Nikkol group NEWS LETTER


Nihonbashi Stories No. 2
The food culture born in Nihonbashi

    A center of culture and commerce, and a busy district visited by many people – that’s Tokyo’s Nihonbashi. This issue profiles the food culture that was born there.
    The eating habits in the old capital of Edo (present-day Tokyo) were greatly influenced by the establishment of the large fish market during the Tokugawa period. Nowadays the wide area near Imperial Palace is landfilled, but in Edo era the sea spread out before the castle, and fresh fish and shellfish were caught in right in the city. This played a key part in the birth of the distinctive food culture in Nihonbashi.

Fires are Edo spectacles: Tempura

    The town that developed around Edo Castle in the 1700s gradually grew into a huge city much larger than Paris and London were at the time. One of the things that was most feared in this sprawling city was fire. The castle town districts were lined with wooden houses, and once fires started, it was a no easy task to put them out. Their destructive force was great enough to wipe out entire districts. For this reason, the Shogunate prohibited indoor frying of tempura, which requires the use of fire and oil in large amounts, in the castle town. But the dapper Edo townspeople reportedly had even more fun casually eating tempura at open-air stalls. The most popular tempura foods were goby, conger, and sillago caught in Edo Bay.

Perfect match for the Edo temperament: Nigiri (hand-shaped sushi)

    In those days, sushi were served to customers at stores in the nature of stalls. There were no chairs or stools. The customers stood at the counter and placed their orders to the chef, who formed the sushi while sitting down and handed the items to the customer. In today’s parlance, it was a fast-food arrangement.
    Tuna (maguro) is just about certain to be available at today’s sushi restaurants. At many of them, it is the main attraction. But in the days of old Edo, you couldn’t find tuna at any sushi stalls.
    One year during the Tempo era (1830 – 1844), there was a large catch of tuna. It is said that “Ebisu Sushi”, a sushi vendor in Nihonbashi’s Bakurocho section, which is where Nikko Chemicals is located, got the idea of marinating slices of tuna in soy sauce and then serving them over balls of rice. Edo people loved the new taste and tuna sushi had huge success. Although Ebisu Sushi is unfortunately no longer around, Nihonbashi Bakurocho is consequently regarded as the birthplace of tuna sushi.

A uniquely Edo idea: “Unaju

    The dish consisting of rice topped with strips of grilled eel is also thought to have originated in the Nihonbashi district during the Edo period. The district was always thronged, and consequently became a center of entertainment, with plenty of theaters for Kabuki, Joruri (a kind of sung drama), and puppetry. The story about how “Unaju” was born goes that a typically impetuous and jaunty Edoite once ordered an eel dish that he could eat while watching Kabuki. In response, the chef put freshly boiled rice into a container, laid pieces of grilled eel on top, and delivered it to the customer in the theater.

    “Unaju” is on the menu at a restaurant in the newly renovated Kabuki Theater. You might say that it, too, is a tradition dating from the Edo days.

    The entertainment culture bred by the aforementioned Kabuki, Joruri, and puppet plays was also born and grew up in the Nihonbashi neighborhood. More about this in a succeeding issue!