What is Ocellated Octopus (Iidako) sushi?

a photo of
There are five types of octopus mainly used for food in Japan: Madako, Mizudako, Iidako, Yanagidako, and Tenagadako.

What is Ocellated Octopus (Iidako)?

Ocellated Octopus (Iidako) is distributed south of southern Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, Kyushu to the Korean Peninsula and the coast of mainland China. It inhabits sandy muddy bottoms of inner bays at depths of 10 to 20 meters. Its entire body is covered with small warts, and it has black streaks on its back and a golden annular crest on its interbrachial membrane. The length of the body is about 20 cm, and the season is from winter to spring. Its scientific name is Octopus ocellatus Gray, 1849.

In winter, the eggs are packed with a diameter of about 6 mm, which look like grains of rice (Ii means rice), hence the Japanese name. Because these eggs are rich and delicious, the female is highly prized. Famous production areas include the Seto Inland Sea, Mikawa Bay, and Tokyo Bay.

What does Ocellated Octopus (Iidako) sushi taste like?

Fish with eggs are called “Ko (Ko means egg)-mochi,” but in the case of Iidako, it is called “Ii -mochi. Select fish with a taut body and brown color remaining on the body. Be careful, as it spoils quickly. Boil small ones before making Nigiri sushi and then applying them with Nitsume. The key is to pull it out early so that it does not become overcooked and hard.

The crispy texture of the meat combined with the chewy texture of the roe makes a perfect match for the sweet Nitsume. You can also eat it with soy sauce, putting wasabi between the shari (vinegared rice) and the topping. But to be honest, carpaccio and garlic saute are definitely tastier.


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Revision date: April 10, 2023

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What is White spotted Char (Iwana) sushi?

a photo of Iwana
Once known as “phantom fish” on the main island for the reduced population, Iwana has become thoroughly available in mountain streams of Japan in recent years due to stocking.

What is White spotted Char (Iwana)?

The Iwana group is divided into four subspecies, with body color and spots varying from region to region. The Ezo Iwana (Salvelinus leucomaenis (Pallas, 1814)) is distributed in Yamagata Prefecture, Chiba Prefecture and northward, Hokkaido to Kamchatka, Sakhalin, and elsewhere. The Yamato Iwana (Salvelinus leucomaenis japonicus (Oshima, 1938)) is distributed along the Pacific coast of Honshu west of the Sagami River in Kanagawa Prefecture, the Kii Peninsula, and the rivers flowing into Lake Biwa. The Nikko Iwana (Salvelinus leucomaenis pluvius (Hilgendorf, 1876)) is distributed throughout Honshu north of the Fuji River in Yamanashi Prefecture and the Hino River in Tottori Prefecture. The Gogi (Salvelinus leucomaenis imbrius (Jordan and McGregor,1925)) is distributed in the Chugoku region west of the Yoshii River in Okayama Prefecture and the Ibo River in Tottori Prefecture. Although all are land-locked, the Ezo Iwana has a descending sea-run type, the Amemasu (アメマス). However, there is one species.

The White-spotted Char (Iwana) is characterized by its low body height, long and slender body, fine scales, whitish spots on the body that are lighter than the body’s natural color, and white anterior margin of the pectoral and anal fins. It lives in the uppermost reaches of mountain streams and is separated from Yamame and Amago, which live in the same streams.

What does White spotted Char (Iwana) sushi taste like?

a photo of Iwana nigiri sushi
Iwana Nigiri sushi is a rare delicacy that can only be enjoyed because of its freshness.

Because Iwana is in the salmon family, they descend to the sea or lakes during their growth period and migrate up rivers as adults. Most of the rivers in Japan are among the world’s steepest, with short lengths, elevation differences, and fast currents. Therefore, it is thought that Iwana has the strength and muscles to withstand the rapid river currents and become tighter. The best ways to cook tight-fleshed Iwana are deep-fried, grilled, and sashimi, which takes advantage of the fish’s firmness when eaten. Arctic char, a close relative, is highly prized in French cuisine, and lives in Lake Leman and Lake Annecy, and is actively farmed in many areas.

