Japan Food Report: Internet Fish Market Changed Japanese Home-Dining Scenes

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From top R: Chu-toro (pink), Paradise Prawn (blue), Kazunoko/Herring roe (yellow), Hotaru-ika/Firefly Squid (purplish brown), Tako/Squid (white with purple edge)

Every time I go back to Japan, I’m amazed by their obsessions with fresh and unique food.  It’s getting worse every year it seems.

Now with the internet, you can order practically anything from anywhere in the world. For the Japanese, probably the most prominent is that you can order the freshest seafood that used to be only available when you traveled to a specific area. It can be on your dining table the next day, without leaving your desk or home (order by 1pm today, you get it tomorrow for dinner.)

Yes, we have been able to get sashimi of many different kind of seafood for decades (or longer) at our local supermarket, but the internet really changed the way the Japanese eat seafood, direct from the port.

On our dinner table on the first two days of our visit, we had the following:

– Hotaru ika (Firefly Squid) from Toyama (on the photo above)
– Paradise Prawn from New Caledonia (ditto)
– Shiro baigai (White Ivory Shell)
– Extra Large Zuwai Gani (Snow Crab) legs (5 inches long) from Canada

All came through internet, fresh frozen except for Baigai (fresh).  My question is, why don’t we have the same service in the US?  Canada is much closer to us than in Japan.  And their ads stated these crabs are prepared and frozen at a USDA approved plant.

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Snow Crab legs

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My sister joyfully preparing these giant crab legs for the kani shabu/crab hot-pot.  She loves seafood, plus this was an excellent opportunity for her to impress my husband, the special guest at their household.

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(Besides the hot-pot, we had yakitori (bottom left), bonito sashimi (bottom middle), mounds of hotaru-ika (brownish mass on the bottom right), pickled nappa cabbage (center, cream-colored thing), and nameko mushrooms with baby anchovies (brown thing right next to it), etc.)

The Japanese doctors and nutritionists often say “eat 30 different food items per day”. This alone is close to that 30 in one meal!

It was not just the variety, but the amount was pretty generous as well. We don’t eat like this when we are in the US, so we got really full quickly. Both my mom and sister kept offering us to eat more: “We got all these for you, and we don’t want to spoil them.” I started to think, now I lost weight from eating smaller portions in the US, this is the first time I would gain weight by visiting Japan.

It seems to me that because of the economy, Japanese people are not eating this über fresh seafood at the five-star Japanese restaurants, but at home for a fraction of the price (or same price, 5 – 10 times of the amount.)  Plus preparing sashimi takes practally no time.  Once it’s thawed, all you do is place it on a plate.

We used to buy a few slices of assorted sashimi — about 1/4 – 1/3 lbs or so on a small tray for $20 or so.   Now these internet fish markets sells these by the kilo, and often have special bulk offers, such as “buy 3kg (6.6 lbs), you get shipping free”.  These internet offerings are definitely cheaper if you do the math (and they do that for you in their marketing copy).  It’s basically bulk sales, like buying at Costco. It’s a smart business model though, because people buy a larger amount, share with others, then they too get hooked with the fresh seafood.  The word of mouth spreads like a tsunami!

For example, my sister got 3kg of raw baby squid (hotaru ika) at once, because by buying two 1 kilo boxes, this company will give you another one free, plus free shipping.  Just like me, she loves variety, so as you see, she orders four kinds of seafood, anywhere between 1 – 3 kgs, totalling about 10 kgs (22 lbs!) for 3 adults in 40s and one 78 years old woman!  Way too much!  The Japanese traditionally hates wasting food, especially super fresh straight from the port kind, so she shares these seafood with other relatives.

My guess is that one of our relatives first ordered a lot, and shared with everyone else.  In any case, the circle of ordering and sharing keeps going.

Despite her effort, my husband wasn’t too excited about them.  After all, he’s a white boy from the Midwest.  He freaked out with these “big shiny eyes”.  Me?  I enjoyed them a lot.  They were so rich and sweet, I loved them…  until after about 20, and still a mound of them left.  Too bad you weren’t there with us! (My sister probably still has majority of them left in the freezer.  If you are willing to visit her in Tokyo and eat some baby squid, let me know!)  Now I’ve been away from them for a while, these photos makes me long for this seafood…  (drool….)

Maybe some of you don’t agree with this national obsession with fresh seafood, and the gluttony of Japanese ordinary (middle-class) gourmands.

And excessive fishing.  I haven’t watched the Cove yet, but I can see that the same thing could happen with other kinds of seafood.

What do you think?  Is it good that Japanese can order so many varieties of fresh seafood so easily?


