Still blossoming

Sakura - "cherry blossoms" in Japanese - is located in a 100-year-old building in the Feingold Courtyard.

January 26, 2010 19:06
3 minute read.


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With the large number of sushi restaurants adorning the city's landscape, there is no shortage of Japanese food in today's Jerusalem. But in the early 1990s, says Boaz Tsairi, sushi lovers were getting a raw deal.

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Having recently married a Japanese woman he had met - and cooked with - in Vancouver, Tsairi decided to change the situation. In 1992 he opened Sakura (which means "cherry blossoms" in Japanese) in a 100-year-old building in the Feingold Courtyard, conveniently located in the center of town and already home to two restaurants.

Tsairi, who was born in Rehovot and has a master's in geography and urban planning from the Hebrew University, honed his cooking skills in authentic sushi establishments - "Lots of good places with high-quality food, mostly in Tokyo," says the father of four.


Sakura was kosher in the beginning, and he wanted to have a traditional Japanese restaurant, Asian fusion. At that time, ingredients like wasabi, soy and ginger couldn't be found in Israel and had to be imported. In 1998 Tsairi, who is also the chef at Sakura, decided to make the restaurant nonkosher. "Most of our clients were nonkosher, and to stay traditional and healthy, we needed to go nonkosher." He explains that in order to be kosher, they had to use imitation ingredients such as fish stock and products made with MSG, as well as processed food rather than authentic seafood.

In 2005, he broke through walls of the building and expanded Sakura, with two rooms upstairs for private dining, a main floor and the sushi bar a few steps down, where the sushi is assembled in front of the customers. The restaurant accommodates about 65 people. In summer, there is seating outside.

Tsairi goes to the restaurant in the morning and starts ordering products from different suppliers. He buys local fish on a daily basis and imports other fish from Egypt, Cyprus and Turkey. He gets fish from Europe three times a week.

After ordering, he goes to the kitchen to oversee the food preparation. Four chefs (none from Japan) assist him, but he goes to Japan frequently for two weeks at a time to study new ideas and specific food preparation.

Three or four times a week he goes to Tel Aviv - where he opened a branch of Sakura in 2003 - to help different companies that manufacture products such as seaweed.

The Sakura menu offers appetizers, soups, dumplings and tempura as first courses; entrees with rice, dumplings with rice, tempura with rice and soups. Sushi rolls, hand rolls, pairs, sashimi and sushi platters are also available plus desserts, Japanese alcohol, beers, soft drinks and Japanese tea.

Sushi can be an appetizer or a full meal, says Tsairi. Most people think sushi is just raw fish, but he says that for the last 10 years there are new varieties of sushi on the market, and in Japan it is vegetarian.

Sushi is a combination of ingredients with 15 to 20 grams of rice, no more than one centimeter wide, covering the fillings. "You should see the rice, grain by grain," he explains as he deftly makes the rolls. A half roll has only one filling; three-quarters has up to two fillings. One roll has up to five fillings (two fish, one cooked vegetable, and two fresh vegetables) or more. The most popular maki, or roll-up sushi, is a combination. A large maki has at least three fillings - with one fish and two vegetables. Sashimi, which is only fish, is also part of the sushi bar.

The clientele at Sakura is a mix of tourists, foreign residents and Israelis. Why do they go specifically to Sakura? Tsairi says it's because of "the different quality of rice, different ingredients and different combinations that we serve."

Frommer's and Fodor's Israel Guidebooks say that many consider Sakura to be the best Japanese restaurant in Israel.

Sakura is located at 31 Jaffa Road in the Feingold Courtyard. It is open seven days a week from noon to midnight. Tel: 623-5464. Not kosher.

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