Even Iwana pressed sushi is quite rare, but if you want to eat nigiri sushi, you will have to go to a restaurant adjacent to an aquaculture farm in Nagano or Toyama. It may look like Shiromi, but it has the flavor of salmon itself. However, the meat and flavor are somewhat inferior to those of Yamame and Amago.


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Revision date: April 6, 2023

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What is Shiba shrimp (Shiba-ebi) sushi?

a photo of Shiba ebi
Even if you look at it favorably, the color of Shiba shrimp (Shiba-ebi) does not make it look delicious.

What is Shiba shrimp (Shiba-ebi)?

Shiba shrimp (Shiba-ebi) is distributed south of Tokyo Bay on the Pacific Ocean side, south of Niigata Prefecture on the Sea of Japan side, and along the coast of China. It lives in sandy mud at depths of 10 to 30 m in inner bays, and grows to about 15 cm in length. The shell is thin, without stripes, and light yellowish-gray in color. They are also called Akahige (Aka means red and hige means antennae.) in some regions because of their red antennae. The season is from November to March. It was once caught in large numbers off the shiba coast of Tokyo Bay, hence the name shiba-ebi. It is important to note that Shiba shrimp lose their freshness quickly and the heads darken quickly, so they should be cooked on the same day or the heads should be removed. The main production areas are the Ariake Sea in Kyushu and Mikawa Bay in Aichi Prefecture. Its scientific name is Metapenaeus joyneri (Miers.1880).


What does Shiba shrimp (Shiba-ebi) sushi taste like?

a photo of Kakiage
Recently, whiteleg shrimp, which is less expensive, is used as an ingredient in Kakiage (seafood tempura) instead of Shiba shrimp.

Shiba shrimp is generally used in seafood tempura, Chinese cuisine, etc. When made into sashimi, it has a light and elegant taste, but the texture and sweetness are not quite enough.

a photo of oboro nigiri
Some sushi chefs serve Oboro nigiri like a dessert at the end of the meal.

It is not a typical ingredient for Nigiri sushi, but it is indispensable at sushi restaurants. It is used as an ingredient in Oboro and Tamagoyaki. Rarely, you will see sushi chefs making Gunkanmaki, but it looks grayish-white and not very tasty, and the delicate taste of Shiba-ebi is masked by the flavor of the nori seaweed.


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Revision date: April 5, 2023

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What is Whitefin trevally (Kaiwari) sushi?

a photo of Kaiwari
Whitefin trevally (Kaiwari) is a type of saltwater fish belonging to the horse mackerel family. It is found in the warm waters of the Indo-Pacific Ocean and is caught for food.

What is Whitefin trevally (Kaiwari)?

Whitefin trevally (Kaiwari) is widely distributed in the warm waters of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It inhabits sandy muddy areas near the seafloor at depths shallower than 200 m, slightly offshore from the coast. The maximum length of this species is about 40 cm.

It is similar to Striped jack (Shima aji) but taller and flatter, so it is also known as Hiraaji (Hira means flat.) among chefs. There is a black stripe between the second dorsal fin and the tail fin. The shape of the tail fin resembles that of a germinating twin leaf, as in the name of the Kaiwari. Its scientific name is Kaiwarinus equula (Temminck and Schlegel, 1844).

What does Whitefin trevally (Kaiwari) sushi taste like?

Whitefin trevally is generally not well known but is well known among anglers, along with its delicious taste. It is not a standard topping for Edomae sushi, but even at the Toyosu market, it comes in from palm-sized fish. Larger fish can be used as sashimi or sushi, but not in large numbers.

The best time for sashimi and sushi is from summer to early fall, before the spawning season. Its flesh is clear and white, and the larger it gets, the tighter and tastier it becomes. It is beautiful when sliced, has a moderate firmness, and a unique flavor that is as good as that of shari, making it a top-quality sushi topping.


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Revision date: April 4, 2023

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What is Yellowfin goby (Mahaze) sushi?

a photo of Yellowfin goby (Mahaze)
The Yellowfin Goby (Mahaze) is a benthic species that is usually found on muddy seabeds in estuarine and inshore areas.

