Bounty of the sea! Kingdom of irresistibly fresh seafood
Kushiro is a treasure trove of tastes. In particular, Kushiro's seafood is of the highest quality and even also sold in large quantities to fine dining restaurants in Tokyo. You will likely be surprised at the fresh and great tasting locally served seafood. Here are some of the most recommended marine products brought to you by proud producers.
Alaska pollock and Pacific cod[From September to December]
Alaska pollock represents the fish with the largest catch in Kushiro. Alaska pollock is bruised or damaged quite easily, so it was mainly processed and used as an ingredient in tarako and fish paste products. However, in recent years, advancements in refrigeration and freezing technologies have enabled restaurants to carry this fish on as a seasonal menu item in the winter, including as sashimi. Freshly caught Alaska pollock features a soft textured meat with a simple, yet delicious taste. Some winter favorites include tarako ae, made from Alaska pollock tarako and tachipon, where Pacific cod milt is eaten with ponzu sauce.
Chum salmon[From September to December] and tokishirazu salmon[From May to June]
From sashimi to pickled, salmon is one of the most frequently eaten fish in Hokkaido. It’s melt in your mouth texture provides a delicious taste with the perfect amount of fatty flavoring. Salmon names vary based on when the fish was caught, including chum salmon in the autumn and tokishirazu in the spring to summer months. Tokishirazu has a healthy amount of fattiness to the meat, producing a delicious taste on par with young salmon. Conversely, chum salmon produce a great tasting roe, while its meat offers a simple flavor.
Salmon is a fish that travels back and forth between the river and ocean. The kokanee salmon that live in Lake Akan are a type of landlocked sockeye salmon that did not return to the ocean and instead evolved to inhabit the lake. Sockeye salmon are not raised using aquaculture. Their vividly red flesh and savory taste is prized as a luxury food around the world. Kokanee salmon offer a similar savory taste as sockeye salmon, with a fresh and vibrant flavor. Currently, kokanee salmon can be found in several lakes, but originally they were unique to Lake Akan. Kokanee salmon lose their freshness quite quickly, so it’s a privilege to be able to eat kokanee salmon locally in June when in season.
Pacific saury[From September to October]
Pacific saury swims past the waters off Eastern Hokkaido from August to October in schools, eating as they migrate, which results in a plump and fatty meat. The waters off Eastern Hokkaido are particularly rich in large, fatty zooplankton because of the warm and cold currents that collide churning up mineral rich seawater. This perfect environment off Eastern Hokkaido increases the flavor of fish and produces truly delicious Pacific saury as they migrate past the waters off Kushiro. The Pacific saury catch is small, but the Kushiro brand Seito Sanma, prized for its freshness and shape, is even shipped to Tokyo. Kushiroites love to eat Pacific saury as sashimi together with sliced ginger and chopped green onions when the fish is in season. Or, you can add your own favorite flavor.
Wakasagi[From January to February,October]
Wakasagi caught in Lake Akan with its rich phytoplankton and zooplankton is known for its exemplary taste. In Lake Akan, wakasagi fishing takes place in April together with artificial spawning. Every year the Lake Akan Fishing Cooperative sells processed wakasagi as a preserved food boiled in soy sauce, which has become a popular souvenir. Wakasagi fishing is a special experience as you get to take in the majesty of Mt. Oakan while fishing on the frozen surface that hides the natural monument of the marimo beneath. There are restaurants at Lake Akan that serve freshly caught wakasagi as tempura or nanban-zuke, or roasted fish marinated in a spicy sauce.
Lake lobster (signal crayfish)[From May to November]
Signal crayfish, a specified alien species brought from outside of Japan, has proliferated in Lake Akan, wreaking havoc on the lake’s environment, including the habitat of the marimo. For this reason extermination efforts have been ongoing. Yet, in France crayfish are considered a luxury food on par with lobsters. Because the signal crayfish offers a premium taste similar to crab and its shell produces a thick and savory soup, people gave it the brand name Lake Lobster, as exterminating these signal crayfish would be a waste, thus transforming a nuisance into a local specialty item. In addition to the Lake Lobster Soup sold by the Lake Akan Fishing Cooperative, local restaurants now carry new menu items made from Lake Lobster, including the delicious Saribonara served by Onsen Kobo Akan at Lake Akan.
Squid[From August to October]
There are four types of squid found in the waters off Kushiro; namely, Japanese common squid, neon flying squid, magister armhook squid, and boreal clubhook squid. Japanese common squid and neon flying squid are the two types caught the most. Japanese common squid is delicious as sashimi, while neon flying squid tastes the best in processed goods. Squid meat is translucent or dark brown in color and offers a chewy texture that produces an excellent taste when fresh. Kushiro’s squid catch occasionally includes the rather strange boreopacific armhook squid. This squid, which only has eight legs just like an octopus, is ideal for processed foods rather than sashimi.
Sea kelp[From April to September]
Kushiro’s most well known species of kelp is naga-konbu, or saccharina longissima. This particular species, which accounts for 70% of the catch in Kushiro, is Japan’s longest, as it can reach upwards of 20 meters in length. The root is ideal for making broth, but it is also great when eaten. The more you boil naga-konbu, the softer it becomes, so it can be prepared as a salad. Between April and May, the naga-konbu harvested early is called ao-konbu, while the naga-konbu harvested before reaching maturity is called sao-konbu. The konbu harvested in September that is fully grown and quite thick is ideal for use in simmered dishes as atsuba-konbu.
Whelk[From May to July]
There are three types of whelk caught around Kushiro; namely, Neptune whelk, lighthouse whelk, and sand whelk. Neptune whelk is most often eaten as sashimi or in sushi. Lighthouse whelk and sand whelk are usually provided in their shell at izakaya or robata after being steamed in sake. Eaten as sashimi whelk produces a very sweet taste and crunchy texture. Another great tasting dish is pouring broth in the shell and then slowly simmering it to perfection. You can find whelk on the menu at various eateries in Kushiro, including robata.
Shishamo smelt is a species of smelt native to Japan. Most of the smelt sold in Japan is capelin, a separate species. The native shishamo smelt and its rich taste can only be found in Hokkaido. The fresh shishamo smelt that are caught in the waters off Kushiro and brought ashore at the Port of Kushiro are sold under the brand Kushiro Shishamo, which is popular for its great taste. The season for shishamo smelt is November. Females are prized for their roe, but the robust flavor of males is also a must-try.
Kichiji rockfish[From September to December]
Kichiji rockfish is known throughout Japan as a highly prized fish because of its robust taste and fatty meat, despite its small size. Kichiji rockfish is known by the nickname kinki in Kanto and menme in Eastern Hokkaido. Locally, kichiji rockfish is mainly caught in trawl nets, but it is a rather rare type of species that is difficult to catch because of its size. Kichiji rockfish appear on the limited edition menus of izakaya when in season in December. Typically the fish is prepared simmered or grilled. Kushiro’s menme is known as being particularly delicious that features a melt-in-your-mouth texture and extravagant flavor.
Kurohamo[January,From April to May,From November to December]
Kurohamo is considered to taste better than eel. Although it is similar to an eel, kurohamo lives at the bottom of the ocean, so it doesn’t smell of mud. It is a relative of the conger eel, and it is mainly caught locally in Kushiro by trawl net. Kurohamo is caught throughout the year, except in the summer, but its most in season during December. Kurohamo has a fattier meat than eel, but a simple taste that isn’t too overpowering. Kurohamo is rarely sold in the supermarket, but some izakaya serve it on the menu as Karasuhamo.
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