It’s So Much Fun Fishing and Eating What You Caught! The Appeal of Fishing Restaurant ZAUO
Food is one of the true pleasures of traveling, and if you go to Japan, the recommended spot for enjoying the local cuisine is the izakaya (Japanese-style tavern) that is enveloped in Japan’s unique atmosphere. The Fishing Restaurant ZAUO is a kaisen izakaya (seafood tavern) that is immensely popular even among tourists. The secret behind its fame is that you get to catch the fish inside the restaurant and then have it cooked the way you want it cooked! So, we went to ZAUO to find out how to best enjoy this restaurant.
About Fishing Restaurant ZAUO
The most distinctive feature of the Fishing Restaurant ZAUO is that despite being categorized as an izakaya, there is a fish tank inside the bar where you can drop a fishing line and catch the fish you want. Even beginners and children find it easy to catch fish from the tank! The fish that you catch will be prepared right away by the izakaya’s staff. Hooking a fish is so much fun that even adults get extremely excited over this! After all, a fish you catch by yourself is even more delicious.
What’s Inside ZAUO
When you step inside ZAUO’s branch in Shinjuku, you will be welcomed by the overwhelming sight of a wooden fishing boat! The boat is located inside a giant fish tank that is filled with tai (sea bream) and aji (horse mackerel) swimming around, lots of hirame (flounder) perfectly sticking to the bottom of the tank, Ise ebi (spiny lobster) energetically moving their antennae, and other seafood. Take a seat in one of the tables inside the massive boat and you will enjoy an awesome unbroken view of the izakaya from an elevated position!
Aside from the tables, there are seats on tatami floors where you can sit while gazing at the fish swimming in the tank, areas with wall partitions where groups of 10 or so can sit while dining, and many other types of seats available, so you can choose according to the number of people in your party. Even if you get a seat far from the fish tank, you can still go to the fish tank to catch fish.
The first thing that happens when you visit an izakaya is that you get asked for your drink of choice. When we asked the manager, he recommended beer and highball (whiskey and soda). When the beer and highball that we ordered were served, the mug containing the beer was frozen! So with that, cheers!
Order Classic Izakaya Dishes!
After getting a drink, we ordered food. Edamame (green soybeans), karaage (fried chicken), sashimi, French fries, and salad are some of the most popular dishes in izakayas, and they can be shared, so they go really well with alcoholic drinks. For our group, we had our fill of the side dishes unique to ZAUO before we ventured into the fishing part of the meal!
If there is one staple dish in Japanese izakayas, then that would be boiled edamame lightly sprinkled with salt. At ZAUO, the edamame in the Mushiage Chamame (390 JPY (excl. tax)) (boiled chamame) is the chamame variety, which has a more robust taste as the sweetness of the beans spreads in your mouth every time you chew. If you prefer the regular edamame, then you can of course order that instead.
Tezukuri Zaru Dofu
The next item we ordered was the Tezukuri Zaru Dofu (490 JPY (excl. tax)), which is eaten by putting dried bonito shavings, green spring onions, ginger, and Kanto soy sauce onto the tofu that sits in soy milk. The salty Kanto soy sauce brings out the mild sweetness of the tofu, giving it that very creamy taste. Eating this with salt is also recommended.
There are many salads available in izakayas, but ZAUO’s Umibozu Salad (850 JPY (excl. tax)) has an appearance that packs a punch that will probably liven up your drinking party even more. Once you break the dome-shaped spring roll skin, out comes the salad with onsen tamago (a kind of soft-boiled egg) and sashimi! The soft-boiled egg oozing into the salad with aromatic and crunchy spring roll skin and sashimi will surely be a treat to your eyes and to your palate.
Enjoy the Fishing Menu!
After we enjoyed the snacks, it was time for the much-awaited fishing portion! The instructions placed on the table also contain the directions for fishing, but even beginners need not worry as you can always ask the staff for help, and they will kindly guide you through the process. They will even cook the fish you catch any way you want it cooked.
Attach the Bait and Go Fishing!
There are two ways to catch fish at ZAUO: attach a bait on the rod, or hook a fish with a wire without the use of bait (called “hikkake-zuri” in Japanese, which means “hook fishing”). For this outing, my target was to catch a sea bream using a bait! All you need to do is to rent a rod for 108 JPY (incl. tax), get a small bait from the container inside the izakaya, and then attach it to the hook of the rod. Make sure it is firmly attached so that it will not be dislodged even if it gets bitten by the fish.
As soon as you have attached the hook, drop the fishing line into the fish tank. The main point here is to have the bait get to a point that is about 5cm from the bottom of the tank. Dangle it in the water and the fish will chase the bait right away! If you don’t know what to do next, a staff will immediately tell you to “try to raise it slowly to attract the fish.”
I Caught a Fish!
The rod will suddenly be pulled the moment a fish bites into the bait! When that happened to my rod, I lifted it slowly and I got a sea bream! When I reeled it in, the fish was actually heavier than I thought. My feat of catching a sea bream was celebrated by the banging of the Japanese drum. Thank you for that!
