Engawa may be the single greatest and most important item of sushi that you will ever order. A bold statement? YES! And here is why.
It is so important to the true sushi connoisseur that I am dedicating an entire blog post to this one precious, incredible, perfect, ultimate piece of sushi.
What is Engawa? Why is it so important? Why do you need to order it, especially when you are at an unfamiliar sushi bar? Read and learn!
Engawa is quite simply, the fin (or the muscle area that controls the fin) of a halibut or Fluke. It has a firm, chewy texture and a very mild flavor. Typically it is served with Yuzu, Sea salt, and YuzuKoshu. It can also be served seared or torch seared. Or, you may just like it with nothing on it and dip into a little soy sauce. Any way the chef wants to prepare it is fine by me. Here are a few examples:
Above: Asenebo in Studio City
Above: Kiriko in Santa Monica
Engawa is favorite among Japanese people but is considered almost trash here in the USA. You will never find it on a sushi menu because Japanese chefs think that Americans won’t like it. They do however save it for customers “in the know”. All great Sushi Chefs in the USA have a secret stash of Engawa. If you ask your chef for engawa and he doesn’t know what you are talking about…GET OUT OF THERE, YOU ARE IN THE WRONG PLACE!!!!!!!
So first of all you just have to try it because it tastes GREAT and has a wonderful texture. But furthermore, if you ask your chef for engawa…he will immediately know that you are for real and you deserve the best of everything that he has to offer. That’s right; all you have to do is ask “do you have Engawa today?” You will be treated in a whole new way with a whole new respect from your chef. He will begin to pay attention to things like your soy sauce bowl…its it a green paste full of wasabi? Or is it clear soy sauce. Sushi chefs in USA are so used to American eaters that they can become jaded and actually not give you their best service or products. If they realize that you are looking for real sushi, they will definitely begin to treat you better.
Here is a story of what happened to me at a small sushi bar in Northern California: (Actually a review I wrote back in 2008)
“I was very disappointed with Sakae for two reasons. One was the quality of fish, and the other was that I was discriminated against for being a white boy!
I started off with some of the specials off the board, Kampachi, Wild Salmon, Shima-Aji, Everything was very average.
I asked for a recommendation from the chef and he gave me Aji…which again was really nothing special. Being pretty disappointed with everything, I asked for the Aji bones (which was not on the menu) the chef kind of looked at me funny. Just then the owner came up to me and said…”Oh you like fried Aji bones?” I said yes. He asked how everything else was, and I replied “pretty good, but I am looking for something special”.
We started talking sushi, and then he realized that I wanted the best possible stuff he had to offer. He told the chef to break out the Seki- Aji and a few other items and he actually sat down and ate with me, It was late and I was one of the last customers. He told me that they didn’t know that I cared about good sushi and that most of his customers are Yuppies with kids and can’t tell the difference between fish and really good fish. He admitted that they save the best stuff for their Japanese customers or their regulars that knew what they liked.
I was kind of appalled that i got the “White Boy” treatment and I told him so. He invited me to come back and they would give me the full Omakase Japanese treatment and not hold back the good stuff. I agreed to come back, but I’m not sure that I will.
Maybe I am being naive, and that many sushi bars do this. I know that when you are a regular, the chef gets to know you and what you like, but to profile a new customer this way does not seem to be a good Idea.
I usually go to Sushi Koo when I am in this area, but I wanted to try a new place. I think next time I will go back to Koo where they have been treating me well from the first visit.”
If you are still a novice sushi eater, you can now ask your chef if he has any other, more traditional or exotic fish you should try. You may suggest Saba or Kohada which are also Japanese favorites.
So that’s the deal with engawa. Order it and enjoy!