PRODUCER SPOTLIGHT: Shokaku - A Local Hidden Favorite Bottled and Delivered to You
A Local Favorite Delivered to Your Doorstep
This hand-crafted Tosa Vinegar was once a local gem, available only to devoted and loyal customers of Shokaku Zushi, an unassuming sushi shop in the Itayado shopping street near Kobe.
There in Itayado, Mamoru Fujiwara founded his sushi shop at the age of 33, after training as a sushi chef in Osaka. The shop remains a favorite of locals and has been popular for over three decades. The small store even survived the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, which shook the region around Kobe and devastated vast areas of the city. Now the shop is run by Mamoru Fujiwara, his wife, and their son Hironori Fujiwara.
The shop has maintained a reputation for serving fresh local ingredients, carefully chosen early each morning at the central Kobe market. However, customers were particularly drawn to the unique vinegar, which Hironori Fujiwara used to enhance the flavors of the fresh fish and seasonal vegetables served at the restaurant. In fact, customers often asked to take some of Mr. Fujiwara’s homemade Tosa Vinegar home with them.
What’s so special about Tosa Vinegar?
If you take a sip of this vinegar, you might be surprised by its flavor. The vinegar has a mild acidity. You will also find an undertone of smokiness. Tosa Vinegar is infused with katsuoboshi, which is dried, fermented, and smoked skipjack tuna. Katsuoboshi is commonly used in Japanese cuisine to make fish stock, or dashi, which forms the basis of many traditional foods. The fermented and dried katsuoboshi creates a delightful smoky flavor, which balances the acidity of the vinegar.
In addition to katsuoboshi which is full of umami from inosinic acid, Mr Fujiwara’s secret recipe for Tosa Vinegar includes konbu (or kelp) which adds another layer of umami from glutamine acid, resulting in a complex and flavorful vinegar.
Indeed, this Tosa Vinegar has so many layers of flavor, that it alone can serve as a dressing. Simply toss with fresh, thinly sliced cucumbers, or drizzle over green salads or roasted vegetables for a ready-to-go dish.
Taking the Leap and Bottling their Hand-Crafted Tosa Vinegar
Mr. Fujiwara originally started brewing his Tosa Vinegar for use in his sushi shop. However, soon the vinegar itself cultivated an enthusiastic following. Some curious customers even asked for a sample of the “secret sauce” to take home at the end of their meal.
As demand and requests for the vinegar continued to increase, Hironori Fujiwara and his father decided to try bottling and selling their Tosa Vinegar in 2015. After less than two years in production, sales had risen to over 1,000 bottles per month. National press in Japan featured the Tosa Vinegar and the special history behind its production and development. The family-run business could not keep up with orders. The shop opened a small workshop, where they could produce and bottle products outside of their restaurant.
A Deep Commitment to the Local Community
One of their long-time customers, who became a friend of the family, worked with people with special needs. Inspired by that customers’ work, the family committed to employing people with special needs from their community at their workshop.
The family also opened their workshop along the local shopping street in their community. Like many towns across Japan, the population in Itayado is declining. The once bustling shopping district is quiet, and many shops have closed. With a desire to revive and invigorate their local shopping district, the family opened their workshop in that area.
The family continues to run both their sushi shop and their booming vinegar business. In fact in an interview, Hironori Fujiwara said he is not actually sure anymore if he is running a sushi business or a vinegar business. They have even created a new, more robust ponzu intended to be served with meat.
Long time customers remain loyal to the small sushi shop, while others visit with curiosity to see where this delicious vinegar originated. Together, the family is enlivening the local area and showing their spirit to thrive!
Learn more about Shokaku and Shokaku Zushi at https://syocacu.net/.
Article written by Jessy LeClair. Notes from Jessy:
"Although I am always impressed by the unique products found in Kokoro Care Packages, the story of this Tosa Vinegar really amazed me. I cannot stop telling people the story of Mamoru and Hironori Fujiwara's devotion to brewing this vinegar and how their customer's enthusiasm inspired them to start sharing his creation around Japan. And now that creation, once only available in a small sushi shop in Itayado, is being shipped around the world. When I sip this vinegar, I can only think of that family's workshop in Itayado. In an interview, Hironori Fujiwara describes how he remembers eating this Tosa Vinegar as a child. It was something that the family always had around in their home. This is amazing - to sample a flavor from the childhood of someone who grew up in another country from me. Through this bottle of vinegar, I feel an intimate connection to this family and their legacy even though they live halfway around the world from me."