It's around 3 p.m. onboard Myumi (56 NW 29th St., Miami; myumifoods.com), the six-seat omakase truck that parks on Wynwood's northern boundary. Inside the drab, gray cart, Ryo Kato, age 34, dumps about four quarts of California's short-grain Koshihikari rice into a metal mesh bowl. He fills it with water that quickly clouds. Then, for about ten minutes, he feverishly scrapes the rice against the mesh, rubbing away its starch so the final product won't clump.
Though born in Chiba, across the bay from Tokyo, and trained to cook in Japan, Kato admits his most important lessons in rice preparation came only a few years ago. Shortly after moving to America, he began working for the Brooklyn sushi spot 1 or 8. Its owner, Kazuo Yoshida, is also a Myumi partner. "He told me I was horrible," Kato laughs.
It was nearly a year, he says, before one of his squat cylinders of snowy rice was worthy of a customer. "People don't realize how important the rice is, just as important as the fish," he says.
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SHOW ME HOW
Then he returns to scrubbing the grains. He does so three times before rinsing them until the water runs clear. Then he spreads them out to dry for about 45 minutes. This gives him time to butcher and salt-cure horse mackerel and plunge Cabernet-tinted loins of bigeye tuna into a cure of soy sauce, konbu, and ginger.
By the time the night's amberjack and sea bream are cleaned and prepped for service, the rice is dry enough for the steamer. "You dry it so you can cook it in the same exact amount of water and rice," Kato says. "Otherwise, it gets too sticky."
Another hour passes, and he moistens a large bamboo bowl. He piles the cooked rice inside and blends in white and red vinegar, sugar, and konbu. The brew gives the rice a salty-sweet tinge that also helps season the fish it will soon join. After 20 minutes, the grains have sufficiently cooled and absorbed the mixture. They're ready once they've lost their shine, Kato says.
Finally, he transfers the mountain of grains into a cloth-lined bowl that's dropped into a warmer to keep it at room temperature. Minutes later, the night's first six customers take their seats. Kato wipes his knife and cutting board, offers a slight bow, and takes a deep breath. He's ready for what lies ahead.