On a recent trip to Sado Island in theSea of Japan on the northwestern coast of Niigata,
I had a free night alone. My Sadoan friend Ken Hirashima suggested I havedinner at a nearby
Kappo style restaurant called Goshima , which was tucked away in a quiet residential area behind the inn
where I was staying. The snowy weather discouraged him from suggesting any other place.
Kappo means “To cut” and "To Cook." The setting of Kappo is similar to small sushi bar, with counter seating and a few tables.
The Kappo chef will prepare a variety of dishes - sliced raw, grilled, steamed, braised and deep fried –
right before your eyes, and may engage in some lively conversation.
Grilled head of Snapper
Kappo falls somewhere between the traditional Kaiseki cuisine and the casual Izakaya style cuisine.
Kaiseki offers a seasonal course menu of elaborately prepared dishes, which are served in
an environment that is serene. Izakaya, on the other hand, offers an a la carte menu that consist
mostly of small plates. Drinking is the focal point of Izakaya style of dining. With Kappo,
it’s completely up to the chef. This can range from formal to casual, classic to modern Japanese.
Fusion can come into play. Prices vary. First timers are sometimes turned away.
It is through the introduction of the regular customers and their word of mouth that keeps
these small Kappo establishments going. To get to know Kappo, the best route is to find a
friend who can introduce you to the restarant they frequent.
Sashimi with local fish
LOCAL FLAVOR COMES INTO PLAY
Cod Milt Nabe
When I entered Goshima, a small stove was set up to heat the place. There was a counter with
six stools and a room with tatami mats on an elevated platform.
When Goshima, the owner chef for whom the restaurant is named, saw me come in, he must have thought that I
was a wayward tourist because he immediately tried to turn me away. “We don’t serve dinner here.
We just have nibbles and sake,”he said in an apologetic tone. By then, I had checked the menu
on the wall and I was sold.
A young woman came out and set a pot containing something fishy on top of the stove. “Welcome,” she said
smiling. She was much friendlier than Goshima. “What is it?” I asked her, bending down to look what was inside
pot. I was still wearing my down jacket and scarf around my neck. “It’s shirako nabe,” she said, pointing to the
white knotted rope like thing. It was cod fish milt – a sperm filled gland of a male fish. I turned to Goshima
and announced myself. “I am a friend of Hirashima of Manotsuru brewery down the street.” Goshima finally
seemed relieved that I knew someone from the area. “Dozo,” he said. I was invited to take a seat at the counter.
I hung my jacket and sat down Goshima serves locally brewed sake, sochu, and a few wines from California
and France. I chose sake.
HOW TO ORDER
Goshima suggested that I try “Omakase” – leave it to the chef. He said it would cost 2500 yen for the
course menu. He asked me if I was okay with that? It was very reasonable compared to most places in
Tokyo where a small plate of sashimi could cost you that. It is a good idea to go by what the chef
recommends, as the Kappo chef will mostly go to the market himself to buy the ingredients.
In no time, Goshima prepared a beautiful plate of sashimi of snapper, squid, tuna, and yellowtail
and other local fish I had never heard of before. “It’s been a good winter for the fishermen,”
Goshima said, “Almost too good to believe.” I was happy to hear the news, especially since
I heard that the fishing industry has been on the decline and many of the fishermen were struggling
to make ends meet.
Goshima showing the rare pencil thin fish
WHO YOU MIGHT ENCOUNTER
An hour went by and I was still the only customer at Goshima. I came at 6pm so that was early
for a place that could be for people who drink sake and nibble on food. The inclement weather seemed to be
affecting the business.
Goshima served me a rare local fish – it was a long fish that look like a stick, with a tiny
mouth and big eyes. It had coral pink skin. “They are a delicacy and can command a high price at Tsukiji
fish market in Tokyo, but it didn’t make it there today because the fishermen only caught two in the net,”
said Goshima. Its sashimi was tender and sweet. He made tempura out of the remaining half of the long
fish. I prayed that there were plenty more of this fish in the ocean.
Assorted seafood sashimi
Finally, one person walked in. A lone diner. He looked like a regular because he just went straight
to the end of the counter, took a bottle of sake out of the small fridge and made himself comfortable.
My fish sausage tempura arrived about then. The sausage was made from fresh pureed local seafood
and wrapped with fragrant shiso leaves. There was also the fish milt pot, which was served in a small
table top cooking unit, a plate of the cod fish roe and monk liver. It was a lot of fish to eat on my own.
I learned that the man at the end of the counter, ta dentis,t had dinner at Goshima every night when he wife and children were away in
Tokyo. Lately, that was happening a lot, but it was not my business to ask why. Goshima made him a
kimchii cabbage hot pot and a dish of crab croquettes and shredded cabbage salad – neither dish
was on the menu. They both looked delicious.
The dentist turned out to be Hirashima’s family dentist. Once that was known, he shed his guard
and became talkative. Just as I was thinking, Goshima served me the head of grilled snapper.
I wasn’t sure if I can eat another piece of fish.
fish, but I kept going. Then another man walked in. He was also a regular. Goshima introduced
him to me as the sake sommalier of Sado. He had won some blind folded sake contest. He checked
to see what sake I was drinking and brought out a different local sake from the fridge to try.
Besides being the island’s unofficial sommalier, he was also the prep school teacher, who
had taught Hirashima’s wife, Rumiko, when she was a teenager. Talk about a small village.
The little stove that heated the room - Nabe wth Cod Milt
It was past 9 pm and still only three customers, all enjoying their food, sake and company in
their comfort zone. I had eaten so much fish, I felt like a fish tank. I asked for the check. To finish
the evening, Goshima treated me to a piece of homemade apple pie that the young woman who
worked there had baked. It was of course not on the menu. I was greatful for the fish, Goshima’s
cooking, and the company of quirky regulars. The apple pie tasted sweet.