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A Japanese chef decodes sushi

Dubai-based chef Koji Sagawa has been working on the craft of sushi-making for 39 years. He will be in Mumbai for a special omakase experience

Chef Koji Sagawa

By Team Lounge

LAST PUBLISHED 06.12.2023  |  03:30 PM IST

Chef Koji Sagawa began working in a restaurant in Tokyo at the age of 18. He trained to be a sushi chef. He moved to Dubai, and went on to earn a Michelin Star for the restaurant Iki. This week, the 57-year-old chef is in Mumbai for a multi-course omakase-style experience at the contemporary Japanese restaurant Akina in Bandra West. 

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In an interview over email, he shared his views on sushi and Japanese food. Edited excerpts: 


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What defines exceptional sushi?

We believe perfection in sushi is a subjective concept; it’s constantly evolving with each passing year. Given the diverse perspectives and values of different craftspeople, sushi methods and flavours vary. The ideal sushi is the one that aligns with your taste preferences. At Iki, we emphasize the significance of sushi vinegar, utilizing a rare red vinegar that imparts a distinctive taste to our sushi, setting it apart from others. The basic definition of good sushi is, a balance of the three essential ingredients: the fish, rice and sauce. When you place it in your mouth, one shouldn’t overpower the other.

How did you acquire your sushi-making skills, and how long did it take to master them?

At the age of 18, I underwent a rigorous training period of seven and a half years at Asahishushi. It’s a restaurant located in Setagaya, Tokyo. Working at the counter and serving customers, I realized that the concept of culinary perfection is elusive. Our commitment is to continually enhance our offerings and strive for improvement every day.

What constitutes a well-rounded omakase menu, and where did this concept originate?

The Omakase concept is designed to achieve a harmonious balance between multiple courses. We emphasise the use of seasonal ingredients—a key attraction. The credit for popularizing it is often attributed to Jiro, a renowned Japanese sushi chef.

Which region of Japan do you come from?

Aichi in the central Hoshu island.

Can you share five dishes unique to your hometown in Japan?

1. Misonikomi Udon (Miso stew udon)

2. Hitsumabushi: It is a traditional Nagoya dish featuring white rice topped with grilled eel, a soy-based sauce, and spices such as Japanese pepper. The term Hitsumabushi derives from both the special dish used for serving and the unique presentation style. The rice is placed in an Ohitsu, a tub used for serving cooked rice, with the grilled eel, wasabi, and Japanese pepper arranged on top, referred to as Mabusu in Japanese.

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3. Tebasaki (chicken wings)

4. Ebifurai (Fried Shrimp)

5. Tenmusu (onigiri with shrimp tempura)

Could you recommend five noteworthy restaurants from your hometown in Japan, along with must-try dishes?

Yamamotoya: Indulge in the signature miso-stewed udon, a Nagoya speciality with over 90 years of history.

Furaibo: Famous for sweet and savoury Nagoya Cochin chicken wings.

Konparu: Try the shrimp cutlet sandwich at this beloved coffee shop, a part of Nagoya's morning culture.

Unafuji: A hidden gem known for its eel bowl made with rare extra-large green eel and the versatile Hitsumabushi.

Ryuen: A popular Japanese Yakiniku (grilled meat) restaurant offering a diverse selection of fresh meats.

In your opinion, what are the top three sushi establishments in Japan that you've experienced?

Sushi Saito, Sukiyabashi Jiro and Sushi Yu; all in Tokyo.

Chef Koji Sagawa of Iki, Dubai will be in Akina on 6 and 7 December.

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