What is Yellowfin goby (Mahaze)?

Yellowfin goby (Mahaze) inhabits sandy muddy bottoms of inner bays from southern Hokkaido to Kyushu, southern Korean Peninsula, and China. In recent years, it has become established in Sidney and California.

Yellowfin goby is spindle-shaped with a slightly flattened head and a long fan-shaped tail fin. It is a demersal fish that lives on the seafloor with its belly attached to the bottom of the sea. Its body color is light yellowish brown on the back side and white on the belly side, with irregular dark spots along the side of the body. Its scientific name is Acanthogobius flavimanus (Temminck and Schlegel, 1845).

What does Yellowfin goby (Mahaze) sushi taste like?

a photo of Mahaze tempura
The refined white meat is covered with a batter and heated to enhance its flavor and add a fluffy texture that can be eaten as much as you like.

Freshly caught yellowfin goby is made into sashimi, but the most common ways to eat it are tempura and deep-fried. Nigiri sushi made with lightly salted meat has a deep and ecstatic flavor.

Yellowfin goby’s liver, which is the size of a small pea, has a flavor that can sublimate the spirit, and some restaurants serve it on top of the topping. There are many kinds of delicious fish roe, but yellowfin goby roe is definitely one of the best. Its roe shiokara can also be used for sushi.


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Revision date: April 3, 2023

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What is Turban shell (Sazae) sushi?

a photo of turban shell
Sazae is found in waters near Japan and Korea, with ornately beautiful shells distinguished by jagged little horns dotting their perimeter.

What is Turban shell (Sazae)?

Turban shell (Sazae) is found on reefs from the intertidal zone to a depth of about 10 m throughout Japan, with the exception of northern Hokkaido and Okinawa.

The maximum shell height reaches 10 cm. The shell is conical and thick, with spines on the periphery. The number and length of the spines vary greatly depending on the habitat and the individual. Male gonads are yellowish-white and female ones are green.

The summer sazae become skinny due to spawning, so winter and spring are the best seasons for them. The scientific name is Turbo sazae Fukuda, 2017.

In the past, Sazae that grew on rough shores developed magnificent spines, and it was said that they may have developed because the spines caught on rocks like a kind of spike and prevented them from being washed away. Individuals that do not develop spines at all are called Marugoshi or Tsunonashi. Young, small, and thornless specimens are called hime-sazae in the market. However, those without spines and generally rounded may be imported.

Sazae is rarely seen alive, but those that make no sound when lightly shaken or quickly close their lids when touched are fresh. In the summer, even if they are alive, the water inside may be murky, so they judge the freshness by smelling. Sazae weighing 300 g or more are tasty.

The staple food of Sazae is seaweed, and the taste and color of their shells change depending on the quality of the seaweed they eat. It is said that eating arame seaweed turns the shell whitish while eating tengusa seaweed turns it blackish brown.

What does Turban shell (Sazae) nigiri sushi taste like?

a photo of Sazae Gunkan maki
Since turban shells do not fit well with shari, they should be rolled into gunkan-maki.

Sazae flesh is firm and is not easy to make nigiri. It also looks unattractive. In addition, the strong aroma of the sea and the thick umami make the nigiri sushi lose its sense of unity. However, some love the wild flavor and umami of Sazae.

When making nigiri sushi, it is best to put a fine Kakushi boucho on the inside to make it easier to eat. Fresh entrails can be boiled quickly and topped with a pleasantly bitter taste and rich flavor.

a photo of sazae tsuboyaki
For grilling Tsuboyaki, the entire shell can be placed directly onto hot charcoal, eventually coaxing juices to boil from the shell’s interior, at which point soy sauce and sake are poured directly into the shell.

Japanese people may prefer Sazae-no-tsuboyaki, which has the aroma of burnt soy sauce and the scent of the sea from the turban shells.


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Revision date: April 1, 2023

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What is Baigai sushi?

a photo of Baigai
Baigai is often used for Tsumami and sushi topping in sushi restaurants.

What is Baigai?

