Ode to Chirashi
I was struck recently by how big a fan I am of ordering chirashi. For those unfamiliar with the word, "chirashi" refers to the Japanese word "Chirashizushi," which literally translated means "scattered sushi." Typically it's a bowl of sushi rice topped with a variety of sashimi and garnishes and is thought to be popular because it's filling, easy to make, and can use fish choices that the chef has handy.
I think I'm a fan for several reasons. Primarily, when going into a new Japanese restaurant, I find it a great way to ascertain the quality, skill, and generosity of the sushi chef. Specifically, because chirashi allows the chef to select the fish, it gives some insight by way of seeing what and how much the chef picks. Now some would argue that "omakase" or "chef's choice" is a better way to see the very best a chef can offer. However, omakase is oftentimes an expensive proposition and I prefer to do it when I trust and know what the chef is good at.
In contrast, chirashi is much more affordable. I've seen chirashi prices starting at $15 (and usually no more than $35) and this includes a selection of many fish and rice with garnishes.
The rice quality and the garnishes gives some insight into how serious a sushi restaurant is as well. At top level restaurants, the sushi rice is filled with multiple garnishes and oftentimes the presentation is as pleasing to look at as it is to taste. Contrast this to a low grade restaurant and you oftentimes see some poor quality or questionably fresh fish thrown on top of plain rice. Would you really want to spend $100+ for omakase at a place like that? Call me a skeptic, but I view omakase as frequently a sucker's choice....why would you want to leave the price wide open and let someone else choose all your selections? Unless of course, you trusted that person and were familiar with their quality and judgement.
Another great thing about chirashi is that as a sashimi-style dish, you can choose how much rice to eat. For those who count carbs or worry about such things, I find I typically eat a lot less rice when ordering chirashi than I might if I order a full set of nigiri.
Finally, for those of you who like variety, chirashi is often the epitome of variety. I've never seen less than 3 fish selections and many times been surprised at the very high quality choices chosen. True, it's often at the mildly higher priced "special chirashi" selection, but it's not uncommon to find uni, toro, and amaebi - some of my favorite choices.
That brings me to what I consider my ideal chirashi dish. One of the fun things about chirashi is seeing what a chef will select without breaking your wallet. In my world, the following selections (assuming great quality) would top the perfect chirashi:
Excellent sushi-grade rice with abundant garnishes, especially pickled mushrooms and radishes
Chutoro or Otoro tuna
Salmon (smoked salmon is fantastic)
Anago (prefer it to unagi)
Hotate (prefer scallop to octopus)
Sushi Tomi (Mountain View) comes very close and while the special chirashi is $28 (a bit on the high end), it definitely offers the best selection for the buck.
Look forward to trying many more chirashi and hopefully, one day, finding that perfect one.
Want to learm more or embark on your own expedition for Chirashi?
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