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Seafood 101: Your guide to 10 types of Japanese sashimi, sushi and rice bowl toppings

Seafood 101: Your guide to 10 types of Japanese sashimi, sushi and rice bowl toppings

Have you eaten sashimi (刺身) before? A traditional way of dining in Japan, sashimi refers to thinly sliced raw food, cut into bite-sized pieces, which can be seafood or meat. Its name literally means “cut flesh”, and it is one of the most commonly found dishes at izakaya (居酒屋 Japanese pubs). 

 

Japan is surrounded by many bodies of water from which a plethora of scrumptious fish and seafood can be caught, and sashimi aficionados will tell you that sashimi is especially delicious when prepared with fresh seafood. 

 

Seafood_SashimiPlatters.jpg (423 KB)

Fresh raw seafood make great sashimi. (Image credit: photoAC)

 

To prepare you for your next seafood adventure in Japan, in this article we will introduce 10 must-try raw seafood, which are delicious not just in sashimi, but as kaisendon (海鮮丼 seafood rice bowl) and sushi (寿司) toppings as well. Are you ready? Let’s dive in!

 

1. Salmon

Salmon sashimi at a breakfast buffet in Hokkaido. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

For most visitors to Japan, raw salmon is inarguably the most popular choice of sashimi and sushi toppings, overpowering tuna by a wide margin. 

 

Grilled mackerel (saba) and grilled salmon (shake) are common breakfast dishes. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

In Japanese, there are two words for salmon: shake (鮭) and sāmon (サーモン). Shake mostly refers to wild salmon, which is usually cooked or grilled before serving, due to the presence of parasites. Grilled salmon is commonly used in Japanese breakfasts.

 

Sāmon: salmon sashimi. (Image credit: photoAC)

 

Salmon used in sashimi is usually farmed, and is called sāmon. Due to wild salmon having parasites that make them unsuitable for raw consumption, eating salmon as sashimi is a relatively modern addition for Japan, with the first instance of consumption reportedly being in the mid-1980s, using salmon from Norway. Nowadays, almost all salmon fish used in sashimi is farmed (parasite-free), and thus sāmon is one of the very few sashimi that uses an English-derived fish name instead of its Japanese name.

 

2. Bluefin tuna (maguro)

Different cuts of maguro. (Image credit: photoAC)

 

Aside from salmon, another hot favourite is Bluefin tuna (鮪 maguro), which has traditionally been the sashimi of choice for locals. The fish itself is massive, with the largest ones weighing up to a hefty 400kg, so it’s no surprise that there are many different types of cuts used for sashimi. Here are the four that you need to know:

 

Ōtoro 

Distinctive marbling on ōtoro slices. (Image credit: photoAC)

 

Considered by many to be the best cut of maguro, ōtoro (大トロ) is the fattiest part of the tuna, and has distinctive marbling with a melt-in-your-mouth texture and slightly sweet taste. Due to each fish only having a small amount of ōtoro, ōtoro is also one of the most expensive cuts of tuna.

 

Chūtoro 

Chūtoro offers a great balance of fat and meat. (Image credit: photoAC)

 

Chūtoro (中トロ) is medium fatty tuna, and can be found on the back and stomach of the fish, near the skin. With a good mix of fat and meat, chūtoro is a popular cut as it provides moderate fattiness at a reasonable price.

 

Akami 

Akami: the leanest meat. (Image credit: photoAC)

 

Referring to the lean meat, akami (赤身) can be found in the centre of the fish’s body, and is the most abundant and commonly served cut of Bluefin tuna sashimi. With very little fat, the meaty flesh has a deep red colour, hence the name “akami”, which means “red flesh”. Many fishermen recommend the akami cut, as it has a higher amount of protein, and the lack of fat lets you truly savour the natural flavour of the fish.