There are several species of shells called Baigai. Among them, the whitish Baigai such as Kagabai (Buccinum bayani Jousseaume,1883), Echubai (Buccinum striatissimum Sowerby,1899), Ooechubai (Buccinum tenuissimum Kuroda in Teramachi,1933), and other whitish Baigai, collectively called Shirobai.

Kagabai lives in depths of 200 to 500 m from the Noto Peninsula to Hokkaido, with shells reaching 15 cm in height, while Echubai (Finely-striated buccinum) is caught in the Sea of Japan west of the Noto Peninsula, at depths of 200 to 500 m, with shells reaching 15 cm in height. Ooechubai (Finely-striated buccinum) is endemic to the Sea of Japan north of Shimane, living at depths of 400 to 1,000 meters, and reaching a shell height of 25 cm. Ooechubai is considered the most delicious of the Shirobai, and the larger the size, the more expensive.

What does Baigai nigiri sushi taste like?

a photo of Baigai nigiri sushi
It is not familiar as sushi topping in the Kanto region, but is often found at sushi restaurants in Kanazawa.

As the name “Shirobai” (Shiro means white) shows, the meat is pure white and shiny like white porcelain. After the characteristic crunchy texture of the shellfish, sweetness and bitterness spread softly in the mouth.

If you are worried about the hardness of the meat in Nigiri sushi, it might be better to taste it as sakamushi (sake steamed). It becomes moderately tender and easy to make nigiri. To enhance the light flavor, you can also boil it quickly in kombu dashi (kelp stock) during preparation.

It is not familiar as sushi topping in the Kanto region, but is often found at sushi restaurants in Kanazawa and other areas. As a side note, from the sound “bai (bai means double)” in Baigai, it is considered a fortunate food, as it doubles the amount of good fortune.


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Revision date: March 22, 2023

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What is Aka-nishi-gai (Ko-naganishi) sushi?

a photo of Top shell (Aka-nishi)
This is Aka-nishi (Top shell) nigiri.

What is Aka (aka means red)-nishi-gai (gai means shell)?

There are three typical types of shellfish called Aka-nishi-gai: Naganishi, Ko-naganishi, and Aka-nishi. Yonaki-gai (夜泣貝), enthusiastically favored in Hiroshima and Yamaguchi prefectures, is the Naganishi (Fusinus perplexus (A.Adams,1864)) caught in the Seto Inland Sea. It is no longer caught in large quantities, and Ko-naganishi (Fusinus ferrugineus Kuroda & Habe,1961) from the Sea of Japan is used as a substitute. This shellfish is a smaller version of the Naganishi, and has a unique astringent taste in its entrails.

Aka-nishi (Top shell) is a carnivorous shell commonly found in tidal flats of inner bays in Japan, and in the Kanto region, it is a natural enemy of oysters and clams rather than a target for fishing. Its flesh is softer than that of the turban shell (Sazae), and some say it is tastier. In recent years, large quantities of frozen top shell has been imported cheaply from Turkey and Bulgaria, which face the Black Sea, so when you hear “Aka-nishi-gai” at conveyor belt sushi restaurants, you are probably talking about this. Aka-nishi-gai is considered an invasive alien species in the local market.

What does Aka-nishi-gai (Ko-naganishi) sushi taste like?

a photo of Ko-naganishi (Aka-nishi gunkan)

Ko-naganishi is a member of the family Fasciolariidae that inhabits the Sea of Japan from Mutsu Bay to Kyushu, where it grows to a shell length of about 8 cm. In Ishikawa Prefecture, it is caught in Nanao Bay (七尾湾) and is often used in sushi toppings. Its season is from September to November. The color of this shellfish is bright red, which is derived from its name. The texture is chewy and the aroma of the sea fills the mouth, and at Nigiri sushi, it is served in Gunkan maki, which some tourists come for. In Nanao, Ko-naganishi is called Aka-nishi-gai (赤西貝) instead of the standard Japanese name Aka-nishi (Rapana venosa (Valenciennes,1846)), which is a little confusing at times.


