An Acquired Taste of Japan – Shiokara

Did you enjoy our post last month? If not, this month’s exploration about an Acquired Taste of Japan might be more appetizing for us less adventurous eaters!

We’re diving into one of Japan’s traditional foods, shiokara. It’s known as “chinmi” or “a rare taste”, and once you learn more about it, you’ll be intrigued as well. Shiokara are seafood fermented in their own viscera, salted and seasoned. The most common shiokara, called ika no shiokara, is made from small squid that are plentifully available off the coast of Japan. Shiokara can also be made from tuna (“shuto”), crab (“ganzuke”), salmon (“mefun”) and sweetfish (“uruka”). Each type is a mix of salt, viscera found in the main body cavity such as the liver or intestines, and more fleshy tissue. Depending on the cook’s preferences, shichimi pepper, wasabi, mirin or grated yuzu peel are also added to the mixture for zest and flavor. But traditional shiokara is simply salt and seafood.

Ika no shiokara

Shiokara, especially ika no shiokara, is said to have become a popular dish in the 11th century as a source of protein, fats and vitamin D during winter months when food was scarce. The entire fermentation process took between a week to ten days, so shiokara could be replenished easily. Primarily eaten with rice, a small but complete meal could be had.

In modern times, shiokara is served at many izakaya or Japanese pubs. A small bite of ika no shiokara makes sake taste great! And the saltiness definitely makes you want to drink more of it!

Making ika no shiokara is straightforward, although it does require quite a few steps. We found this recipe requiring nothing by salt and squid. If you try it out, let us know how your preparation tastes! And if you don’t feel like making it yourself, then definitely give it a go at your nearest Japanese pub.

Japanese Street Food:  Grilled Ayu and Squid

ayu01

It’s almost that time of year! Festivals are starting in Japan and street food flavors are out in full force! Spring festivals kick off the season with the biggest festivals happening in the thick of summer. Japanese festivals are unique in that fireworks, music, dance and games are all enjoyed by festivalgoers who really come for the delicious varieties of street food!

One of the most loved street food dishes is anything on skewers, especially grilled ayu, or sweetfish, and ika, or squid.

Ayu are small fish in the salmon family, and when heavily salted, skewered and grilled over an open charcoal fire, they are considered a delicacy reminiscent of summertime, camping and festivals. The fish are generally available from June through September in Japan, and at street food stalls, you’ll see the small, whole fish skewered through the center and arranged in a circle around a hot fire, where they are shaped into an undulating wave and barbequed at low heat until crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. Ayu can be eaten whole–head, fins, tail, bones and innards–and the white-fleshed river fish tastes great served with a special sour and peppery dip called tadesu which helps bring out the delicate aroma and the flavor of the fish.

ikayaki

Ikayaki

Ika, or squid, are also wonderful barbequed over an open fire. The squid are skewered through the body in a way similar to grilled ayu—sometimes whole and sometimes in choice pieces—salted and lightly brushed with soy sauce, and then grilled until juicy and flavorful. The dish, called Ikayaki, is often served simply and eaten directly off the stick.

If you can’t find grilled ayu or ikayaki at a festival, be sure to ask for it at an izakaya pub, where often these skewered delicacies are available to accompany a crisp beer!

Have you ever had grilled ayu or grilled squid? Share your stories with us below! And don’t forget to stay tuned for next month’s street food showcase!