Meet the ‘Demon Roll’ sushi for the day before spring — Kyoto-style. This makizushi is a very original, fascinating and extremely beautiful variation of the eho-maki (lucky direction roll) makizushi that is eaten by custom in Japan on Setsubun, February 3rd, the day before spring begins. Setsubun has some wonderful customs and they all seem to be food related.
Two years ago I was introduced to Hisagozushi’s Setsubun Onimaki, literally ‘demon roll’ by Miwa. I had eaten this shinise’s sushi several times but I had no idea of their magical and very visually appealing eho-maki. Last year, I really wanted to eat one again but we were too late and Hisagozushi was sold out.
This year, not only did I make a reservation the day before and schedule the pick up in the a.m. not the p.m., I arranged to do a short interview and get some photos of the master, Chef Ujita making my demon roll!
I knew that Hisagozushi must sell an insane amount of these delightfully decorated and very tasty sushi rolls on Setsubun but I assumed that they had some kind of fantastic machine that just cranked them out – they are a small shop!
The day before Setsubun, and two days before spring, I got to speak with the owner and head chef and he said that he and the staff we going to be up all night making ehomaki and working all day on Setsubun to fill orders. However, as I knew from my experience last year, they would not be able to meet the demand. And, everything is made by hand, no fancy machines!
About Hisagozushi and Onimaki
This morning, February 3rd, I went over to Hisagozushi (ひさご寿し) to take some photos of my Oni Maki (鬼巻, demon roll) being made and to learn first hand about this foodie product that has fascinated me for a long time. By the way, I know from the KF access stats that this product is among probably the top 3 that have appeared on KF! Visually, it is a very compelling piece of sushi. As someone with a background in design and currently doing product and brand development, this is a product that I often recall.
The master was looking rather tired at 10 am this morning when I arrived and he still had a long, long day ahead of him! Chef Ujita gave a quick demonstration of how they make their Demon Roll. First you have to understand that 7 is the luck number in Japan and you want to have a lucky year ahead. So, the eho-maki has 7 ingredients rolled up inside rice and the egg wrapper. The ingredients are sliced shiitake mushroom simmered in sweetened soy sauce, kanpyo (dried gourd strips), chopped grilled anago eel, sliced takuan tsukemono (pickle), shrimp, cucumber and atsuyaki-tamago (thick egg omelet) strip. And this is all wrapped up inside that wonderful demon branded sheet of egg.
As Chef Ujita had a long day ahead of him so I asked the Okami-san 女将さん (proprietress), literally ‘woman general’, about the history of Onimaki and Hisagozushi.
Hisagozushi opened for business in 1945, the store has been in its current location since opening and now has counters in both Takashimaya Kyoto and JR Kyoto Isetan department stores. Hisagozushi, located in downtown Kyoto, is a small shop and uses lots of eggs in their various sushi offerings. Hisagozushi doesn’t have the space to cook eggs in addition to making sushi, so for 60 years they have been collaborating with a famous Kyoto egg shop. Hisagozushi is quite well known for their chirashi-zushi, which uses a lot of egg.
As I spoke with the Okami-san, I found myself beside myself for not picking up on this. First off, I have to say that this sushi roll is just the most compelling that I have ever seen. And, I didn’t realize how ‘Kyoto’ it is. The Okami-san was very understated about it, inarticulate almost. I distinctly felt that she might not be fully aware of how epic this was as she told me the story. “Well, about 10 years ago we and our egg maker were talking about making a new eho-maki. The egg maker suggested that we could make a wrapping with egg and we never liked the ones wrapped with nori because nori is rather hard to chew, and just quite plain.” I mean, every eho-maki in the land is wrapped with nori, right? Yes!
“So, we thought that if the wrapping were done in egg it would be more elegant — more Kyoto, and it would be easier to chew. The wrapping would be soft and tasty. And, our egg maker suggested that we could use an oni themed hot iron brand on the egg. We came up with an ‘oni’ demon design and that has been quite a hit ever since!”
This truly is one of the artifacts of Kyoto culinary culture that even in other season I often find myself thinking about.
Setsubun Customs and Food
The main customs for Setsubun all involve food. Setsubun can be thought of as a kind of New Year’s celebration and you wish for plenty of good fortune for the new year and do anything possible to avert illness and bad fortune. The demon often seen at Setsubun brings bad fortune and you want to drive him out, especially out of your house.
