Original post below:
Yours truly has been stretching his food adventure limits of late, by actually driving east of Main Street for a change, and finding some satisfying spots along the way. Nao Sushi in nearby Burnaby was one of them – actually a foodosophy reader had actually mentioned it to me privately, but I had totally forgotten his recommendation, and only realized it was the same place when I mentioned it after the fact…
Located in a mixed residential/commercial strip along Kingway in the burgeoning Middlegate neighbourhood, Nao Sushi competes with another Japanese restaurant in the very same building a few slots down the street. From the outside, this other place looked less appealing. And another reason that drew me into Nao was the Japanese script in the exterior signage denoting kamameshi (which I guess you could translate in English to ‘pot or kettle rice’). I do not think I’ve ever seen another place in Vancouver offering this dish nor had it in town before, so my interest was truly peaked…
With a large dining area broken off into several sections across the floor, I was also surprised to see the wide space devoted to a sushi bar. Seeing the men behind the counter and hearing some banter in Japanese (the wait staff also seemed to be mostly Japanese as well), I decided to place my fate in their hands and sample some nigiri sushi to get my meal started.
As you can see, aside from the slightly different arrangement of the negitoro maki ($2.50), the rest appeared very good as the plate was brought to our table. Not overly large slices of fish (salmon@$1.40, tako@$1.60, ikura@$2.00, hamachi@$2.50), very fresh, and topped over some nicely formed rice – just the way I like it. I would have ordered more, but our main purpose on this day was to eat some kamameshi…
We’d been warned when we ordered that it would take about 15 minutes to prepare, which was fine with us. Actually with the nigiri keeping us occupied, it came out well timed. Pictured above is the kamameshi gozen with the tempura option ($10.95); my dining companion selected the sashimi option instead ($11.95). Accompanying it was a small side salad and oshinko (pickled vegetables).
For those of you who have never had this before, just think of it as a pilaf of sorts, with various ingredients, often vegetables and some protein, steam cooked together with rice. The rice itself is cooked in a mixture of water, shoyu (soy sauce), cooking sake, and kombu (kelp). I would say the predominant scent you will get is from the mushrooms, resulting in a warm, earthly flavour combination.
Kamameshi can be found in some restaurants in Japan that specialize it, and as with many facets of Japanese cuisine, you will find many regional differences. In fact, if you ever have the opportunity to travel across the country, many local train stations offer it up as an eki-ben (bento specific to that station/geographic area) that can be eaten in your seat on the train.
The image above is a close up, above view of the kettle. You could technically eat directly out of the pot, but they also provide a small serving bowl to eat from. In hindsight, this single kamameshi could have done us both, as it was deceptively deep and more than enough a meal for a single person.
My tempura side was evenly battered, not too thick and very crispy. By the time I got partway through this plate, I was bursting at the seams.
To wrap, I’d recommend Nao Sushi for both the sushi and the kamameshi we had. I know I’ll definitely be back to try the former some more and perhaps take a seat at the counter next time.