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Carcross gets a taste of Japanese home cooking

A young boy, barely tall enough to see over the counter, pushes some change through the window of the stand. He's not buying a coke, potato chips or a hotdog. He's come for his daily onigiri.

A young boy, barely tall enough to see over the counter, pushes some change through the window of the stand.

He’s not buying a coke, potato chips or a hotdog. He’s come for his daily onigiri.

The salted rice balls, filled with smoked salmon and wrapped in seaweed, are a favourite of school children throughout Japan.

School children in Carcross are beginning to discover why, thanks to Reiko Tanaka the owner of Gold Rush Sushi.

Tanaka first came to the Yukon three years ago and was surprised to learn of the role Japanese people have played in the territory’s history.

She was particularly surprised to learn the short-lived mining camp of Conrad City, which was built in the early 1900s 16 kilometres south of Carcross, had a Japanese restaurant.

Knowing how hard it would be, Tanaka has a great deal of respect for anyone trying open a traditional Japanese restaurant that far from home at that time.

This historical tidbit planted an idea in her head - could she bring Japanese cuisine back to Carcross?

Last year, she noticed a trailer sitting unused beside the Barracks arts and crafts shop. At one time, the stand had been used to sell hot dogs and bannock.

She looked into it and was able to rent the space for summer use.

The trailer is pretty small and Tanaka had to build a shed behind it for more space to work and prepare food.

At first it was difficult to adjust to the tiny stand, she said.

“But now I like it. With one step I can reach everything.”

Despite the modest facilities, Tanaka serves clients in style.

Last Friday afternoon, she was decked out in a light blue yukata - the light, cotton cousin of the heavy silken kimono - decorated with pink and purple dragonflies.

She accessorized with Japanese zori sandals and a paper umbrella.

Customers are welcome to try out the kimonos if they’d like.

Most Japanese don’t normally dress so formally, and expensive kimonos and the like are reserved for weddings and special birthday celebrations.

But Tanaka comes from a very traditional Japanese family and grew up near Izumo, home of one of the most ancient and important Shinto shrines in the country.

She proudly shows off pictures of herself dressed in kimono styles from different eras.

Next come pictures of her sister studying kyudo (Japanese archery) and her mother’s nihon ningyo (Japanese traditional dolls).

Tanaka herself has studied Japanese calligraphy and has a licence to teach the art form.

She’s hoping to share this skill with some of the local children in the future.

They’ve already caught on to the food.

When school was in, local children would be lined up outside her stand during their lunch break, waiting to buy their onigiri.

Tanaka offers the portable treats to local children at a discount - just one dollar per ball.

In Japan, nigiri sushi and sashimi tend to be made by professional chefs and Japanese families eat it on special occasions.

Tanaka focuses on maki sushi (rolls), which are a more homemade style - the type of thing a mother or grandmother might make for a festival or birthday party.

She perfected this style while working part time in a restaurant back home while she was in school.

Tanaka has been having a hard time finding sushi-quality fish in the territory.

She gets most of her supplies shipped north from Vancouver.

She has some of the raw stuff for the more adventurous of her customers and offers salmon, tuna, eel, salmon roe and scallop sushi.

But the majority of sales are made with rolls not-containing the raw seafood.

She offers smoked salmon, avocado, spicy shrimp and the ever-popular (even in Japan) California roll.

Carcross sushi also has miso soup, inari (fried tofu filled with rice) and double salmon sandwiches (salmon cream cheese and smoked salmon on a double decker sandwich).

Last year, business was pretty slow and Tanaka tried adding other items to the menu to keep things interesting.

“I wanted it to be a Japanese home-style restaurant,” she said.

“I thought only sushi would be boring.”

Every week she had a different special.

One week it was gyudon, a bowl of rice topped with beef and onion simmered in a mildly sweet sauce.

The next it was the savoury Japanese pancakes known as okonomiyaki.

She also offered yakisoba, tonkatsu and korokke.

Unfortunately, with Carcross sushi is becoming increasingly popular, Tanaka has found herself with very little spare time for more extravagant dishes.

However, she does sometimes offer these specials when requested from her regular customers.

She has also begun offering larger amounts of food for parties or events, as long as it is ordered two days in advance.

Delivery is available seven days a week in Carcross and Whitehorse.

Tanaka decided to make the move to the Yukon to live closer to nature and see wild animals - something almost unheard of in Tokyo where she lived for seven years.

“I am very happy to be in the Yukon,” she said.

However, she isn’t particularly happy about Yukon winters, and usually decides to head home to escape the cold.

Because of this, Gold Rush Sushi will likely be closing down the first week in September.

The stand is open from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday.

For more information or to pre-order meals visit the website at

Contact Chris Oke at