In food as in most things, appearances can be more than a little deceiving.
Case in point would be the dish shown above. The look like fried dumplings – but really, that’s as far as the resemblance goes because these are actually sushi. Inari-zushi, to be exact.
Unlike the more common nigiri-zushi (rice balls topped with raw seafood), makizushi (nori-wrapped rolls), and temaki (conical hand-rolls), Inari-zushi is never bundled or held together with nori. Instead, it involves the stuffing of sweet vinegared rice into pouches made of deep-fried tofu. After frying, the tofu is soaked in a mixture of soy sauce, mirin (Japanese cooking wine), and a dab of sesame oil.
It is so named because the corners of the finished pouches look like fox ears – and foxes are sacred to the Japanese grain goddess Inari. Traditionally, harvest offerings at the goddess’s shrines include bowls of plain rice, cups of warm sake, and these stuffed pouches to please her furry little pets.
Fukuya, best known for the best Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki in southern suburbia, offers a three-piece serve of Inari-zushi for P 101.00. Unlike most variants of this dish, the vinegared rice isn’t plain but is given a toasty undertone by the addition of toasted black and white sesame seeds. These plump pouches are quite heavy and are delectably sweet: not sweet enough to pass as dessert, but just enough to intrigue the tastebuds.
I recommend these with a kani salad or a dish of yasai itame (stir-fried mixed vegetables) for an excellent vegetarian lunch.