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Meiji Jinguu and Chirashizushi

June 13, 2010 · 26 comments

in Gluten Free,Japan,Mains,Pescatarian,Summer

mixed rice sushi

Forgive me if I seem to be going on about peace a lot lately but it’s obviously a bit of a theme in my life at the moment, or perhaps always: I tend to have a rather chaotic inner life and stillness is something I have to seek out deliberately.

Ingredients for chirashizushisushi no ko for mixed rice sushi

Both times I’ve been back to live in Japan, Meiji Jinguu was a place that drew me for its otherworldly ability to calm. Despite its location in the hectic centre of one of the busiest cities in the world, as soon as one steps foot inside the torii, a hush descends. No matter what time of day and how many visitors there happen to be, there is a quiet there that seems ethereal. I don’t mean to say people whisper as if they are in a church – in fact, they do not, and there is even a pretty healthy trade in amulets so it’s not a haven of non-commercialism either – but the thick foliage and the pebbles crunching underfoot, the cool, clean tasting air and the plash of the water into the temizubachi all combine to soothe and refresh me.

making mixed rice sushi

Many are the times I’ve seen the strange procession that is a Shinto wedding, with a bride solemnly shuffling along with her hat that covers her horns of jealousy and the peace that the shrine engenders transcends for me even the spectacle and the tourists clicking busily away.

mixing mixed rice sushiWhile I’ve never eaten chirashizushi at Meiji Jinguu, it reminds me of Japan when I’m feeling a bit homesick. I probably wouldn’t make other kinds of sushi (except maybe temaki) at home anyway since it’s a bit like making foie gras at home – possible, but best left to the experts. It’s the sushi that I think more Japanese people make at home than any other and I can even manage it here in Austria with zero access to good quality fish. On Girl’s Day in Japan, mothers stuff chirashizushi into thin omelettes and shape them into the dolls that represent the emperor and empress but I just slice the omelette thinly and stir it in with the rest of the ingredients.

Do you know any quiet spots in noisy cities?

Chirashizushi

This serves two greedy or three normal people. The ingredients are pretty flexible so you can leave things out if you don’t like them. Put the rice on to cook and prepare the other ingredients meanwhile; you’ll need to use a rice cooker or the absorption method for this. Use slightly less (a few tablespoons less) water than you normally would. A word to the wise: you can’t really refrigerate this because it will go hard and nasty so try not to make more than you can eat (or surprise your neighbours, go on!)

2 cups short grain rice, washed and steamed

A tablespoon of sesame seeds, dry-toasted in a pan

1/3 telegraph cucumber, seeds removed (and skin, if it’s thick) and julienned (or use a whole Japanese or Lebanese cucumber)

10 small or 6 large prawns, peeled and boiled (or you can use salmon roe, sashimi grade fish in cubes or even lightly smoked fish, flaked, if you like)

1/2 avocado, cubed

6 mangetout, boiled for 30 seconds, plunged into ice water, drained and sliced

1/2 sheet of nori, cut up in strips

A tablespoon gari (pickled ginger for sushi), minced

3 tablespoons sushi no ko (See picture, you can also use sushi vinegar, a mixture of rice vinegar, salt and sugar for this but I like the convenience and it doesn’t make the rice wet)

For the omelette

Beat an egg lightly in a bowl and add 1/2 teaspoon of shoyu and 1/2 teaspoon of sugar.

Fry like a pancake in a small pan over medium heat until set, turn out, cool and cut into strips.

For the carrot and shiitake

4 dried shiitake mushrooms, reconstituted in 1 cup water with stems removed and sliced

1 small carrot, julienned

Put 1/2 cup of water and the stock from reconstituting the mushrooms in a small pot over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons of shoyu and 2 tablespoons of sugar and bring to a simmer. Add the carots and mushrooms and simmer until carrots are soft but holding their shape. Scoop out with a slotted spoon.

Turn the rice out into a large non-metallic flat bowl (or hangiri if you have one) and sprinkle the sushi no ko over. Get someone to fan it while you turn the rice gently over in a cutting motion to avoid squashing the grains.

When cool, scatter the other ingredients over and serve.

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Tadashi June 14, 2010 at 12:16 am

tantolunden, very good place to spend a lazy day in the sun. tho stockholm isn’t the busiest place around.

that sushi looks delicious. :P

Marietta June 14, 2010 at 8:51 am

Ahhh… Meiji Jinja… a truly relaxing place indeed… I’m pretty sure I have always visited it every time I have been to Japan, even if it was on business…

well.. I live in Athens as you know..and though its not a metropolis like Tokyo or London, it IS hectic as hell! car horns being the noisiest of all I guess… But I do have a spot that although in the city center is so peaceful and quiet and makes your mind travel.. its the Ancient Agora (Market) which is located under th Acropolis and its a 5 minutes walk from the busy and noisy city center… there you can stroll where the ancient Greeks used to stroll, listen to birds , watch little streams and see a lot of green compared to the rest of Athens!… hope we can visit the place together soon!

sasa June 14, 2010 at 11:37 am

Me too ^^

peasepudding June 14, 2010 at 10:15 am

We found a really quiet noodle house in Kyoto after visiting the silver temple. We cycled along a quiet pathway along a river, maybe one day we will find it again. The simple noodle dish was one of my favourite food experiences in Japan.

sasa June 14, 2010 at 6:00 pm

I love noodles too, especially somen and soba in summer.

wabiwabi June 14, 2010 at 11:33 am

I’ve never lived in a city so busy or frenetic that it’s difficult to find peaceful spots. Lae (PNG) and Toowoomba (now) are relatively small, and Brisbane is so laid back and sprawling with greenery. The biggest city I have been in is probably Berlin, but I didn’t find it cluttered and overwrought like I thought it would be. I’m not sure what I’d think of Tokyo, Beijing or New York! I find it very difficult to maintain inner peace. Sometimes, being surrounded by people (like in a library or a store or a restaurant) is very calming to me, while being alone pumps up the volume on my turmoil and anxiety. I’d really like to try yoga or pilates — people seem to rave about the zen they can bring you.

