Japan’s Most Challenging Food

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Chinmi. I am not a fan, not one bit. But my husband, Shinji, loves having some type of chinmi in the fridge at all times. Usually we have one or two types, but we recently traveled and Shinji picked up some along the way. Chinmi is fermented seafood, often including the guts or other parts of seafood like the liver. It is very intense and one only needs to eat a little bit of this when sipping on saké. But even if I am drunk on saké I have a hard time swallowing this. We did a tasting recently. Well, Shinji did a tasting and I took a tiny bit of each. Remember, although I was born in Tokyo, I grew up in Minnesota and this is as foreign to me as it is for many overseas guests.

Saba shiokara. Pacific mackerel is super salty, you can taste the crystals, of what surely must be salt. There are small pieces of the filet, making this the most appealing by appearance. We picked this up on a recent trip to Tottori to Sakai Minato port.

http://shop.sakaiminato.net/product.cgi?no=255

Aka Hoya. Red sea squirt is very chewy and a little funky. While it is called red, the color is a bright orange and the aftertaste lingers, way too long, and not in a pleasant way.

http://shop.shizengumi.net/?page_id=878

Surumeika koji zuke. Koji-fermented squid was my favorite of all in this tasting. It is slightly sweet, and has the texture of koji, meaning tiny bits of softened rice. We picked this up from Sakai Minato port on a recent trip to Tottori. I would have this again. You gotta love how the website suggests serving suggestions, like on crackers with cheese. That would make it even easier to eat.
Katsuo shuto. Fermented skipjack tuna innards. This is one of the most famous types of chinmi that is from Odawara, just south of Tokyo. It is rich in umami and has a thin chewy texture, like chewing on a balloon. This is one of the more easier chinmi, meaning it is palatable, if you are drinking a lot of saké.
English website for this product:

Awabi Toshiro. The liver of the abalone made the biggest impression. My notes from the tasting are as follows, “Will not go back there, ever, even if I am drunk.”

Ayu no uruka. Ayu is a freshwater sweet fish that is gorgeous when simply salted and grilled. However, this 3-year fermented chinmi is super salty, creamy, gross, way too funky. I come back to this word as nothing else comes to mind. Why would anyone eve think to eat this? Seriously…
It was the worst food tasting I have ever done in my life. Nothing will top this. We found two that I like and will have again. Hopefully none of these others will be in our fridge again.
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March Seasonal Japanese Seafood

tairagaiTairagai, hokkigai, and kinmedai in a tairagai shell

March is a delicious month for seafood. The cold waters still bring fish rich with fat that shines in sashimi or is nice for grilling. Asari clams are great for making into a quick vongole style pasta. Grilling salted fish heads of buri or tai is quick and simple and the perfect accompaniment to sake or shochu. Bitesize tiny hotaru ika can be quickly blanched and then served with a sweet and vinegary sumiso dressing. Nishin can be salted and grilled. And perhaps my favorite this time of year is katsuo simply seared on the edges, sliced thickly, and served with some soy sauce and garlic.

 

If you click on the Japanese name of the seafood you should be directed to a link with a photo.

 

Akagai 赤貝 ark shell (Scapharca broughtonii)

Akagarei 赤鰈 flathead flounder (Hippoglossoides dubius)

Amadai 赤甘鯛 tilefish (Branchiostegus japonicus)

Ankou 鮟鱇 monkfish (Lophiomus setigerus)

Aoyagi  青柳  surf clam (Mactra chinensis)

Asari 浅利 Japanese littleneck clams (Ruditapes philippinarum)

Benizuwaigani 楚蟹  red snow crab   (Chionoecetes japonicus)

Buri 鰤 Japanese amberjack (Seriola quinqueradiata)

Chidai  血鯛  crimson sea bream (Evynnis japonica)

Fugu 真河豚 blowfish or pufferfish (Takifugu porphyreus)

Hamaguri 浜栗 common Orient clam (Meretrix lusoria)

Hira suzuki 平鱸   blackfin Japanese seabass (Lateolabrax latus)

Hirame 鮃 olive flounder (Paralichthys olivaceus)

Honmaguro 本鮪 bluefin tuna (Thunus thynnus)

Hoshigarei 星鰈 spotted halibut (Verasper variegatus)

Hotaru Ika 蛍烏賊擬 firefly squid  (Enoploteuthis chunii)

Hotate 帆立貝 scallops (Patinopecten yessoensis)

Iidako 飯蛸 ocellated octopus (Octopus ocellatus)

Itoyori 糸縒鯛 golden threadfin-bream (Nemipterus virgatus)

Kaki 牡蠣 oyster (Crassostrea gigas)

Kanburi 寒鰤 winter Japanese amberjack (see buri) (Seriola quinqueradiata)

Kasago 笠子 scorpionfish (Sebastiscus marmoratus)

Katsuo 鰹 skipjack tuna or oceanic bonito (Katsuwonus pelamis)

Kawahagi 皮剥 thread-sail filefish  (Stephanolepis cirrhifer)

Kihada maguro 黄肌鮪 yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares)

Kinki 黄血魚 thornhead (Sebastolobus macrochir)

Kinmedai 金目 (sometimes called kinme) splendid alfonsino (Beryx splendens)

Kohada 小鰭 gizzard shad (Konosirus pumctatus)

Madai (or Tai) 真鯛 seabream (Pagurus major)

Makogarei 真子鰈 marbled sole (Pleuronectes yokohamae)

Matsuba gani 松葉蟹 spiny crab (Hypothalassia armata)

Matsukawa 松皮鰈  barfin flounder (Verasper moseri)

Mebaru 目張 black rockfish (Sebastes inermis)

Mirugai 海松食 geoduck (Tresus keenae)

Nishin 鰊 Pacific herring (Clupea pallasii)

Oma honmaguro 大間鮪 bluefin tuna from Oma in Aomori (see honmaguro)

Saba 鯖 Pacific mackerel (Scomber japonicus)

Sakura ebi 桜蝦 sakura shrimp (Sergia lucens)

Sawara 鰆 Japanese Spanish mackerel (Scomberomorus niphonius)

Sayori 針魚 halfbeak (Hyporhamphus sajori)

Sazae 栄螺 turban shell (Turbo cornutus)

Shijimi 大和蜆 corbicula clams (Corbicula japonica)

Shirauo 白魚 whitefish or ice goby (Salangichthys microdon)

Soudagatsuo 騒多鰹 frigate mackerel  (Auxis thazard)

Surumeika  鯣烏賊  Japanese flying squid (Todarodes pacificus)

Tairagai 平貝 pen shell or fan shell (Atrina (Servatrina) pectinata)

Tara 真鱈 codfish (Gadus macrocephalus)

Tarabagani 鱈場蟹 Alaskan king crab (Paralithodes camtschaticus)

Umazurahagi 馬面剥 filefish scraper (Thamnaconus modestus)

Wakasagi 若細魚 Japanese smelt  (Hypomesus nipponensis)

Yanagi dako 柳蛸 chestnut octopus (Octopus conispadiceus)

Yari ika 槍烏賊 spear squid (Loligo (Heterololigo) bleekeri)

Zuwaigani 頭矮蟹 snow crab (Chionoecetes opilio)