Eho-maki – Lucky Direction Sushi Roll: Eat a sushi roll with 7 lucky ingredients facing the direction of good fortune for that year. (The direction changes every year. Eat it quietly and don’t stop while eating, wish for what you want in the coming year. (see this KyotoFoodie How to Eat Ehomaki and How to Eat Ehomaki article for more)
Mame-maki – Throw Beans Out Your Door: Put roasted ‘fukumame’ soybeans in a square wooden ‘masu’ cup and place in the ‘kamidana’ family shrine during the day on February 3rd. (If you don’t have a shrine, place in a high place, above the level of your eyes.) Between 8 and 10 pm throw beans out every door and window of the house (do the ‘genkan’ front door last) twice and say ‘Oni wa soto!’ (Demon out! 鬼は外) and close the door or window quickly and throw beans inside the room twice and say ‘Fuku wa uchi!’ (Good fortune and happiness in! 福は内).
Eat Beans: Pick up beans from the floor of the house, these are all charged up with good fortune now. This will keep you healthy and give you longevity. Eat the same number of roasted soybeans as your age, plus one. Eating off of the floor is not something normally done anywhere, least of all hyper-clean Japan. Traditionally, this is how it was done and Japanese homes have very clean floors. Now some companies sell ‘fukumame’ roasted soybeans in a hygienic sack that you can toss around your house, pick it up off the floor, open it and count out your beans, nice and clean. I have never thrown beans in the house. I just counted them out of the bag. Opps. Miwa checked various websites and this is indeed the proper way to do it. While I have never eaten off the floor, I like the idea because I am really into cleanliness. The floor in one’s home SHOULD be clean enough to eat off of – even if you do not do so in practice!
Hiiragi Iwashi – Put the Head on Your Front Door with Holly Leaves: The demon doesn’t like the strong smell of sardines, so grill one and eat it on Setsubun. The demon is afraid of getting his eyes poked. So, put the grilled sardine’s head on a holly stick with plenty of holly leaves and then put that on or around your front door. The smell will drive off oni and he will be afraid of getting his eyes poked by the thorns on the holly leaves if he were to try to come in your house. Aren’t Japanese demons easy to deal with? No magically passing through walls and so on! (see this KyotoFoodie Hiiragi Iwashi article for more)
Origin of Ehomaki
There are two competing theories regarding the origin of ehomaki. One says that merchants in the late Edo and early Meiji eras Senba (a part of Osaka) ate this special makizushi at Setsubun hoping for a new year of prosperity. Therefore this custom is more common in the Kansai region, rather than Kanto. Another theory states that a samurai under Toyotomi Hideyoshi coincidentally ate makizushi at Setsubun the day before a battle and was victorious; it then quickly became a custom. Peko likes the merchant theory best. source Setsubun Ehomaki, Mame-maki and Grilled Sardine
Here is our first Onimaki article, Setsubun: The Day Before Spring, Demons, How to Eat Eho-Maki and Throw Your Beans.
Hisagozushi honten (main store) is located on Kawaramachi Street just north of Shijo Street. It on the west side of Kawaramachi Street, next to OPA shopping center. The nearby Shijo-Kawaramachi intersection is the heart of Kyoto. Hankyu Kawaramachi Station is there as well as Takashimaya Department Store. The honten offers both takeout and sit down dining.
Hisagozushi also has takeout locations in the food courts of Takashimaya Kyoto and JR Kyoto Isetan department stores in Kyoto.
Hisagozushi’s sushi is good, maybe a little pricey for a budget traveler. If you want to purchase the Onimaki, best to make a reservation on February 2nd and pick it up Feb 3rd. Hisagozushi does offer some other Setsubun and Eho-maki sushi but the Onimaki is the one to write home about!
Hisagozushi website: www.hisagozusi.co.jp (Japanese only)
English menu: Yes, with photos and easy to understand.
telephone: 075-221-5409 (probably no English spoken)
Address: Kyoto-shi, Nakagyo-ku, Kawaramachi-dori Shijo-agaru, Shioya-cho 144 (京都市中京区河原町通四条上ル塩屋町144)
Map to Hisagozushi Honten
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