Turtle Stew in Tokyo

After a day at the Yamasa Soy Sauce Factory in Narita and their brewery in Chōshi, Chiba, we went back to Yamasa Shoyu’s Tokyo office for a meeting with their president, Mr. Hamaguchi. He’s a very soft-spoken and cultured man, even after endless pourings of beer and sake. And he took us to Ishii, a restaurant in posh Nishi-Azabu for soft-shelled turtleExactly what I had manifested.

Suppon nabe was actually the first thing that came to mind when Endo-san asked me what I would like to eat in Tokyo besides the 10 sushi meals that we were going to have. I’ve never had turtle soup prepared the Japanese way, and I thought it was high time this foodie tried it. Thank you kamisama!

The multi-course meal started off with crispy deep-fried seasonal matsutake mushrooms. With YAMASA soy sauce, of course.

The softest, featheriest FIG I've ever put in my mouth. Coated with a creamy tofu and sesame sauce.
This was the lightest, featheriest fig I’ve ever had, coated with a creamy tofu and sesame sauce.
Bubbling hot reptile, rich with collagen.
It was a bowl of absolute umami delight. I’ve heard that they superheat the ceramic casserole and it does give the soup a slightly smoky, caramelized flavour. Slow cooked with the turtle, it’s got the depth and velvety texture of a double-boiled Chinese soup, but with the backbone of a classic Japanese broth: sakemirinsoy saucekombu and katsuo-bushi for that extra umami sweetness. 

The turtle was tender and moist like the chicken in a double-boiled Cantonese soup, but more fatty and slightly gelatinous. The super hot liquid, thick and brimming with collagen, coats your tongue luxuriously. It was like a sweet, delicious, savory facial for your oral cavity and your insides afterwards. Thank you Mr. Turtle, you and your carapace served us well.

Unfortunately, none of us had seconds.

In one swift, graceful move, our beautiful waitress slinked in through the fusuma and took the huge earthenware pot back into the kitchen. Without first asking any of us if we wished for a refill. Endo-san and I were both secretly aghast when she did that, but didn’t feel like it was our place to ask for seconds before Hamaguchi-san did. We wondered in our minds if she was going to bring it back out as zōsui (soupy rice porridge) at the end because there was still A LOT of expensive soup and turtle meat left, but it never came back!!!!!!!

But look. We get sushi. Not particularly revelatory, but still quite delicious.

DSCN8949 DSCN8954


We ended the fantastic meal with a bowl of miso soup with clams — a bittersweet, briny finish but what I really wanted was another bowl of TURTLE.

Not turtle soup.


Obligatory group photo: Mr. Hamaguchi in the middle, Chef Ishii on the right.

We had quite a laugh about it after Yamasa Shoyu dropped us off — with all the ritual departure bowing — at our hotel. That was like a God-knows-how-many-gazillion-yen ceramic pot of soft-shelled turtle. But hey, if you’re with the president of Yamasa Soy Sauce, that’s probably just how you roll. He probably has it every other week.

Next post: Another prefecture tomorrow. Visiting the BORN sake brewery in Fukui !

A concise version of this journey was published in Prestige Feb 2013, titled “Endo Days.

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