No offense to fans of California rolls (a purely Western invention), Japanese cuisine as it is enjoyed in France since its democratization at the end of the 1990s often has nothing to do with Japanese tradition. However, a handful of new addresses (finally!) offer authentic cuisine worthy of Paris-Tokyo, minus the jet lag. Far from fantasies and caricatures, three of them dismantle for us the preconceptions that weigh on this gastronomy adored by the French… and teach us valuable culinary lessons to adopt in our own kitchens.
“Seaweed is bland and rubbery”
Fake. If the waiter at the Japanese caterer hands you a menu on which the menus are categorized B12 or MH15 and offer raw salmon sushi at 2 euros a piece, it’s a safe bet that… this establishment is not at all Japanese. In France, the rise of sushi in the early 2000s was based on a very cheap and fairly “fast food” interpretation of what, in Japan, has been a know-how cultivated for several centuries. So our hexagonal makis, made from very cooked, high-calorie rice, compressed in a sheet of brown, rubbery nori seaweed, not very pleasant to eat, and stored for hours in the refrigerators of restaurants and supermarkets. “When it should be light, crispy, and give off iodized notes,” protests David Memmi, the founder of the Kaïto hand roll bar.
In this pocket establishment all dressed in blue marble, you eat at the counter, in the tradition of the old Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo. Hand rolls (the authentic version of makis and temakis that we know) are prepared to order, with an ikejime fish (a method of killing the animal without making it suffer, so its flesh does not contract) and matured for incomparable tenderness. But the star is the algae, the fruit of know-how that only exists in Japan, where we find thousands of more or less transparent, more or less dark variants. Those from Kaïto are sourced in the Ariake Sea in the south of the archipelago, for their crunch and maritime scent.
For a successful hand roll (and not a Christian one), we prepare everything at the minute. The rice should still be warm, lightly vinegared and fluffed with a spatula. The grains should be able to come off. The seaweed should be barely rolled to remain very crunchy. “Be careful, it does not tolerate humidity very well,” warns David Memmi. At the restaurant, we keep them in a dehydrator at all times. » Kaïto, 71, rue de Seine, Paris-6e. kaitoparis.fr
“The sake is too strong”
Fake. Who has never been offered, at the end of a meal, a tear of infamous “sake” poured into a ceramic saucer revealing at the bottom an erotic photo from the 1970s? “Since then, everyone has been convinced that it is a digestive whereas sake, the real thing, is enjoyed like wine, alone, as an aperitif or throughout a meal,” laments Ilona Melnyk. At Omasake, a futuristic vessel serving ultra-creative Japanese tapas, this sommelier has made it her mission to introduce the French to the wide range of existing sakes and the infinity of possible culinary combinations. “In the manufacture of sake, the rice is polished: the more it is polished, the more light and fruity aromas you will have. » She recommends getting started with junmai ginjo, polished at 50% and whose aromas can range from melon to apple, with a touch of acidity, and go well with a white fish carpaccio or poultry.
Want to reinvent the eternal aperitif-cheese board? The wine is replaced with a kimoto-type sake, the result of an ancestral manufacturing technique without added yeast. It is then the yeasts present in the air which penetrate into the rice and increase its concentration of lactic acid, giving notes of yogurt and porridge which flourish wonderfully with fresh goat’s cheese. For a fatter cheese, like Comté, we opt for a junmai daiginjo, neither too fruity nor too dry.
Omasake, 27, rue du Quatre-September, Paris-2nd. 27four.com
“Kobe beef is the best meat in the world”
Fake. The most famous ? Certainly. But the best? It’s a little more complicated than that, because Kobe beef is only one of the many existing names for wagyu, this Japanese beef with legendary marbling renowned throughout the world. Eclipsed by the aura of its neighbor (and fifty years of formidable marketing), Matsusaka beef thus remained a jealously guarded secret among Japanese gourmets… Until this fall, when one of the very first restaurants authorized to selling outside Japan opened in Paris. Marie Akaneya, a discreet and monastic restaurant, offers meat from Ito Ranch, the most awarded farm in Japan, which will only export fifteen cows by 2025. Her signature? Rigorous genetic tracing and exceptionally long breeding which increases the presence of unsaturated fatty acids, the secret of its unique texture in the world: while the melting point of Kobe beef is 20°C, that of Ito Ranch beef is at 12°C, which means it melts in your hand.
We forget the culture of gargantuan steak and fries and we rethink Japanese-style proportions, where meat, a precious product, is an accompaniment and not the star of the plate. “Like caviar, wagyu should not be used to nourish, but to please,” explains Jordi Rivera Jornet, spokesperson for the restaurant. One hundred grams per person is more than enough. » For perfect barbecue cooking, we choose binchotan charcoal, which cooks at very high temperatures without releasing harmful substances (smoke or ashes), excellent quality salt and no fat. When the fat in the meat begins to caramelize, you can remove it from the heat. It is served with koshihikari rice, the Japanese favorite for its short and bright grains.
Marie Akaneya, 12, rue Godot-de-Mauroy, Paris-9e. marieakaneya.com