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A Short Course On Our City’s Incredible Variety of Japanese Cuisine

In a city with the greatest variety of Japanese food outside of Japan, we separate the hamachi from the chawanmushi to offer a delicious adventure beyond California rolls. Yosh!
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Seared elk tataki from Guu Garden
Seared elk tataki from Guu Garden Milos Tosic & Kyoko Fierro
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In a city with the greatest variety of Japanese food outside of Japan, we separate the hamachi from the chawanmushi to offer a delicious adventure beyond California rolls. Yosh!


2081 W. 42nd Ave., 604-266-1428

You don’t need a special reason to visit one of Vancouver’s finest sushi restaurants, but here’s one anyway: chef Ikeda Hide offers the option of trying sushi Osaka-style. The sushi we’ve come to know and love is actually the Edo, or Tokyo, style. While Edo won the global sushi wars (even in Osaka), battera—“pressed sushi”—survives. It’s a sort of sushi layer cake with ingredients such as cucumber and seaweed sandwiched between fish on top and compressed rice beneath. Pique your palate with the tartness of an ume (plum) roll, followed by the smoky sweetness of unagi battera (barbecue eel). Chef Hide’s artistry is all across the menu, as in the cornflake crisp of the Edo tuna roll.

Bistro Sakana

 1123 Mainland St., 604-633-1280.

Some Japanese traditions die hard. It’s no accident that you never see female sushi chefs. It’s not allowed. In fact, old-school Japanese sushi institutions won’t allow a female foot to violate the domain behind the sushi counter, even to pass through. But Etsuko Needham isn’t in Japan anymore. The head chef at Yaletown’s Bistro Sakana is also co-owner, with husband Peter. As boss lady she was able to get her sushi chefs to instruct her, and for the last seven years Bistro Sakana has been proving Needham’s talent. The menu goes beyond sushi to cover a range of classic Japanese dishes, sometimes incorporating unexpected Italian touches like pesto and her popular prosciutto roll.


912 Clark Dr., 604-251-3711.
1238 Robson St., 604-682-3634.

There’s no better introduction to the staples of Japanese cooking—and snacking—than these two grocery stores. Safeway won’t cut it if you aspire to create Japanese treats like addictive tako-yaki. Fujiya can sell you the special pan, the pre-mixed flour, the sauce, the garnish, and of course the tako (octopus). Konbiniya on Robson (the name is a Japanese approximation of “convenience”) offers shelves full of sembei (rice crackers) and cookies with names like Milk Sand, Animal Mate, and Cream Collon—and to wash it down, a cold can of Pocari Sweat. All the fun of Japan without the jetlag.


Various locations.

In Japan, izakayas fill the niche of all-purpose eateries where a group of diners can get a wider variety of dishes than they would find in more specialized restaurants. Vancouver is the North American capital of izakaya-style diners, and has a number of great examples, including Hapa and Kingyo. But Guu takes pride of place, having introduced Vancouver to the boisterous call-and-response mayhem that has become a familiar element of the city’s dining scene, and to tuna tataki, the lightly seared tuna sashimi with ponzu sauce seen on Rob Feenie’s Cactus Club menu. Kabocha korroke, a signature Guu oddity, is a deep-fried ball of kabocha squash (called pumpkin in Japan) surrounding a hard-boiled egg. The chain’s playful approach is on display with ebi mayo, the popular salad with deep-fried shrimp and chili mayo; “Ebi Mayo’s Sister” is a potato-crusted version.


Various locations.

Those who want hot dogs with Japanese-inspired toppings and trimmings like bonito flakes, shredded seaweed, or miso mayo—and devotees include Anthony Bourdain and Mark Zuckerberg—heretofore had to make the pilgrimage to the little cart at Burrard and Smithe. Now they can also go to an actual bricks-and-mortar location at 530 Robson (or even Manhattan) for new menu items like “Meat Lovers” (a pork sausage topped with a sauce of beef and pork meat, and cheese) or Japanese ice cream (matcha, sesame) served in fried hot dog buns.

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