Hanaore — sabazushi (lightly pickled mackerel sushi)

Hanaore Sabazushi (花折鯖寿し)

Hanaore is another very ‘Kyoto’ culinary experience. This famous shop offers only a single, well loved dish — sabazushi. Just three slices of sabazushi and a small bowl of soup will set you back 1,800 yen! Hanaore and sabazushi is a must try!!

Hanaore 花折 Sabazushi 鯖寿し - preview

The only dish served, sabazushi and the noren (shop curtain)

Hanaore is another very ‘Kyoto’ culinary experience. This famous shop offers only a single, well loved dish — sabazushi. Just three slices of sabazushi and a small bowl of soup will set you back 1,800 yen! Hanaore and sabazushi is a must try!!

About Sabazushi
saba means mackerel, zushi is sushi

Before refrigeration and fossil fuel powered transport, Kyoto didn’t have much for fish, and no fresh fish from the sea. Therefore, the people of Kyoto, including the emperor, had to eat salted or dried fish that could make the journey from the Sea of Japan to the capital.

Saba (mackerel) is tasty, nourishing and plentiful in the Sea of Japan. Since olden times the Sabakaido (Mackerel Highway) brought food stuffs, mainly marine products from the sea to Kyoto. The Sabakaido ran from Obama in modern day Fukui Prefecture to Demachiyanagi (Kyoto), a 10 minute walk from Hanaore. The most important product brought to Kyoto on the Sabakaido was saba.

Sabazushi is made with saba that has been lightly pickled in salt, then filleted. The fillets are then pickled in sushi vinegar (rice vinegar and sugar) for a short time. Next the outer skin of the saba is carefully peeled away (retaining a delicate inner skin), remaining small bones are extracted with a tweezer-like device.

The fillet is placed into a kigata (a wooden form) for making oshizishi (pressed sushi) which is filled with sushi rice. A very thinly sliced piece of pickled kombu (kelp) is placed atop the saba. It is then pressed in the wooden form.

After pressing the sabazushi is placed in dried bamboo shoot covering and wrapped. The sabazushi will now keep (for a short time by modern standards).

Hanaore is one of several well known sabazushi restaurants in Kyoto. The honten (original, main shop) is located just to the west of Shimogamo Shrine (a UNESCO World Heritage site).

Hanaore seats just a few customers, serves one dish and offers several other oshizushi for take away.

The quality of the saba used is said to be the very, very best. The clerk told us that they have a difficult time now obtaining saba of the size and quality that passes muster with the proprietor.

Hanaore is highly recommended.

If you are visiting Shimogamo or Kamigamo Shrine or the Imperial Palace, Hanaore is probably on your way. Portions are small, we recommend it for lunch or an afternoon snack. Prices are pretty high, but unless you are on a tight budget, don’t let that stop you. This is how refined Kyotoites dined before industrialization. Again, a very ‘Kyoto’ experience.

Hanaore 花折 Sabazushi 鯖寿し
Hanaore storefront and noren

Hanaore 花折 Sabazushi 鯖寿し

Hanaore 花折 Sabazushi 鯖寿し
Hanaore’s offerings written on pieces of bamboo
only one kind of oshizishi is served in the restaurant, the others are available for purchase

Hanaore 花折 Sabazushi 鯖寿し
sabazushi and an exquisitely simple soup

Hanaore 花折 Sabazushi 鯖寿し
sabazushi and naturally colored (red shiso) pickled ginger

Hanaore 花折 Sabazushi 鯖寿し
Hanaore’s sabazushi is huge!

Hanaore 花折 Sabazushi 鯖寿し
notice the yellowish pickled kombu atop the sabazushi

Hanaore 花折 Sabazushi 鯖寿し
the soup features a single, tiny fillet of amadai (sweet baby snapper) — amazing!
amadai is also lightly pickled, this seems slightly grilled too

Hanaore 花折 Sabazushi 鯖寿し
other oshizushi available, they are wrapped in bamboo shoot covering and a paper label
all priced to knock your socks off!

