Hope you like inarizushi. Otherwise just keep walking, pal.
Inarizushi (Japanese pronunciation of “inari sushi”) is often the forgotten middle child of sushi. You can find it at any sushi restaurant or often bundled in with supermarket packs of sushi. However, it is never the star of the show like tuna, sea urchin, or ikura can be.
That’s a shame because inarizushi is a pretty universally liked version of Japan’s iconic dish, being so simple in design it can be enjoyed by any age and even the most finicky of eaters. By taking the vinegared rice of sushi and placing it in a fried tofu pouch you get a sweet and juicy blast of flavor with each bite.
One restaurant in Sumida Ward seems to have realized this and offers a menu of inarizushi and a few sushi rolls – nothing else! It has been doing this successfully for four decades and is still thriving despite being located just outside of the Tokyo Skytree and all the glitzy shops and slick eateries that came with it.
Our reporter Ahiruneko headed down and found the restaurant, named Ajigin, located near Oshiage Station. Like most restaurants, their front window was full of replica dishes so people can see if there’s anything worth going in for.
Usually customers are treated to colorful displays of lush pastas, towering parfaits, and juicy steaks smothered in rich sauces. However, Ajigin’s window was full of two things and two things only: inarizushi and sushi rolls.
Ahiruneko was surprised that such a restaurant could exist for so long with such a limited range of items. And yet he was also very intrigued. This place must really be onto something to have the guts to do this for 40 years.
After walking in and taking a seat, it didn’t take long for him to peruse the menu. After all, it was just inarizushi and sushi rolls with various ordinary fillings. He ordered the Majiri set, which was four inarizushi and four sushi rolls for 680 yen (US$6.25).
The extremely friendly staff handed Ahiruneko a tea to sip while he waited. Despite its age, the restaurant was extremely clean and in good condition. It seemed like most of its business is take-out.
When his order arrived, his suspicions that this would be some unique inarizushi were correct. They looked stuffed with flavor as most inarizushi were, but these had a slightly darker color and were plentifully seasoned with sesame.
These inarizushi had only a slight sweetness to them, but were strong in savory spices making them both familiar to the style but with a unique taste all their own. Even more distinct, the tofu pouches were slightly crispy compared to the soft and juicy skins of regular inarizushi.
Simply put, they were amazing, and far beyond any inarizushi he had ever eaten. Obviously by only selling inarizushi, Ajigin had perfected their craft.
They were so big, Ahiruneko wasn’t sure he could finish them at first. However, after he started eating them, they were gone in a flash. There were only four sushi rolls left on his plate.
Truth be told, our reporter wasn’t too keen on the sushi rolls and the ones he got were filled with kanpyo, which are dried gourd shavings that didn’t particularly appeal to Ahiruneko.
However, they turned out to be much more delicious that he could ever expect as well. Again, by minimizing their menu, it looks as if Ajigin has pushed the flavor of their few items to their fullest potential.
As he dined, Ahiruneko watched a steady stream of customers come in and out. They were mostly elderly people who would chat with the kind staff and then pay promptly to make way for the next customer. It certainly seemed like business was still brisk at Ajigin even after all these years.
It was a favorite with the locals, and after his thoroughly satisfying experience it would become a favorite with our reporter as well. He highly recommends it to any tourists visiting the nearby Skytree, from those who are normally squeamish around fish eggs and squid to sushi experts who think they’ve tasted it all.
As he stepped out from the restaurant, the 634-meter landmark loomed over Ahiruneko so large that it made him dizzy. And yet, despite all the money, time, manpower, and ingenuity that went into making this monument, someday someone will just build a larger one. Nevertheless, Ajigin will probably still be there doing what it always has been and demonstrating that there’s also power in the unassuming simple pleasures of life.
Ajigin (Oshiage Store) / 味吟 押上店
Address: Tokyo-to, Sumida-ku, Narihira 2-14-6
Hours: 7 a.m.-6 p.m.
[ Read in Japanese ]