Contemporary twist for humble temakizushi rolls

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Temakizushi restaurant Awomb in Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, offers make-it-yourself hand-wrapped sushi sets for a single serving, which are a feast for the eyes as well as the palate.

By Sayuri Nitani / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterTemakizushi hand-wrapped sushi is easy to prepare and looks delicious, so many people enjoy making it at home. In addition to classic fillings such as seafood, vegetables and ingredients mixed with mayonnaise, fillings influenced by Western cuisine, simmered food and even fruits have recently become popular. Any of these ingredients can be paired with vinegared sushi rice and then rolled up in a sheet of nori seaweed to make an attractive cone-shaped serving.

Temakizushi cooking workshops have started to appear, and a restaurant that serves make-it-yourself sets for individual diners has received praise for its exquisitely arranged presentation.

“Today’s theme is to enjoy the gap” between traditional and contemporary fillings, Akihiro Iio, 42, said to the about 50 participants at a temakizushi workshop he organized at an Italian restaurant in Miyazu, Kyoto Prefecture, in early September.

There were about 30 different fillings to choose from, but sashimi was conspicuously absent. All of the fillings were influenced by Italian cuisine, such as aori-ika (bigfin reef squid) mixed with basil sauce, and oven-baked eggplant with mozzarella cheese.

“Cheese goes well with vinegared rice,” said a participant. “Basil and nori seaweed are a great match,” another said. A 37-year-old Tokyo resident who had traveled to Kyoto to attend the event said: “Vinegared rice has a refreshing flavor. That’s why Western-style fillings go so well with sushi.”

Iio is the fifth-generation owner of a vinegar brewery in Miyazu. He began introducing new kinds of temakizushi fillings, such as Chinese-style toppings and curry, at workshops about five years ago to spread the popularity of hand-wrapped sushi. He has been promoting his contemporary twist on temakizushi by calling the events “temapa” (combining the words temakizushi and party) and calling himself the “tema king.”

Iio held four similar workshops in Tokyo this summer, with each session fully booked.

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  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    People make and eat temakizushi at a temapa event in Miyazu, Kyoto Prefecture.

  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Bowls of temakizushi fillings influenced by Italian cuisine line a table.

“Temakizushi is great to make for guests at home because you can wrap any ingredients you like. People with different tastes and preferences can enjoy eating the dish together,” said Iio. “I hope people share the joy of temakizushi by making it for guests at home.”

Temakizushi is commonly thought of as a dish prepared with friends and family, but a restaurant in Kyoto is taking a different approach.

Awomb, which opened in 2014, offers single-serving temakizushi sets that include vinegared rice, nori, fillings and soup. One of their popular premium sets is priced at ¥2,340 including tax. They serve fish fillings such as sea bream and bonito, but they also have some unusual options such as mashed potato and chicken stew. Among the about 35 fillings they offer, you can find yuba tofu skin, a Kyoto specialty, as well as fruits such as watermelon and kiwi.

Awomb’s temakizushi sets, which are served with rock salt, almonds and dried fruits on the side, have received high praise for their looks alone, with their exquisitely arranged elements compared to art.

Hiroshi Ujita, Awomb’s 44-year-old owner and chef, said that he chose to focus on temakizushi because he can express the world of Japanese cuisine with hand-wrapped sushi.

When preparing fillings at the restaurant, Ujita said they employ techniques common in Japanese cuisine. “I want customers to enjoy the harmony of our fillings and the vinegared rice,” said Ujita. Some customers have begun making temakizushi with fruit fillings at home after trying them at the restaurant, he said.

According to a survey conducted by a party promotion organization, 75.4 percent of respondents to a survey said the advantage of serving hand-wrapped sushi at parties is that the dish looks great. The survey was conducted last year on 650 people aged 20 and over. With multiple answers allowed, 47.7 percent said the food is loved by both adults and children. Some respondents said, “People can enjoy the process of making temakizushi” and “People can talk about their favorite fillings and toppings.”

“Influenced by foreign sushi menu options such as California rolls, ideas about sushi in Japan are becoming more and more flexible,” said Takeshi Kadokami, the 65-year-old advisory editor of cooking magazine Amakara Techo. “People enjoy the preparation process before eating temakizushi. Now that a wider variety of fillings are offered, I think more people have realized anew the appeal of the simple dish.”

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