Photos by Jacqueline Dole
The godfather of your favorite maki
Upon first glance, the menu at Café Sushi in Harvard Square looks like any other Japanese restaurant menu: miso soup, spicy tuna makimono, chirashi, and gyoza. But as you continue to look the menu over you will find items that are not so typical: Kanpyo maki (maki made with braised Japanese squash), Yudofu (napa cabbage, shitakes and scallions in kelp broth with ponzu) and Oshizushi, which has its own section of the menu.
Oshizushi, or traditional pressed sushi, is like the grandfather of the modern-day makimono.
Oshizushi is a rectangular piece of sushi that is created by pressing sushi ingredients into a wooden box called an oshibaki. The most famous type of oshizushi is the mackerel variety, called battera, and Café Sushi makes this with a modern twist.
Chef Seiji Imura, whose family has owned Café Sushi since 1984, has been manning the kitchen for five years now and keeps the oshizushi section of the menu because it’s a nod to his parents’ hometown in Japan.
To make it, he says, you start with fish on the bottom of the oshibaki, then add sushi rice (seasoned with rice wine vinegar) and apply pressure to create a block shape. Café Sushi’s version includes a cylindrical layer of pickled burdock (Japanese root vegetable), shiso and ginger. The oshibaki is then turned over and a layer of kombu (kelp) that has been braised in rice vinegar, sugar and dried chili pepper is laid on top of the fish. The result is a rectangular piece of sushi that glorifies the two main components: the fish and the rice. But not in the way that nigiri does so—here the rice and fish are two superstars working in harmony, instead of rice as the background musician to the superstar fish, as it is with traditional nigiri.
Harmony, Imura says, is what Japanese food is all about.
“Japanese food is supposed to be very simple. It’s about bringing out flavors in ingredients … harmonizing flavors. That in essence is the important thing in Japanese food.”
So why would a modern chef dedicate a part of his menu to a type of sushi that is so old school? “I thought it would be cool to try and be a little different. It’s classic,” he says. “It’s important to educate the public, but not in a pretentious way, about what sushi is and what it can be.”
CAFÉ SUSHI, 1105 MASS AVE., CAMBRIDGE. @CAFE_SUSHI. CAFESUSHICAMBRIDGE.COM.