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Revision date: March 20, 2023

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What is Stone flounder (Ishigarei) sushi?

a photo of Stone flounder (Ishigarei)
Sushi aficionados will appreciate it as a truly extravagant sushi nigiri.

What is Stone flounder (Ishigarei)?

Stone flounder (Ishigarei) is distributed along the coasts of Japan, the Kuril Islands, Sakhalin, the Korean Peninsula, and Taiwan. It lives in sandy mud at depths of 30 to 100 meters, and its total length reaches 50 cm. The body surface is smooth with no scales, but there are large longitudinal bony plates on the dorsal surface of the body on the eye side and other small bony plates. In Japan, depending upon the region it will be called other names, such as Ishimochi, Ishimochigarei, or Shirogarei.

It was caught in large quantities by bottom trawling fishing and was synonymous with cheap flounder. However, since the Edo period (1603-1867), it has been treated as a luxury fish in Tokyo. This is because white fish are scarce in summer, and even now, as summer approaches, the price rises along with Japanese sea bass (Suzuki) in the market. However, there was a time when it became a phantom fish that could not be caught at all due to the reclamation and development of Tokyo Bay that began after World War II.

What does Stone flounder (Ishigarei) sushi taste like?

Stone flounder is made by quickly removing the bony plates during the preparation process to avoid the characteristic muddy smell of flounder. It has clear, elegant flesh with a moderate aroma of the sea and a rich flavor with just the right amount of crunchiness. It caught in Tokyo Bay is highly prized and is served as sashimi and sushi, but it is also delicious simmered, or grilled.

As a rule, only live fish can be used for nigiri sushi. Nojime and Ikejime are also not highly valued because the umami component of flounder rapidly decreases after death. Stone flounder, which can be found in abundance in supermarkets at reasonable prices, cannot be used for nigiri sushi or sashimi. It also has a distinctive odor when it is no longer fresh, so it is best to remove it quickly and remove the skin. Skinless fillets can be enjoyed even after maturing for a while.


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Revision date: March 17, 2023

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What is Dogtooth tuna (Iso maguro)?

a photo of Dogtooth tuna (Iso maguro)
Dogtooth tuna (Iso maguro) is a different type of fish, although it is named tuna.

Dogtooth tuna (Iso maguro) is distributed throughout the tropical and subtropical waters of the Middle and Western Atlantic and Indian Oceans. In Japan, it is distributed mainly in southern Japan and is abundant in the Ogasawara and Nansei Islands. They migrate to rocky reefs and coral reefs, either alone or in groups of several dozen. The total length is around 1.5 meters. Its scientific name is Gymnosarda unicolor (Rüppell, 1838). It belongs to a different group from bluefin, yellowfin, and relatives are not hard to imagine.

It resembles tuna and bonito but is easily distinguished by its wavy lateral line behind the body. It is characterized by the presence of scales only on the pectoral fins and the pectoral carapace around the corselet, and by its large mouth with harp piranha-like teeth.

Its light flesh is slightly softer and less fatty than that of tuna and has almost no acidity. It is easily damaged, has a slight odor, is not very tasty, and is not marketable. It is known more as a fishing target than as a food source. It is known more for its speed and pulling power than the Caranx family. Large Dogtooth Tuna can cause ciguatera poisoning, so be careful. This fish is often sold canned or frozen.


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Revision date: March 16, 2023

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What is Pacific barrelfish (Medai) sushi?

a photo of Medai
The words medai is written in kanji characters as 目鯛, with “me” (目) meaning “eye” and “dai” (鯛) being the term in Japanese for snappers and porgies.

What is Pacific barrelfish (Medai)?

Pacific barrelfish is distributed throughout Japan south of Hokkaido, adult fish lives near the bottom at depths of 150 to 400 meters, and its Japanese name is Medai (Me means eye). It is a large fish, reaching 90 cm in length, with large eyes, hence its Japanese name. If the body color is red, it looks somewhat like Splendid alfonsino (Kinmedai). Its scientific name is Hyperoglyphe japonica (Döderlein, 1884).

