There's more than just bonito! Kochi's plentiful seafood selection
Kochi Prefecture has 700km of coastline facing the Pacific Ocean. The warm and fast Kuroshio Current passes along Kochi’s coastline, bringing with it an abundance of marine life. Among this marine life are rare fish and shellfish that are not found elsewhere in the country.
Here is some of the amazing seafood that you have to try when in Kochi!
Shimizu saba: ultra-fresh mackerel that you can even eat as sashimi!
Mackerel (along with sardines) is among the most consumed blue-backed fish in Japan. “Shimizu saba” refers to mackerel caught off the coast of Tosashimizu City in Kochi’s southwest, and is so delicious it has basically become a brand!
The mackerel grow up in rapid ocean currents, so the fish has a pleasant texture. In order to make sure the mackerel aren’t bruised or spoiled, they are fished one by one out of the water and put into the fish hold on the boat before being brought to shore. This means the mackerel are super fresh!
Usually, mackerel are eaten cooked, but Shimizu saba is recommended to be eaten as sashimi. Of course, there are a number of other ways to eat Shimizu saba like a local, such as sautéed saba sushi or *tataki.
*Tataki is a cooking method whereby only the outside of the fish is seared.
Moray eels have an extreme look, yet a light and delicate flavor
Utsubo (moray eels) are sometimes called “gangsters of the sea” in Japanese, and many find their look to be rather grotesque. While it’s hard to imagine based on their look, the meat of a moray eel is thick and tender, with a light and pleasant taste similar to chicken. The skin is high in collagen and the taste is characterized by a rich umami flavor.
While moray eels can be caught right across Japan, there are very few places outside of Kochi where people actually eat them. The main reason for this is that moray eels are full of sharp bones, so preparing them takes a lot of time and effort. In Kochi, there are many ways to enjoy moray eel. Deep-fried utsubo karaage is one of the most popular choices, but you can also eat it as sashimi, in a congealed broth called "nikogori," or as tataki.
Dorome pairs perfectly with Japanese saké
Dorome is a term for the fry of fish from the sardine family in the local Kochi dialect. Dorome are small and transparent with a length of about 1 to 2cm, and Kochi locals like to eat them raw with a dressing called “nuta” made of yuzu ponzu and leaf garlic. (Nuta is the name for vegetables, etc. dressed or seasoned with vinegared miso.)
Dorome lose their freshness quickly, so you can only enjoy them raw when they are fresh off the boat; a luxury food item. The melt in your mouth texture along with an ever so slight bitter accent makes dorome the perfect match for local saké.
Boiled dorome are called “kamaage chirimen,” and the dried version is known as “chirimenjako.” Kamaage chirimen on a bed of rice, “Kamaage chirimen don” is a specialty dish in Aki City of southeast Kochi Prefecture.
Kinmedai: the luxury seafood item!
Kinmedai (often called golden eye perch or alfonsino) is characterized by its large golden eye and brilliant red body. It is a deep sea fish that can be eaten either as sashimi, stewed or grilled. Muroto City hauls in the most kinmedai in all of western Japan, and you can find many restaurants offering super fresh kinmedai on their menus here. (Of course, the availability of kinmedai in restaurants depends on whether or not any were caught!)
Kinmedai cooked in a salty-sweet teriyaki sauce, or cut into sashimi and placed on a bed of rice (called kinme-don) is the particularly popular way to enjoy the fish. Kinmedai is popular due to its mild and delicate flavor. After eating half of their kinmedai, people in Kochi often like to pour a soup stock made using kinmedai over the top.
While kinmedai can be eaten all year round, the best season to enjoy this tasty fish is between May and July, when the fish are at their plumpest before they begin egg-laying.
These shellfish with unique names are delicacies in Kochi!
There are a few types of shellfish that are considered a delicacy in Kochi Prefecture. Each have rather unusual names, so take a look below to find out where these names came from. You can boil them in water or in soy sauce (called nitsuke), or eat them as sashimi.
Chotaro-gai (known as "noble scallop") are characterized by their vibrant orange, yellow and purple coloring. They are named after the fisherman who discovered them. Chotaro-gai have quite a decent amount of meat inside, which is prized for its texture and flavor. Enjoy them as sashimi, grilled, or boiled, and add some yuzu ponzu.
Related to abalone, nagareko are in season from April to August. They are called nagareko because it looks as though they are flowing across the surface of the rock as they move. (“Nagare” is the Japanese word for flow).
Small in size, nagareko are packed full of umami and are very popular as a side dish to accompany saké. They are best enjoyed boiled in their shells in soy sauce or grilled.
To eat these Kochi delicacies, you need to stick a toothpick into the shell and pull on the operculum to get them out. The operculum is shaped a bit like a sword, which is how this shellfish got its name. (Chambara means “to cross swords” in Japanese.) The best way to enjoy chambara-gai is to boil them in water with salt. They have a slight sweetness and a very pleasant texture.