 

Negitoro

Negitoro: minced fatty meat with a dash of spring onions. (Image credit: photoAC)

 

While not exactly a cut, negitoro (ネギトロ) is a commonly served form of raw tuna. Negitoro is minced fatty tuna, made from leftover parts near the bone called nakaochi. It is sometimes mixed with spring onions (ネギ negi), hence the name “negitoro” which means “spring onion fatty tuna”. It can be served as part of a sashimi platter, as a topping for a seafood rice bowl, atop gunkanmaki (軍艦巻き)-style sushi, or as the centre of sushi rolls.

 

3. Yellowtail

Yellowtail sashimi is easily available, affordable, and delicious. (Image credit: photoAC)

 

Yellowtail, also known as Japanese amberjack, is an affordable fish commonly used in sashimi and sushi. There are a few names for this sashimi in Japanese, mainly buri (ブリ) and hamachi (ハマチ). 

 

Hamachi refers to farmed yellowtail, while buri refers to wild yellowtail. The best area to get wild yellowtail is from the Hokuriku Region (北陸), near the Noto Peninsula (能登半島) and Toyama Bay (富山湾), and buri caught specifically in winter is known as kanburi (寒ブリ), which is prized for its high fat content that makes it tastier.

 

4. Bonito (katsuo)

Bonito sashimi is commonly seared on the outside. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

Another popular fish used in sashimi is bonito (鰹 katsuo), also known as skipjack tuna. The most common way of serving bonito is as katsuo tataki (カツオたたき), a cooking style where thick slices of bonito sashimi are seared on the edges, sprinkled with salt, and served with a slice of lemon, as well as garlic and ginger slices. Unlike most other fish which go well with wasabi, for bonito, garlic and ginger are better at bringing out the flavour.

 

5. Roe

Other than fish meat, cured fish roe are also popular in sashimi and sushi. Here are four popular fish roes you need to know:

 

Salmon roe (ikura)

Ikura: large and juicy salmon roe. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

Ikura (いくら) is salmon roe, which is usually either salt-pickled (塩漬け shiozuke) or soy sauce-pickled (醤油漬け shōyuzuke). Due to the exceptionally large size of ikura compared to other types of fish roe, you can experience a unique sensation when eating it: popping juicy, savoury bubbles in your mouth that release an explosion of flavour!

 

Flying fish roe (tobiko)

Tobiko, flying fish roe. (Image credit: photoAC)

 

Tobiko (とびこ), or tobbiko (とびっこ), is the roe of flying fish (飛魚 tobiuo). Bright orange and packed with umami, it is commonly consumed as sashimi, used as a coating for sushi rolls, as a topping for gunkanmaki-style sushi, or in chirashi sushi (チラシ寿司). 

 

Shrimp roe (ebiko)

Ebiko (えびこ), or ebikko (えびっこ), literally means “shrimp’s child”, and refers to shrimp roe. It is eaten in similar ways as tobiko, but compared to tobiko, ebiko has a smaller size and darker colour, and is also less expensive.

 

Pollock roe 

Fukuoka (福岡) in Southern Japan is famed for delicious spicy pollock roe. (Image credit: photoAC)

 

Tarako (たらこ) and mentaiko (明太子) are Pollock roe, but are also called cod roe due to the Pollock fish being part of cod family. Tarako is seasoned with salt and has a duller colour, while mentaiko is marinated with seasonings and has a deeper colour. Karashi mentaiko (辛子明太子) is mentaiko seasoned with a spicy chilli marinade, giving it a reddish colour.

 

6. Squid (ika)

Squid sashimi is popular in Japan. (Image credit: photoAC)

 

Aside from fish, other sea creatures such as crustaceans, cephalopods, and shellfish are also commonly enjoyed raw, and one of the crowd favourites in Japan is squid (イカ ika). Squid sashimi is relatively low in calories, and packed with minerals and nutrients like vitamin E, taurine, DHA, and zinc, making it a popular and appealing choice. Compared to fish sashimi, squid sashimi can be a bit chewier, but has a refreshing taste, and is best enjoyed with soy sauce and wasabi to emphasise its flavour.