Question: could I make your dish with chicken? I’m allergic to seafood!

sasa June 14, 2010 at 11:37 am

You could just leave the fish out and use the omelette…If you try chicken, let us know how it goes.

meemalee June 14, 2010 at 1:10 pm

Oh – I adore chirashi-zushi.

Am very lazy though – I have been known just to make do with sprinkling furikake on plain rice (^_^)

The Grubworm June 14, 2010 at 2:35 pm

Lovely simple recipe, easy to recreate and prefect sounding for a packed lunch. I have made note of Meiji Jinguu for a forthcoming visit to Tokyo, so thanks for that too :-)

I live in London which is scattered with serene little squares and churches and other peaceful places. One that I pop into quite often near where I work is the churchyard of St Bartholomew the great (http://www.flickr.com/photos/morgaine/3803299677/) near where I work. It’s a 12th century church all blocked off from the hustle and bustle of London streets. Timeless.

sasa June 14, 2010 at 5:59 pm

Ooh, I wish I had an upcoming trip to Japan. London is good with all the little squares and parks in a way Tokyo is not – apparently London has the most green per person of any large city, whatever that means.

tasteofbeirut June 14, 2010 at 10:50 pm

Have never been but your descriptions are so evocative I can imagine it very well; I love a recipe that carries with it all this symbolism and of which the ingredients are relatively easy to come by but which has a highly refined construction.

cozydelicious June 15, 2010 at 2:19 am

This looks so fresh and yummy! And yes, I have loved finding a quiet, nature-filled spot in every city I’ve lived in. In NY it was Morningside Park, in Cape Town it was Kirstenbosch Gardens, in St Louis it was Art Hill in Forest Park, here in Boston it’s usually Christopher Columbus Park but come summer that quiet spot gets pretty crowded.

Kelsey June 15, 2010 at 6:43 am

OH WOW THIS LOOKS SO GOOD AND TASTY!!

AML June 15, 2010 at 5:34 pm

That looks good, fast, and cheap. Like something I could whip up after work, when nothing else sounds good. Maybe add a bit of togarashi? Nice recipe. As for quiet places, anyone that knows me, knows that I’m never calm. Even if I am just grinding my teeth and scratching my skin off. It’s never calm.

Liam O'Malley June 15, 2010 at 6:22 pm

I want to go to Tokyo, bad. I thrive on those kinds of extremes – complete bustle vs ethereal solace. My wife though, not so much. We were in Bangkok for awhile recently and it was just too hectic and crazy and hard to escape, fortunately it was only the start of a trip which finished on the beaches of Phuket – so that solace that we needed came our way shortly after.

Vanessa June 15, 2010 at 10:03 pm

Funnily, I’m someone who only really feels comfortable in the anonymity of a big city, although Berlin seems pretty empty as the population is only 3 million in such a large area. I love to get out of the city at weekends though to collect my thoughts and have started exploring the nearby castles and lakes around. Your descriptions are always wonderful, as are your recipes.

sasa June 15, 2010 at 10:43 pm

Thanks Vanessa, that means a lot coming from you *^_^*

SMITH BITES June 16, 2010 at 8:03 pm

sigh . . . quite in the midst of crazy . . . I experienced that stillness in the Redwoods last week as well as sitting on the beach watching the ocean come crashing into shore. people/dogs everywhere but when I settle into the sand and fix my eyes on the sea, everything around me stops and I find that rhythm of the universe . . . peace

I love your writing Sasa – you always take me on a journey!

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella June 17, 2010 at 11:56 am

I know what you mean about the peacefulness at Meiji. One new year I walked through it with a large crowd of Japanese people after midnight. It was an amazing atmosphere!

Carolyn Jung June 17, 2010 at 6:15 pm

One of my favorite dishes to make at home, too.
It takes a little ferreting out, but one can always find those peaceful nooks and crannies in a big city — whether it be a secluded garden at a museum or an old coffee shop atop a pier or a cafe in a little alleyway that you just happen to stumble upon. It’s discoveries like that, which make you really feel like you’re part of the city.

molly June 17, 2010 at 6:44 pm

Drooling… Have been dreaming of some deconstructed sushi, just like this, but never seen anything like it. Thanks for this.

Magic of Spice June 17, 2010 at 9:11 pm

Wow, this looks delicious!

doityourselfmama June 23, 2010 at 7:05 am

Thank you for a great explanation- I’ve heard about this, and tried to make “sushi bowls” for myself sometimes, but it never seemed balanced. I think the acid of the pickles would definitely be an asset! Yum

Jermaine July 12, 2010 at 9:38 am

I live in Singapore, where the pace of life is crazily stressful and fast.. I like sitting around at Fort Canning Park at night, where is quiet (sometimes eerily so), so it’s best to be around friends. In school, there’s a little hidden corner on the seventh floor of one of the blocks. It’s my little thinking spot.

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