Kushikatsu, deep-fried morsels on bamboo skewers, are not what most people think of when it comes to Japanese cuisine. The popularity of sushi abroad has left the impression that the country’s food must be raw.
At kushikatsu specialist Brochettes de Reve & Kushinobo on the lively Ginza Corridor, the only thing uncooked is the salad — everything else is sunk in gloriously hot oil.
Kushikatsu are eaten with your fingers straight from the skewer. There isn’t a chopstick, knife or fork in sight; never before have complementary hand towels been more needed. The cooking process is simplicity itself: A bamboo skewer of meat, fish or vegetables is dipped in bread-crumbs, batter, more bread-crumbs, and dredged and dropped in a deep fat fryer.
If you are feeling brave, warn the chef of any allergies you may have and then opt for the omakase course (Chefs choice). For first timers, what seems like a Russian roulette of skewers will follow. Of course, you could choose any type you like, but that would ruin the element of surprise.
Shitake mushroom started the evening, stuffed with, celery, onion and parsley, perfect for a tartar sauce. Next up was shrimp wrapped in shiso leaves, recommended to pair with the house champagne. Staff could suggest a different beverage to match each course, but with over 40 types of skewers, you would wake up with one hell of a hangover.
If exotic produce is the most important part of kushikatsu dining, a close second is the sauce. The waiter provided a plate with ketchup, lemon, tartar sauce, English mustard, mustard mayonnaise, ponzu, sesame salt and a traditional Osaka style kushinobo sauce that is based on Worcester sauce. If you have ever eaten out in Kansai, you will instantly recognize the taste. Choosing what condiment to use depends on what is on your skewer — the best way according to decide, according to the chef, is to “just take a bite, and then choose the dip.”
More than a meal, each skewer is like a course unto itself, and as each one was finished, the chef presented the next one: snow crab was followed by pork loin and onion; marbled beef was served after cod roe; eggs, octopus, salmon, you name it the man deep fried it.
The highlights were the winter recommendation of cod roe and thin sliced pork, and the whole king prawns and giant bacon wrapped asparagus are also worth a try.
In his book “Kushinobo”, founder Haruhiko Inuie describes the challenges in taking his style of cooking international. On a trip to Sri Lanka, he tried to make Japanese-style skewers with local ingredients but the dishes were deemed a failure. After walking around the local market and seeing the variety of produce on offer, Inuie decided a more local style fried dish would work better.
“It was a big hit,”, said Inuie, “and gave me the idea that there should be different ways to enjoy kushinobo from country to country.”
Inuie may have single handedly destroyed the myth that all Japanese food is healthy. From humble beginnings in 1950’s Osaka, because of Kushinobo, kushikatsu can now be eaten across the world — and in volume: the chef won’t stop serving you skewers till you tell him to relent.
Stumbling out into the clear night air, topped off by my last course, I was certainly full of enough fried food to last more than a week.
Brochettes de Reve & Kushinobo
109 Ginza Corridor
7-2 Ginza, Chuo-ku
Open daily, 5-11 pm