Despite our (we thought!), carefully planned strategy for a lunch of divine sushi… we were in for a shock as we slowed to pull on to the side street off the 79th street causeway. The shock was due to the line of even more prepared folks lined outside the still locked door of the somewhat oddly named ‘Sushi Deli and Japanese Market’ … They were waiting for the small and coveted restaurant to open. The word had gone out. This was the last day they’d be serving before closing for the entire month of June and their annual vacation to Japan. The faithful had gathered.
There are but 16 seats in this restaurant. As it turned out … we were numbers … 17 & 18… Oh to have left our home ten minutes earlier! That meant that we would need to wait for others to eat an entire lunch before we would be starting off with a cup of palate awakening Miso Soup.
We spent the time studying the shelves of the small shop area of the business. ‘Sushi Deli and Japanese Market’ must have started as a shop that became a restaurant. The lighting is normal for a shop. It is .. to be honest… a bit unromantic for a restaurant. But that doesn’t stop Sushi Master Michio Kushi … working with his lovely wife and sushi expert daughter… from garnering a full house. Chef Kushi is originally from Japan’s Katsuura, Wakayama Prefecture. There fish markets may not share the fame of their Tokyo counterpart … the Tsukiji fish market but they are just as noteworthy.
Michio has made South Florida his home and ‘Sushi Deli’ (as we call it)… his place of work since buying the spot with his hardworking wife in 1999. It is a classic family affair restaurant. Michio works elbow to elbow alongside his pretty daughter at the short and frenetic counter. The complexly configured chef steadily leads the battle of feeding a crush of followers who might wish for more seats.
Word to the newcomers! Do not let your cell phone ring. You will be sent back across the causeway without so much as an eel roll in your belly!
Abba was playing ‘The Dancing Queen' over the simple speaker system. I seemed to be the only one hearing it. I was not dancing. Families of many ethnicities were arriving. A beautiful Japanese boy hugged his parents joyously. Perhaps he was enjoying the song.
I slowly surveyed the offerings in the shop. Frozen octopus, rice wine vinegars, sesame seed grinders, chile sauces, rice cookers, unique drug store products with names that were oddly translated, soy sauces, kewpie mayo. ... and more...
My eyes landed on a variety of miso pastes in the cooler. Miso is produced by fermenting soybeans with salt. Fermentation is coming back in vogue for our ever curious food culture in America. Miso has fermentation in its DNA. Miso often has other ingredients in it such as white or brown rice and sometimes barley. The textures range from smooth to even chunky. The colors are an indication of ‘saltiness’ with the lighter being the less so as a general rule. And the colors range from nearly pearl to light yellow-brown to reddish brown to dark chocolate brown. Miso is loaded with umami as well as … ‘excellent for you’ nutrients.
I bought a bag of miso while still wondering why Sushi Deli does not put in more seats.
But ... they are the ones vacationing in Japan every year .. not me.
I’m Norman Van Aken and that’s my Word on Food ©.
© 2014 Norman Van Aken. The NPR radio show “A Word on Food” airs originally each Saturday morning on WLRN 91.3 FM in Miami and 91.5 in the Florida Keys