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Beyond the Roll: Chawan and Chirashi

Posted by Shannon on 10/13/2011

Sushi buffs & aficionado friends… have you ventured off of your gastronomical beaten-path lately?

Granted…if you are in the population mentioned above, that means you are already in a Japanese restaurant. But what I’m getting at is… do you ever consider replacing your Philly/Las Vegas/Rainbow roll with a funkily-named item on the menu that you have yet to try? At one time in your life sushi was a scary, unexplored concept. What is today’s version? Is it kirage, chirashi or udon?

Shown above is an appetizer named chawan mushi . Straight outta the box, it translates to tea-cup steam. A teacup in a sushi bar? Would’ve thunk it! Underneath the hood, delving into the steamed egg with the dime-sized spoonhead, I exposed carrots slivers, a bright pink shrimp, cilantro, and a flavorful broth made of dashi and mirin. Mushrooms and lotus root are also typical ingredients in chawan mushi. Depending on the season too, you will be served a hot or a cold version.

I’ve had this a number of times starting back in 2009. I was still living in Seattle and looking for something different. Since it’s an appetizer sized dish, there wasn’t too much for me to lose. Chawan is an original Japanese idea that I wished I’d been able to eat as a child. The cup and the petite spoon are additional novelty, intentional details I appreciate.


Another dish that is chocked full of variety is chirashi sushi…

Chirashi (ちらし) translates toscattered sushi. A number of seafood pieces are arranged on top of sushi rice (different from plain rice due to the addition of rice vinegar.) This type that I had is Kansai style, which veers away from traditional form because of its inclusion of cooked toppings.

The cast and crew here (starting with Mister Shrimpy at the bottom, and moving counter-clockwise): cooked shrimp, seared tuna, raw tuna, yellowtail, raw salmon, egg omelet, cooked eel, octopus and roe.

Here is a second shot with a larger view of the bowl mine was served in, my drink and a partial view of the sushi bar display case. There is nothing in here I dislike. Yes, tako (octopus) is on the fringe for me… but a little swish through the soy sauce and its a whole new ball game. I eat my chirashi piece by piece, selecting my favorite ones first. In this particular bowl, the tamago (omelete triangles), salmon, and then yellowtail were the first ones gone! 

I bet a few of you are grossed out that I eat broiled eel, slices of octopus tentacles, raw salmon, etc, etc, etc. If you’ve already tried them (once, if not twice to confirm bad quality the first try) then fair enough. To the others reading with forehead wrinkles crinkled in skepticism… remember when sushi sparked an “eww, gross!” reaction from you ;).

As this week draws to a close, I hope you close it out with a happy and adventurous food experiment. Since your taste buds only have one go-round in this lifetime… put them to good & varied use!


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