Trends in roll combinations in the States are rapid, with so many joints coming up with their own "house" rolls. Conversely, the combinations of rolls or makimono are very constant in Japan. In this post, I am specifically referring to hosomaki (or thin rolls). There are the staples: kappa (cucumber), oshinko (pickled radish) and kanpyo (dried gourd) maki that help to cleanse the palette between eating oily fish nigiri or for shime (a meal's ending). And then there are the more hearty option like tekka (tuna) or negi-hama (green onion and hamachi). None are as excessive in ingredients as the ones that appear in the States (i.e. Rock-and-Roll, Caterpillar, 49er Roll).
But in the past few years, I've encountered new types of hosomaki in Japan (often times these combos are off the menu) that I have never tried before -- and they are just too good to keep under wraps. Pun intended.
My first encounter with the toro (fatty tuna) and takuan (pickled radish) roll combination was in 2009, at Danran, my favorite sushi-ya in Tokyo. It was something that I noticed on their makimono menu. When I asked the master about it, he said that it has recently started to gain popularity. It has been a favorite of mine since. The luscious oiliness of the toro entangles with the crunchy sweetness of the takuan for an out-of-this-world contrast in flavors and textures. The acidity of the pickle enhances the richness of the toro.
WARNING: Do not try this with powder or tube wasabi!!
I tried this wasabi roll for the first time two weeks ago in Niigata at a place called Ginpachi. We were tipped off by a local that this was a must-eat. I had never seen a wasabi roll before and I am still not sure if this is a house special. The wasabi is freshly prepared on a shark skin grater and placed in the maki. Simple. The result is an explosion. The sweetness of the wasabi co-mingles with the sweetness of the rice, but leaves a lasting singe on the tongue (and eyes and sinuses) because there is no intention of hiding the wasabi here... I loved the experience of fireworks in your mouth, but I think I would order it more strategically next time (for example after a few many cups of sake, for a wake up call).
I had heard of una-kyu (unagi-cucumber) but when a fellow diner at Danran shouted out "Master, uni-kyu please!!!" my ears perked up. Why had I never heard of this combination before 2014? I have seen uni-kyu hand rolls, but never as a maki-mono. I had to order this, even though my stomach was reaching its max. As an avid uni enthusiast, my expectations were very high. And this combo met my expectations, perhaps because Danran did not skimp on the uni at all. It was oozing a beautiful, shiny orange against the fresh green of the cucumber.
Confession: I am such an uni fan that I thought that perhaps this didn't even need the cucumber. But for the added crunchy texture, the cucumber was satisfying.
I'm probably halfway through my lifespan and I've just now trying these last two rolls for the first time in my life. These discoveries make me very excited for all the new rolls that will appear in the second half of my life.