Blue Fin Tuna Cutting Performance Report


Have you ever seen a large tuna cut in front of you?  I never had, even though I grew up in Tokyo, and went to Tsukiji Fish Market very early in the morning… until last week.

Last Saturday, there was a fresh Bluefin Tuna cutting performance at Mitsuwa Market Place in San Jose.  So I dragged (actually they were excited to join me) my husband, my friend Jan and his son Eryk to Mitsuwa.  This is a highly unusual experience, not too many people, even in Japan has an opportunity to see something like this.

When we got there 15 minutes before noon, there were already quite a bit of audience around the “stage”, where beautiful fresh bluefin tuna (Hon Maguro) lay there quietly…  headless and tailless.

According to the store manager who was an MC, this 450 lbs beauty has just arrived from Spain.

There are many tools they use to cut the beast. (OK, first when it was laying there, it looked like a Spanish beauty, but once it was cut, it looked more like a cow!  Just see through the picture and video.  You’ll agree. No pun intended.) 

Among the things they have ready for probably the biggest sale day of the year (Mitsuwa’s own Black Fri…, um, Saturday), they have all these stickers for fatty tuna and very fatty tuna ready, right in front of us.  This is exciting!

First they cut two jaw part (kama) and auctioned them off. 


Video: cutting the kama (jaw part) out, and auctioning it — just like at Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo!

Who wants to buy one?   Had we known Jan would invite 10 people over, we should’ve bought them.  (One small problem…  We didn’t have a big enough grill.)  Some restaurant owners bought them instead.


After the kama, they needed to cut the loin part in half with a Samurai sword.  Around this time, I started to think it’s more of a beast, not the Spanish beauty….

Video: Cutting the loin part (Akami = red flesh i.e. Maguro) in half with Samurai sword.

Now the one of the loin is out, three men bring it to the table… 

They will be cut into chunks, then sliced into saku, the thin, rectangular piece of flesh that will be cut into sashimi pieces at home or restaurant.  (See pictures below.)

Then the belly part… Toro.  By this time, I’m totally thinking this is beef.  Doesn’t it look like one?

Once the tuna’s bone is exposed, now the women come out to scrape the meat around the bone, called Naka-ochi (middle scrapings).  Only men do the (showy?) cut, only women do the (not-so glamorous?) scraping…  Very Japanese, yet I didn’t notice until my American husband pointed it out. 

The loin that were cut in chunks are sliced thinner, and into rectangular shape, and made into saku…  Lots of them.

Once an MC, now back to the store manager, he’s busy doing whatever needed to be done to sell these highly valued (and priced accordingly) delicacy.

Chu-toro (Fatty tuna).  They were sold at $50/lb.   For something that has been just cut in front of your own eyes, it’s not a bad price (especially if I compare with what I would have to pay in Tokyo… or at our favorite sushi restaurant!

These are o-toro (very fatty tuna).  It almost look like beef…  perfectly marbled Kobe beef (top) or bacon (middle).

Monstrous bone from the gigantic tuna. The red flesh still on the bone is further scraped (by women, of course) and sold as naka-ochi.

Naka-ochi.  Since the fish is so big, even the scraped flesh is pretty substantial.  It was soooo delicious!

My dear friend Jan got so excited, he invited 10 of his friends right from the store, well before everything was over (actually more like “as soon as they started cutting the kama”.  To my surprise, pretty much everyone happened to be at home, and they joined us at Jan’s house for a major “After-Thanksgiving” feast. 

I’ll report about that later.

So… what do you think?

Kitchen Wizard Tool Box Part 4: Kitchen Shears

Another handy tool that is underutilized, yet saves you a lot of time is a pair of Kitchen Shears.

You can do a lot of things with them…

  • Cut through packages,
  • Cut long skinny things like green onions and chives,
  • Cut through chicken bones,
  • Cut up a whole fish,
  • Cut through crab shells and crack crab legs,
  • Cut soaked dry Chinese bean threads right in the bowl, before draining the water,
  • Cut whole tomatoes right in the pan, or can,
  • Cut up ribs and barbecued meats,
  • Cut just about any food, just like at your favorite dim sum restaurant,
  • Cut flowers and herbs from your garden,
  • and more….

Especially if you don’t feel too confident with your knife skills, they will make your life easier.

My Wusthof shears is about 10 years old and don’t come apart, but I love them and never had any problem cleaning. It was about $50 (got it as a wedding gift.)

Now there are many come-apart type for $20-25, including Wusthof. Here’s the link to cooking.com’s kitchen shears review.

Just make sure that your children will not borrow yours for their craft projects!