgeable, regardless of where they are from
Mr. Komada buys most of the fish from Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market, but some ingredients are sourced from Osaka Municipal Wholesale Market. In either market, he maintains close contact with the wholesalers he deals with and checks prices, the best seasons, and catch volumes before placing each order. Wild fish meeting the quality he desires are not always available, but the long-standing business relationship of trust has often allowed him to win favors from his suppliers, comments the chef.
“Japanese seafood is an established brand in itself, not just in Thailand but in the entire Southeast Asia region,” says Mr. Komada. “Thai customers won’t be pleased with fish caught in the sea around Thailand however carefully it is cooked. They have a strong interest in food and throw out some expert questions. I’ve had my guests ask me how long a fish should be ripened or about the specifics of preparing fish, like ways to marinate it in kelp or vinegar. Many have actually dined at famous sushi places in regional cities like Kanazawa, not to mention Ginza,” he says, referring to Japan’s biggest luxury shopping district in Tokyo. “Whether a guest is Japanese or Thai, it no longer matters to me. ‘What kind of fish will I use today, and how can I turn it into the best sushi?’—that is all I think about.” You get the impression the chef sees his encounters with customers as a serious battle. It should be added that Thais are not the only people who are well versed in sushi, and Sakuragawa is patronized by customers of various nationalities.
Developing a better understanding of Japanese dining etiquette
While he is happy that people in Thailand appreciate the artistry and nuances of sushi, Mr. Komada confides he faces a bit of a predicament. “There are customers who make reservations but don’t show up on time. Some don’t even call to cancel. Of course, this is a problem for other restaurants as well, not just us,” he complains. “We keep the table available and prepare the ingredients, waiting for them to come, so it’s very annoying when the customers don’t show. In the course of time, I hope to convey some Japanese values to our guests, including the dining etiquette, through serving sushi.”It is said that international customers make up roughly half of the clientele of fancy Ginza restaurants these days. Japanese cuisine has already evolved from being an exotic culture to delicious food. It is perhaps entering the next phase, the part about communicating the heart.