Although “sushi” is often thought to mean raw fish, that’s not actually what the word means. The name actually refers to vinegared rice, and some varieties of sushi don’t contain any fish at all.
Kappa maki, for example, are rolls of seaweed, rice, and cucumber, while inarizushi is made with rice and fried tofu. On the other end of the spectrum, if you’re in the mood for non-seafood sushi but also don’t want to go vegetarian, you can try horse sushi, like we recently did.
Tokyo’s Ebisu neighborhood is sort of the sophisticated cousin to loud and trendy Shibuya. Today, it’s a popular hangout for young professionals looking to leave the college bar scene behind, but Ebisu’s roots are a little more blue-collar. The area was once the site of the Yebisu Beer brewery, and just two minutes’ walk from Ebisu station there used to be a bustling market.
The market is now long-gone, and in its place you’ll find the Ebisu Yokocho, a collection of 21 unique restaurants and bars huddled together under a single roof. Inside, mouth-watering smells drift out of the numerous kitchens and mingle in the air with the laughter of customers sitting within an arm’s length of diners at different establishments.
Towards the back of Ebisu Yokocho you’ll come to Nikuzushi, or “Meat Sushi,” which serves exactly what its name promises. In particular, the restaurant has earned a reputation among Japan’s gourmet subset that goes wild for horsemeat.
While you can order a la carte, we instead opted for the chef’s recommendation of eight pieces of horsemeat sushi for 1,600 yen (US$15), which saved us 300 yen compared to what separate orders would have cost us. Nikuzushi employs the same naming conventions that are used with tuna for its horsemeat, and our set came with two pieces each of akami (lean meat), harami (belly), nakaochi (back), and negi toro (diced fatty meat with green onions wrapped with seaweed).
Each cut had its own unique charms, whether the chewy nakaochi, firm akami, subtle char of the seared harami, or flavorful kick of the negi toro. What they all shared, though, was an exquisite deliciousness, accented by the meat juices mixing with the warm vinegared rice.
The southern island of Kysuhu is a major producer of the horsemeat Japan eats. However, in talking to the owner of Nikuzushi, Mr. Nakamura, we found out that most of the restaurant’s horsemeat is imported from Canada. Not only does this help to keep costs down and allow Nikuzushi to serve its fare at the reasonable prices it does, Nakamura tells us that in comparison to domestic sources, horsemeat from Canada is leaner, with a less gamey taste that goes especially well with vinegared rice.
Horse isn’t the only meaty choice for diners at Nikuzushi, though, which also has amazing beef. We tried a cut called sashitoro.
Seared by Nakamura right before our eyes, the 680-yen cut is one of the pricier items on the menu. Juicy and so tender it melts in your mouth, it’s definitely worth that much, if not more, though.
Even among Japanese people, not everyone regularly eats horsemeat, and we understand if you have similar reservations. If you feel, though, that even after the extensive equestrian contributions to human society in the fields of transportation, agriculture, and gambling, that the animals should also nourish us directly, Nikuzushi is a fine place to dip your toes in the world of gourmet horsemeat.
Nikuzushi / 肉寿司
Address: Tokyo-to, Shibuya-ku, Ebisu 1-7-4, Ebisu Yokocho-nai
住所 東京都渋谷区恵比寿1-7-4 恵比寿横丁内
Open 5 p.m.-5 a.m.
Closed on Sundays and holidays
[ Read in Japanese ]