You can take a souvenir photo with the fish you caught. In the photo shown below, the fish carried by the staff is a prop that is meant for taking photos. There are many other fun panels available, so just grab one you like and take photos worthy to be uploaded on social media.
After you’re done taking photos of the fish you caught, hand over the fish to the staff of the izakaya. You will be asked how you want the fish cooked, so just give instructions on the cooking method you prefer. For instance, you can ask to have half of the body of the sea bream served as sashimi, the other half of the body grilled with salt, and the head put in miso soup! In this way, you can eat the entire fish. You can ask them to turn your fish into sushi, too!
Now if you decide not to fish and just order sea bream sashimi, you will have to pay 3,800 JPY (excl. tax) for a whole sea bream. It will just be 2,950 JPY (excl. tax) if you catch it on your own. You will surely be motivated when you find out that it would be much cheaper if you catch the fish!
I Ate the Fish I Caught!
I had my fish grilled with salt. When I inserted the chopsticks along the skin, the flesh was really easy to remove. Delicious, too! The fish was fresh, so there was no foul smell on its body and its flesh was elastic. The saltiness around the body was just right, flooding my mouth with the delicious flavors of sea bream in every bite.
I really didn’t mean to, but I was unexpectedly moved when I ate the fish I caught on my own. I tasted the fun in catching the fish and it was cooked into a delicious dish, and I enjoyed the alcoholic drinks and food in between.
I now know full-well the secret behind the success and popularity of ZAUO!
Must-Eat Exquisite Dishes at ZAUO
Extremely Fresh! Assorted Sashimi and Sushi
When you visit ZAUO, which is famous for its seafood, you shouldn’t miss the Assorted Sashimi and Assorted Sushi (the items in the sets change daily). When we came, we ordered the Sashimi Moriawase (Kaze) (1,980 JPY (excl. tax)) and Omakase Nigiri (1,480 JPY (excl. tax)).
The tuna sashimi, kanpachi (amberjack), and salmon had the right amount of fat. The sazae (turban shell) was crunchy and had that distinct smell of the ocean, while the sea bream was so refreshing and had a sweetness to it when seasoned with some salt and lemon.
At ZAUO, there are two types of soy sauce that you can use for the sashimi, and one of the fun ways to enjoy dining here is to compare them. The Kanto soy sauce is salty and tastes like any ordinary soy sauce. Meanwhile, the Kyushu soy sauce is a little sweet and richer in taste. Both kinds of soy sauce are placed on every table, so try to taste the rare Kyushu soy sauce, too. For sea bream, flounder, and other white-fleshed fish, a suggested way to eat them is to squeeze lemon and then sprinkle some salt on them to draw out the delicious flavors of the fish!
The sushi toppings change everyday, and on the day we were at ZAUO, the set had flounder, sea bream, anago (conger eel), aka ebi (red shrimp), salmon, and scallop. The best part of the set was the conger eel, though! Put it in your mouth and you will enjoy the perfect combination of the sweet sauce and the fluffy meat of the fish. The aburi anago (roasted conger eel), lightly grilled and is eaten with salt, is apparently another popular sushi topping at this spot.
Tempura Cooked at High Heat
We also had the recommended Omakase Tempura Moriawase (1,280 JPY (excl. tax))! The seasonal vegetables, prawn and white-fleshed fish tempura had a crunchy coating that looked so appetizing. The prawn was also deep-fried to a crisp, but its flesh remained tender.
In addition to traditional tempura dipping sauce, there are many other sauces to choose from for your tempura, including moshio (a mellow tasting salt that comes from seaweed), goma-shio (salt and sesame seeds), and daikon oroshi (grated radish) with and yuzu-kosho (yuzu zest and chili pepper). You won’t find yourself getting bored of the tempura with all these sauces. What I found especially delicious was the grated radish with yuzu-kosho, a combination you don’t find everyday. The addition of the aroma of the refreshing yuzu citrus and the slight spiciness of the chili pepper to the grated radish makes this sauce perfect for tempura!
For dessert, I ordered the Warabi Mochi and Vanilla Ice Cream with Kinako Kuromitsu (480 JPY (excl. tax))! The chewy warabi mochi (bracken starch dumpling) and rich-tasting vanilla ice cream go well with the aroma of the kinako (roasted soybean flour) and the sweetness of the kuromitsu (brown sugar syrup). There are many other desserts available, including parfaits and fondant chocolate cakes.
Special Events and Reminders When Visiting ZAUO
At present, the ZAUO branches where you can try fishing are located in Tokyo, Saitama, Kanagawa, Aichi, Mie, Osaka, and Fukuoka. The Shinjuku (Tokyo) and Namba (Osaka) branches hold regular tuna carving shows. A huge tuna will be masterfully carved on a chopping board, so it is definitely worth seeing!
ZAUO is really a fun and interesting place to be. Note that you cannot return any fish you catch and you cannot put your hand inside the fish tank. There are also expensive fish and seafood inside the tank, so make sure to check the prices first before you go fishing. Please mind your manners and have fun!
There are many other delicious dishes apart from those featured in this article, so try to find at least one dish that suits your taste! ZAUO has also opened a branch in New York on October 15th and you should check out that branch, too.
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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