Hanaore 花折 Sabazushi 鯖寿し
framed photograph of oshizushi, the one of the lower left is wrapped in thick, green kombu (kelp)

Hanaore 花折 Sabazushi 鯖寿し
Narezushi is the original sushi of Japan, this is funazushi, a controversial delicacy of neighboring Lake Biwa. Funa is a kind of carp. Narezushi is fish fermented with rice. Think fish cheese — only in Japan! If you like blue cheese, you *might* like funazushi. Most Japanese won’t touch this one. If you want to out do the natives, you’ve got to try this one!

Hanaore 花折 Sabazushi 鯖寿し
Sliced funazushi on the left (the orange center is the funa eggs). On the right is narezushi made with saba, we have not tried this one yet but have heard that it is more palatable than funazushi.

Hanaore 花折 Sabazushi 鯖寿し
A whole saba narezushi packaged in bamboo sheath (left). On the right is heshiko. Heshiko is pickled with huge amounts of salt and nuka (rice bran). Heshiko is popular among drinkers. This heshiko is made with saba.

Hanaore 花折 Sabazushi 鯖寿し
Iwashi (sardine) heshiko, another important fish from the Sea of Japan

This is not a tourist destination, Hanaore is undiscovered. Give it a try, with only one thing on the menu, you can’t order the wrong thing!

Hanaore website
(Japanese language only)


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8 Responses to “Hanaore — sabazushi (lightly pickled mackerel sushi)”

  1. […] Sabazushi was discussed in depth in the ‘Hanaore‘ post. Again, I was not present the day before when the sabazushi was prepared. Being a […]

  2. Tsuyoshi says:

    Hi,how do you do?
    I’m Tsuyoshi and love sabazushi too much.
    Last November I found Hanaore when I was waiting for bus at bus-stop near Shimogamo shrine.
    But,I thought three slices of sabazushi could not satisfy me.
    I wish there were more three slices…haha

  3. PekoPeko says:

    Hello Tsuyoshi!
    How do you do! Thank you for visiting.
    Three slices is kind of girigiri for me, but they are huge!
    Paku got a whole sabazushi to take to her parents house for New Year’s and it was a little old. So, after New Year’s she went to complain and they gave her a new one.
    Just the two of us had it for dinner that night. It was really zeitaku!

  4. […] for several days along a ‘highway’ (foot path) through forests and mountains. (see this article for more about […]

  5. Wonderful post, thanks so much for highlighting this and taking such great pictures. In my efforts to educate Americans back in the States about sushi, I always tell them about this form of sushi and the Mackerel Road (which I also write about in my book). Terrific story.

  6. boston sushi says:

    I won’t even start to mention to you just how much i like sushi, it is fantastic! It is really trully a skill to prepare it the right way, it took me years to perfect myself but now I really do make maybe the best sushi in Boston.

  7. Nils von Barth says:

    Thanks for the rec – agreed, this is a great find, and top-notch saba-zushi!

    There’s actually a slight choice: regular saba-zushi, or aburi-saba-zushi あぶり鯖寿し where the sushi is caramelized with a butane torch just prior to serving. This costs very slightly more (about ¥80 more), and is a fun touch.

    Quality-wise, this is the best saba-zushi I’ve had (a bit better than Izuju, though that’s also v. good), and I can’t really imagine better. Portion-wise, the review is spot-on: the slices are really huge (as noted), so it’s reasonably filling, but not quite a full meal. Overall it’s a bit expensive, but not budget-busting, and a great treat.

    English-wise, the clerk actually spoke some English and was eager to use it, and there’s an “English menu available” sign, so while very traditional, it certainly welcomes tourists.

    There was unfortunately no funa-zushi on my visit, but I did pick up some of the heshiko (sardines) to try out.

    Also, anyone who’s into Kyoto/Kansai-style sushi should certainly check out Izuju いづ重 in Gion:

  8. Nils von Barth says:

    Don’t miss the mitarashi dango!

    If you’re in the Shimogamo neighborhood and into food, you’ll likely want to check out the original mitarashi dango shop! (rice dumplings with a sweet soy glaze)

    That would be:
    Kamo Mitarashi Tea House
    …which is on the main street (下鴨本通 Shimogamo Hondōri), on the west side of the street, just across from the road leading to Shimogamo shrine (it’s just north of a Lawson’s).

    If you’re feeling like the saba-zushi isn’t quite enough, some mitarashi dango (or other sweets) at the tea house should do the trick!

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