The coloration of the body surface is generally blackish when young, but as adults, the overall coloration becomes lighter, with the back turning reddish grayish brown.

It is a member of the Japanese butterfish (Ebodai) family, which is different from the red seabream (Tai), and its body surface is slimy. The season is from fall to winter when the fish is fatty. Typical production areas are Shimane, Yamaguchi, Nagasaki, Kochi, and the inner bays of Tokyo.

What does Pacific barrelfish (Medai) sushi taste like?

a photo of Medai nigiri sushi
Pacific barrelfish (Medai) is delicious even when it is konbujime (marinated in kelp), which increases its umami.

There was a time when many market participants had a negative image of Pacific barrelfish, as many of the frozen products were not as fresh as they should have been, and the taste was not good enough. Around 2022, the impression of Pacific barrelfish changed due to its good fat content and texture, and it became a popular fish purchased by famous sushi restaurants.

The local producers have begun to improve the quality of Pacific barrelfish, and Shizuoka Prefecture’s suppliers have begun to treat it with the same care as their famous Splendid alfonsino. It may become a star like Splendid alfonsino (Kinmedai) and Blackthroat seaperch (Nodoguro) in the future.

a photo of meda ifillet
It is really a beautiful fillet.

Pacific barrelfish has a beautiful reddish-red color of chiai (dark-colored flesh) on its white flesh when cut into pieces, making it a good-looking sushi fish. It has a sweet taste and is cheaper than other shiromi such as Red seabream (Tai), Bastard halibut (Hirame), and Greater amberjack (Kanpachi). When making nigiri sushi, it should be made into shiojime and refrigerated overnight to increase the umami.


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Revision date: April 4, 2023

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What is Sakhalin taimen (Itou) sushi?

a photo of Sakhalin taimen (Itou)
Sakhalin taimen (Itou) is known as the fish that anglers dream of encountering only once in their lives.

What is Sakhalin taimen (Itou)?

Sakhalin taimen is distributed only in the southern Kuril Islands, Sakhalin, Primorsky Territory, and Hokkaido. It used to be distributed in Lake Ogawara, Aomori Prefecture, but has already become extinct. In Hokkaido, it inhabits gently meandering rivers in the Konsen Plain, Sarufutsu Plain, and Sarobetsu Plain.

Reaching a maximum height of 2 m, it is the largest freshwater fish distributed in Japan. Its Japanese name is Itou and its scientific name is Parahucho perryi  (Brevoort, 1856).

The body color is light purple or light green on the back side and silvery white on the belly side. Unlike other salmonids, Sakhalin taimen lay their eggs in the spring and do not die, but instead lay them over and over again for many years. Females are usually larger than males, sometimes twice as large as males. The “魚鬼” Chinese character combines “魚” (fish) and “鬼” (devil). As the Chinese characters suggest, it is known for its ferocious nature.

It is also farmed in Aomori and Niigata, but because it takes 5~6 years to grow to 50 cm in length, it is not commercially available and is used at hotels and other places as a regional specialty.

What does Sakhalin taimen (Itou) sushi taste like?

a photo of Itou nigiri
If you find Itou nigiri sushi, you should definitely eat it because you may never get a second chance.

Its flesh is not peculiar and is a slightly pale orange color. The texture is tender but strangely does not feel tender and melting. It is rarely served at sushi restaurants in Tokyo, but it is probably farm-raised Sakhalin taimen. Whether or not it is a natural product, it is a very rare topping, so if you find it, you should definitely try it.


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Revision date: April 3, 2023

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What is Noresore sushi?

a photo of Noresore
It is called different names depending on regions: “Berada” in Okayama Pref., “Tachikurage” in Misaki, “

What is Noresore?

Noresore is believed to be a juvenile of the Anago, but the species’ name is not really known. The larvae of Unagi (Japanese eel), Anago (Japanese conger), and Hamo (Daggertooth pike conger) are called Leptocephalus and are elongated and flattened, leaf-like in shape. They are transparent to the muscles and spine and are 5~6 cm in size. This is called Noresore in Kochi Prefecture. It arrives at the market from February to May, but the quantity is small and the freshness fades quickly, so the price is always high.

