Katsuo no Tataki (seared bonito)
Bonito, or katsuo, are a staple part of Kochi food culture. A migratory fish that belongs to the Scombridae family, they are the designated “Prefectural Fish,” and are said to be the most widely-loved fish amongst the plentiful types available in Kochi. Bonito migrate close to Japan in spring and autumn, and are called Hatsugatsuo, Spring bonito, and Modorigatsuo, Autumn bonito, based on the season. Spring bonito have less fat, so they have a more refreshing taste and firmer flesh. On the other hand, autumn bonito are caught before spawning, so they have more fat and a richer flavor. Seared bonito, or “katsuo no tataki” is the most famous way of cooking and eating bonito.
Freshly sliced bonito is placed on skewers, the skin is seared over a straw or similar fire, and then cooled with ice. There are differing opinions on why it is seared, but many think that searing softens the tough skin and eliminates the smell, making it easier to eat. It is common practice to eat the sliced meat with sauce and garnishes such as garlic and onion, but even in Kochi this varies greatly by area. The majority of areas use ponzu sauce, but some use a mixture of boiled soy sauce and sugar, and in the western areas the custom is to soak it in a salty sauce or ponzu before eating. Recently it has become popular in central areas of Kochi Prefecture to salt the seared bonito and eat it with garlic and wasabi, or to use yuzu vinegar.
Seared bonito is food for the soul that represents Kochi Prefecture and gives you a taste of the seasons and local cooking. It is as much a delight to visitors as it has long been for the locals.