With the large number of sushi restaurantsadorning the city's landscape, there is no shortage of Japanese food intoday's Jerusalem. But in the early 1990s, says Boaz Tsairi, sushilovers were getting a raw deal.
Havingrecently married a Japanese woman he had met - and cooked with - inVancouver, Tsairi decided to change the situation. In 1992 he openedSakura (which means "cherry blossoms" in Japanese) in a 100-year-oldbuilding in the Feingold Courtyard, conveniently located in the centerof town and already home to two restaurants.
Tsairi, who was born in Rehovot and has a master's in geographyand urban planning from the Hebrew University, honed his cooking skillsin authentic sushi establishments - "Lots of good places withhigh-quality food, mostly in Tokyo," says the father of four.
Sakura was kosher in the beginning, and he wanted to have atraditional Japanese restaurant, Asian fusion. At that time,ingredients like wasabi, soy and ginger couldn't be found in Israel andhad to be imported. In 1998 Tsairi, who is also the chef at Sakura,decided to make the restaurant nonkosher. "Most of our clients werenonkosher, and to stay traditional and healthy, we needed to gononkosher." He explains that in order to be kosher, they had to useimitation ingredients such as fish stock and products made with MSG, aswell as processed food rather than authentic seafood.
In 2005, he broke through walls of the building andexpanded Sakura, with two rooms upstairs for private dining, a mainfloor and the sushi bar a few steps down, where the sushi is assembledin 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 startsordering products from different suppliers. He buys local fish on adaily basis and imports other fish from Egypt, Cyprus and Turkey. Hegets fish from Europe three times a week.
Afterordering, he goes to the kitchen to oversee the food preparation. Fourchefs (none from Japan) assist him, but he goes to Japan frequently fortwo weeks at a time to study new ideas and specific food preparation.
Three or four times a week he goes to Tel Aviv - where heopened a branch of Sakura in 2003 - to help different companies thatmanufacture products such as seaweed.
The Sakura menu offers appetizers, soups, dumplings and tempuraas first courses; entrees with rice, dumplings with rice, tempura withrice and soups. Sushi rolls, hand rolls, pairs, sashimi and sushiplatters are also available plus desserts, Japanese alcohol, beers,soft drinks and Japanese tea.Sushi can be an appetizer or a full meal, saysTsairi. Most people think sushi is just raw fish, but he says that forthe last 10 years there are new varieties of sushi on the market, andin Japan it is vegetarian.
Sushi is a combination of ingredients with 15 to 20 grams ofrice, no more than one centimeter wide, covering the fillings. "Youshould see the rice, grain by grain," he explains as he deftly makesthe rolls. A half roll has only one filling; three-quarters has up totwo fillings. One roll has up to five fillings (two fish, one cookedvegetable, and two fresh vegetables) or more. The most popular maki, orroll-up sushi, is a combination. A large maki has at least threefillings - with one fish and two vegetables. Sashimi, which is onlyfish, is also part of the sushi bar.
The clientele at Sakura is a mix of tourists, foreign residentsand Israelis. Why do they go specifically to Sakura? Tsairi says it'sbecause of "the different quality of rice, different ingredients anddifferent 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. Notkosher.