Awarding saba zushi at the end of Saba Kaido
Text & photo by Kenta Baba
Treat yourself with saba zushi (mackerel sushi)
It's been half an year now since I came to Kyoto, and one of the food that really impressed me was saba zushi.
It was a whole different oshi-zushi (pressed sushi) that I had been having all my life. Saba zushi in Kyoto had a rich flavor, giving me a pleasant and shocking experience.
It has been a special treat made at home during festivals and celebrations. There is something special about how they make and eat them.
Demachi shopping street is at the end of Saba Kaido (Saba Road)
Saba zushi's history goes back along this road when mackerel caught in Wakasa Bay had been brought to Kyoto here. In the 2-3 day journey, the salted mackerel would have become well marinated, and it has become to its sushi form today.
The road between Kyoto and Wakasa Bay, Obama, has long been famous as a transporting road called Saba Kaido and had carried not only mackerel but many other sea products. Demachi shopping street is at the very end of it. It is a very lively area supported by the local people.
'I want to try saba zushi at Saba Kaido!'
I'm sure there are people that would have such idea. Well, Masugataya has been feeding those mouths.
Even the picky saba zushi freaks would have them at the top of the list.
Sold out in 2 hours
A whole block of saba zushi is 2,500 yen. It feels a bit expensive or regular lunch, but...
Set menu with udon for 1,000 yen
Don't worry, people! Masugataya has a friendly set menu of it. 2 pieces of special saba zushi with a udon for 1,000 yen.
The special saba zushi was 2,250 yen for 5 pieces that day, so calculating that it's around 400 per piece, this set menu is really reasonable.
One problem recently, is that they often get sold out in just about 2 hours...!
Beautiful saba zushi!
Everytime I chew on it, the juicy saba flavor rushes out.
Then, once in awhile, the flavor of Japanese pepper comes out from between the saba and kelp.
2 pieces were enough to satisfy my heart.
Udon was also good. The gentle yet rich flavor of Kyoto.
Mr. Shoji Umegaki is the 3rd master of Masugataya.
After graduating university, he had 7 years of practical training career then took over Masugataya. It is 30 years since then.
He says that he has only become to be able to make a good saba zushi despite any season in this late decade or so.
'I've had tremendous numbers of failure with saba zushi making'
But all the failure will lead to success, says he.
There are skills taught by from the former master, but he has repeated his challenging in establish his own skill to make a fantastic saba zushi any time, throughout the year.
What is same from the former master is that he still used the same vinegar and water that springs out from Masugataya's land, and that he places the marinated saba in an ice fridge.
'The length of time to marinate will depend on the saba, you just have to know it yourself'
The amount of vinegar and adding Japanese pepper is Mr. Umegaki's idea.
He has traveled all over Japan to searching for good food including saba.
'I've explored saba in Chiba, Sendai, Niigata and Hachinohe. The saba in Hachinohe was nice. I've gone out with the fishing boat there'
'But the best saba is in Noto'
'They have the number 1 saba of Japan Sea. During this season, I would go to saba from Bungo Suido. They have a stable supply of good saba all year. Today's saba is also from there'
Passionate and cheerful, Mr. Umegaki talking about good food was so charming.
'Well, I guess I do love eating, and that is what made me what I am today'
Beside choosing ingredients according to season and places, he is also passionate about rice. He started his own rice field 5 years ago and now have a contract with the farmers in growing them.
He only prepares for the days saba and udon soup.
If either runs out, that is the end for that day.
'I could do more, but if I do so, the balance will fall apart. I am doing just the right amount now'
It is his wife that came up with an idea to make a udon set, so that more people can enjoy his high quality saba zushi.
Now, the saba zushi & udon set became so popular that it is almost 90% of the orders.
But looking around, there are other menu that looks so good too!
'Oyako-don (chicken and egg rice bowl) is seeing more fans lately. I use good chicken from Tanba'
'Chuka soba (Chinese noodle) is also popular, and nabeyaki udon (fried udon), too'
I came for saba zushi, but am thinking I need to try other stuffs too, they all look good.
'Unagi don (eel rice bowl) gets a lot of orders too, I use a whole eel, great ones from Biwa Lake, I assure you this is really good'
The unagi is 3,000 yen, I must work hard for this!
Chose good ingredients and use pure Kyoto underwater to maintain the good taste.
Not to be too greedy in making money, but to focus on making good food.
Very sincere, very 'Kyoto-like' place.
What is important in getting food here, is not merely the amount of money but the timing. There is a high chance of sold out after 13:30.
If you want to try something special in Kyoto, and if you are interested to come here, try to arrive before noon.
Address: 179 Masugata-dori Demaci Nishi Iru Nishin-cho, Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto(map)
Hours: 12-18:00 (Closes when food finishes)
Reservation: Only for take way saba zushi