Photo credit:panduh:CC by-nc-sa 2.0
“Fugu is not adventurous enough!” my former boss exclaimed when planning a surprise dinner for his guest from the US; he wanted to make it memorable and adventurous. “Have you had suppon?”, he challenged me. I replied that I’d had it once about ten years ago. So, there it was, we set up a soft-shell turtle course dinner last week, right before Thanksgiving Day here in Tokyo. Suppon and fugu are prominent winter delicacies you can find at expensive restaurants around Japan. Poisonous blow fish is ubiquitous and you see fugu sashimi, deep fried fugu or other presentations of fugu at many restaurants. However, suppon still remains very special, even for a lot of Japanese. Maki, our selected restaurant in Shinbashi run by Mr. Turtle, specializes in just this one thing.
The restaurant serves one turtle per person throughout the night; every part of the turtle, including bodily fluids, is served either raw or in a steaming nabe hot pot, cooked with vegetables right at the table. The one exception is the deep fried paw. When glasses of red and green liquid were presented to us, I felt like Alice or Neo choosing the red pill or the blue pill. In the end, I did not have any choice, but the question everyone had was “Should I have to have either?”
Everything served that night was exotic and fun to talk about, and well, mostly good. If you ask why people eat it, some people like the taste, but mostly it is supposed to be good for you. One thing I am sure anyone would agree with is that the highlight of the suppon nabe dinner is the risotto-like zosui cooked in the broth from the turtle and vegetables. It has such a deep flavor and umami, yet is so light. There is a distinct difference from any fish or meat-based broth. I guess this long-simmering soup and the resulting zosui are what make this turtle dinner so special.
The turtles we had that day came from Lake Hamana in Hamamatsu. They were farmed for five years to reach about 1.2 kilograms. If you are shaking your head with disgust and disbelief at what lengths people would go to for exotic food, you are not alone. Out of eight locals from Tokyo at the table that day, only two had had suppon before: I had it 10 years ago and other guy had it 5 years ago.
Oh, if you are curious about suppon, stop by at Maki. Mr. Turtle speaks fluent English and he can tell you all about his specialty.
3-2-3 Shinbashi, Minato, Tokyo
URL: http://homepage2.nifty.com/suppon/ (in Japanese)
various suppon appetizers: suppon eggs marinated in miso, nuta, suppon shaped tofu