Tokyo: Sushi Zanmai Honten in Tsukiji

Sushi Zanmai Honten, Tsukiji, Tokyo
Line in front

In Tokyo, I had the pleasure of catching up with an old friend of mine, Rieko. We first met almost 10 years ago, when I did an internship in Hamamatsu, and she has previously visited Poul and I in Dubai. She was in Tokyo for a wedding fair, as she’s getting married in Hawaii next year (congratulations!), so Sunday we decided to meet.

We started with a hearty sushi brunch at the Sushi Zanmai honten branch in Tsukiji. Honten means “original shop” and Sushi Zanmai honten has a reputation of being slightly better than all the other Sushi Zanmai branches in Tokyo. I have tried 5 or 6 different Sushi Zanmai branches through the years, and the only difference I noticed between the honten branch and the other branches was the long line outside. Maybe the seating area was also slightly nicer than at the other branches, but the menu was the same.

It’s not every day you get to dine with your own personal sushi guide (Rieko), so I asked her to order the sushi pieces, she liked the best, and I would have what she was having. I must say I wasn’t overly delighted, when she ordered two pieces of aji (horse mackerel). The horse mackerel I’ve had previously, has all been very fishy with a sharp, pickled taste. It’s one of those sushi pieces that I usually just swallow while trying to circumnavigate my taste buds. Well, this has changed now, for sure! Horse mackerel is in season during the summer months as the fish is particularly fatty at this time of the year, and the taste is rich and smooth. I never thought, I would be saying this, but I regretted that we didn’t order more of that. On the side, I had miso soup with crab. Not that cheap surimi imitation crab you get at many sushi restaurants at home, but big chunks of real, succulent spider crab. Really, really delicious.

I love tuna, especially o-toro, which is the most fatty part of the tuna belly. The color is pale pink from the fat, and it literally melts in your mouth. I’ve only seen this kind of tuna at very few, very upscale places outside Japan, and it’s usually among the most expensive items on the menu. Each time we ate at Sushi Zanmai, I had the tuna set and nothing else. Why try something different, when you’ve found something you really like?

Quality-wise, the gap between what you get at most sushi restaurants abroad and what you get in Japan is humongous. When I hear about friends traveling to Japan only to eat at expensive places such as Sukiyabashi Jiro and Sushi Saito, but without any real prior knowledge about Japanese cuisine, I feel a bit sorry for them, as they will probably be wasting their money on something they wouldn’t have a clue about. I guess sushi is a bit like wine: Before you know the basics, you will not be able to appreciate the really good stuff. Sushi Zanmai is a great place to calibrate your sushi palate and get acquainted with the different kinds of fish.

I also went for afternoon tea with Rieko at Twentyeight at Conrad, which you can read about here, or read about my dinner at Sushi Zanmai in Roppongi.

Sushi Zanmai Honten, 4 Chome-11-9 Tsukiji, Chuo City, Tokyo, Address in Japanese: すしざんまい 本陣, 〒104-0045 東京都中央区築地4-4-3

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