 

7. Sea urchin (uni)

Sea urchin is highly sought after. (Image credit: photoAC)

 

Perhaps not for beginners, sea urchin (ウニ uni) can be an acquired taste, as some people might take time to get used to their unique flavour and texture. However, fans of uni will attest that it is one of the top seafood delicacies of Japan, and once you discover its goodness you can never go back. The best uni is said to come from the northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido (北海道) and along the Sanriku Coast (三陸海岸) of Iwate Prefecture (岩手県).

 

Each sea urchin has five gonads. (Image credit: photoAC)

 

Did you know? The edible part of the sea urchin is its gonads, and each sea urchin has five gonads. Highly valued with hefty price tags, uni flesh is soft and has a distinctive orange colour, with a rich and creamy flavour. It is usually served as sashimi, as a rice bowl topping, or atop gunkanmaki-style sushi. 

 

8. Scallop (hotate)

Raw scallops have a natural sweetness. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

Shellfish also make for popular sashimi, with scallops (帆立 hotate) being the most beloved. While you may be more familiar with grilled scallops, raw scallop is meaty and incredibly sweet when served fresh. Scallops also contain high levels of protein, amino acids, and omega-3 fatty acids. Did you know? Some of the sweetest and biggest scallops in Japan are from the prefectures of Aomori and Hokkaido.

 

9. Shrimp (ebi)

Raw shrimp is sweet. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

Raw shrimp are beloved for their natural sweetness, and make beautiful centrepieces for sashimi platters. They are also great as rice bowl toppings, as well as on nigiri sushi. There are many different varieties of shrimp, but here are two that are commonly used in sashimi:

 

Amaebi 

Amaebi has a natural sweetness that is tastiest when eaten raw. (Image credit: photoAC)

 

Amaebi (甘えび) literally means "sweet shrimp", and is said to be a shrimp species that is best enjoyed raw because cooking will destroy its sweetness. When consumed raw, amaebi’s amino acids give their creamy flesh a sweet flavour, making them especially popular with children. They are usually served headless and deshelled, except for a small bit at end of the tail.

 

Botan-ebi 

Botan-ebi are sweet and juicy. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

Another variety of shrimp commonly used in sashimi is botan-ebi (牡丹エビ), also known as spot prawns. Known to be sweet and succulent, the large size of botan-ebi make them an eye-catching addition to any sashimi platters or seafood rice bowls. They are usually served deshelled except for a small bit at the end of the tail, and with their heads on for greater visual impact. The tastiest botan-ebi are said to come from the seas surrounding Toyama (富山) and Hokkaido.

 

10. Crab (Kani)

Ever tried snow crab sashimi? (Image credit: photoAC)

 

Saving the best for last, crab (蟹 kani) is one of the most prized seafood in Japan, and although most commonly enjoyed cooked, it is also used raw in sashimi, atop nigiri sushi, or on rice bowls. The leg meat of snow crabs (ズワイガニ zuwaigani) in particular are very popular for their meaty flesh, which has a sweet and savoury taste. The areas well-known for their delicious crab are the Sea of Okhotsk around Hokkaido, and the Sea of Japan around Hokuriku and the San’in Region.

 

Embark on a seafood adventure!

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Fresh raw seafood is a must-try delicacy while in Japan. (Image credit: Carissa Loh)

 

As an island country, Japan is surrounded by seas abundant in delectable seafood, which are incredibly delicious when enjoyed fresh and raw. Now that you know the names of popular seafood, there’s no better place to try them than straight from the source! Whether at a local izakaya or in a kaitenzushi (回転寿司 conveyor belt sushi) restaurant, the next time you’re in a coastal city in Japan, do check out some of the scrumptious seafood and let us know what you think!

 

Header image credit: Carissa Loh

 

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