Published: Mon, March 10, 2014
Tokyo, Japan (Reuters) - Tucked away in the old district of Tokyo lies Nohachi, a traditional sushi joint which displays no price tags.
Inside, Hironori Ikeno has mastered the art of slicing, wrapping, and putting together a miniaturized version of the Japanese delicacy onto a single grain of rice.
He developed the technique over 13 years ago and has been honing it since.
"I actually started this whole thing from a joke with a customer whom I served a miniscule sushi to and I started to wonder how tiny I could make it," Ikeno said.
He currently replicates seven types of sushi, using mackerel, tuna, and sea urchin, mirroring their bigger cousins and only serves the miniaturized version to couples, children, or foreigners who visit the shop.
"Customers are quite surprised, especially foreign guests who are really good at expressing their pleasure. They have even been so kind as to call my sushi art," said Ikeno.
It takes about five minutes to complete all seven types, compared to a minute for the normal version.
Putting together a sushi which weighs under a gram is no easy feat as the ingredients react differently in such minute quantities.
Problems which do not usually present themselves creep up when dimensions are measured in millimeters.
Seaweed, especially, becomes extra sensitive to moisture in the summer or dry up in the winter and Ikeno takes special measures like heating the seaweed before cutting it.
All this effort gives that single grain sushi their taste.
"The prawns tasted like prawns and sea urchin tasted of sea urchin too. The white-flesh fish had grated Japanese radish and chili which gave it that spicy kick. Each grain of rice actually had quite a distinct taste," said Hisako Okamoto who is a regular customer but had never tasted the mini sushi.
The local children, who popped by after school, were also impressed by Ikeno's tiny-sushi.
"It tastes good," said one eleven-year-old girl who identified herself as Maira. "It definitely has the taste of fried eggs," she said after having consumed an itsy-bitsy egg roll sushi.
Another 11 year old boy called Shun Koshikawa seemed more baffled at the microscopic octopus sushi he had just swallowed.
Sushi, which is known worldwide now, got its start towards the tail end of the Edo period in mid 19th century.
It started out as fast-food for the people living in Edo, as Tokyo was once called, and was sold from mobile street food carts which were all the rage then.
Hawkers learned how to squeeze balls of rice and raw fish together speedily which they would then sell to customers who needed something fast to eat.
Nohachi serves sushi in the traditional style, called Edo-mae, which means they use fish caught mostly in Tokyo bay.