A Japanese woman wears a kimono, holds a lantern and stands infront of the Galata Tower and the Bosphorous Bridge. The two Istanbul city icons loom behind her with a contorted bend as if they have been made from jelly. This stained–glass art work hangs on the wall of Japanese fusion restaurant ‘Inari sushi & Omakase’ in Kuruçeşme along the Bosphorous waters.
It is an image that resonates with Istanbul perfectly. A city where everything bleeds into one another. Where traditions, cultures and new technologies merge. It also gives a taste of what to expect from a restaurant that dares to adapt history and tradition by experimenting with a UNESCO heritage listed Japanese cuisine.
I was invited to discover this brave taste adventure.
Responding to UNESCO’s decision to add Japanese cuisine to the Intangible Cultural Heritage list, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spoke with reporters from The Japan Times newspaper on December 5, 2013. He told them, “We would like to continue passing on Japanese food culture to the generations to come… and also like to work harder to let people overseas appreciate the benefits of washoku (traditional Japanese cuisine)”.
On the Bosphorous in Istanbul, it appears one Turkish chef is doing just that, making sure new generations of Turks and also fly-in expats are aware of the Japanese kitchen but with a new set of unusual ingredients that conflict yet compliment.
The menu at Inari Sushi & Omakase appeals to a daring tongue but also to any skeptics who believe history cannot be re-written.
Rest assured this is not a blind experiment. Inari’s executive chef, 31 year old Barlas Günebak, has trained with Japanese chefs since 2003 at the exclusive and elegant Çırağan Palace.
Perhaps it is his royal education that allowed us to feel such appreciation for his ability and knowledge.
Our table’s reaction? A clapping ovation to the master chef of course.
Making it onto the list of the ‘bizarre’ are the following ingredients – orange oil, pears, strawberries, kiwifruit, goats cheese, truffle oil, mango, beetroot, grape, cherry tomato and corriander.
But, of course these are not all blended into the one meal. They are expertly and delicately placed within, around or on different sushi designs.
There is one menu option I desperately want to trademark as the Inari signature dish, opinion or not.
Biguban roll – Surumi flakes, avocado, spicy mayonnaise, popping candy and flying fish eggs.
Popping candy?? Hidden within this carefully wrapped sushi are sugar lollies!
On impact within the mouth the sugar lolly explodes, giving bursts of little energy bubbles across the tongue, combining taste with action.
Our table began smiling immediately as we shared both the sushi plus a mutual happiness and understanding of the unique and impacting moment.
In life we listen to our parents, our teachers, our friends, but when do we listen to our food?!
Even when you place your ear down to your plate, it is unbelievable. It pops.
Listen to your food. Perhaps this is unexplainable. So just try it.
If you still believe history and culture cannot be finetuned then there is a menu with options true to Japanese cuisine elements.
The word ‘Omakase’ simply means “I’ll leave it to you”.
It is the opposite of a term we are quite familiar with, ‘A la carte’.
Inari sushi & Omakase invites the patron, when desired, to leave the selection to the chef.
Ideally the selection starts with a series of plates from lightest to heaviest and then richest in flavour while also combining raw fish, grilled, simmered or other cooking techniques in its chef’s choice.
The well planned and designed restaurant logo uses the image of a red fox, drawing direct inspiration from ‘Inari the Rice God’ who is worshipped and known for his devotion to the protection of rice crops.
I suggest also the red fox logo, which is shaped like a heart, gave me an instant subconscious ‘love’ attraction to Inari’s warm restaurant atmosphere and menu concept.
Yes, I am in love. The best experiences in life are those that are shared, and sometimes also the unspoken ones when bubbles are exploding within your mouth from your sushi.
Written by Sheldon Heyes
Some menu highlights -
Ichigo roll - Spicy tuna fish, strawberry, cucumber, balsamic sauce
Inari special roll - Salmon, pear, avocado, jalepeno pepper, flying fish eggs
Inavariche – Seabass and salmon, tomato, bell pepper, orange, corriander, mint, orange oil, grapes, basil ponzu sauce, flying fish eggs
Hakojin roll – eel that is first grilled then fried, with mango, spicy mayonaise, unagi sauce, beetroot chips
You may also enjoy reading ‘Tasting Hori‘. A traditional Japanese restaurant bringing the heart of Japan right to the centre of Istanbul.