Many people look forward to it as a delicacy in early spring. Indeed, the smooth slurping and subtle sweetness are something special that cannot be tasted anywhere else. When eaten raw, it goes well with ginger soy sauce, wasabi soy sauce, or ponzu (Japanese citrus juice).

a photo of Noresore sushi
Noresore is served in a Gunkan maki. However, it is rare for it to be served as sushi.

What does Noresore sushi taste like?

When made into sushi, it is served with green onions and ginger as condiments, and in a Gunkan maki. The atmosphere is similar to that of Shirauo (Japanese icefish), but it is much more slippery to the palate, much like the high-end Gelidium jelly. In Tokyo sushi restaurants, it is sometimes served as Tsumami, but almost never as Nigiri sushi.


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Revision date: March 11, 2023

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What is Sea squirt (Hoya) sushi?

a photo of Sea squirt (Hoya)
Sea squirt (Hoya) is said to be unique in that it has all five tastes humans are able to detect – sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami.

What is Sea squirt (Hoya)?

Sea squirt (Its Japanese name is Hoya) is thought to be a specialty of the Tohoku region, but it is distributed from Hokkaido to Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu, as well as from the Korean Peninsula to the Shandong Peninsula of mainland China.

It has red, hard skin and protruding warts, the tops of which have entry and exit holes, and lives attached to rocks and other objects on the seafloor.

The sea squirt is nicknamed the pineapple of the sea because of its resemblance to a pineapple, which is not clear whether it is an animal or a plant. It is a close relative of vertebrates, although it is not at all imaginable. Its size is about 20 cm.

The two main species of Hoya (海鞘、老海鼠) consumed in Japan are Ma-hoya (Halocynthia roretzi (Drasche, 1884)) and Aka-hoya (Halocynthia aurantium aurantium (Pallas, 1787)). Miyagi Prefecture accounts for about 80% of the nation’s production, while Aka-hoya is mostly produced in Hokkaido.

What does Sea squirt (Hoya) nigiri sushi taste like?

a photo of Hoya nigiri sushi
Sea squirt (Hoya) has a complex taste with a mixture of bitterness and sweetness.

Its edible parts are the muscles and internal organs, which are removed by peeling the skin. Hoya’s gonads get fatter in the fall and its muscles become leaner. Then, after May, the meat gets fatter and has eight times more glycogen than in winter, making it tastier and sweeter. If the body color of Ma-hoya is pineapple color, Aka-hoya is the color of a persimmon seed that has fully ripened to bright red.

Sea squirt takes in a lot of seawater, so it has a strong smell of the sea anyway. It also has a unique umami and bitter taste because it is rich in amino acids such as glycine and alanine.

Ma-hoya is generally considered to have a stronger flavor, while Aka-hoya is relatively mild. Ma-hoya is not for everyone, but it can be enjoyed as an unusual sushi topping.


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Revision date: March 9, 2023

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What is Japanese spiny lobster (Ise ebi) sushi?

a photo of Spiny lobster
Ise ebi (Spiny lobster)

What is Japanese spiny lobster (Ise ebi)?

Japanese spiny lobster is found along the Pacific coast south of Ibaraki Prefecture and is distributed as far as Taiwan. Its length reaches up to 40 cm. Its well-known production areas include Chiba, Wakayama, Shizuoka, and Mie prefectures. Its Japanese name is Ise ebi.

It is very special to the Japanese. With its stately beard, armored appearance, and bright red color when boiled, it has long been regarded as a symbol of good luck, an indispensable part of celebratory occasions. It is also a symbol of longevity.

What does Japanese spiny lobster (Ise ebi) nigiri sushi taste like?

To be honest, it seems a waste for Nigiri sushi, as it is often used in cooking due to its good appearance. However, its flesh is resilient, and in particular, it contains glutamic acid, which is an umami component, as well as glycine and arginine, which give it a sweet taste, on a level with Kuruma prawn. It can be served raw or as Yushimo-zukuri, which brings out its sweetness and is delicious as nigiri. Some sushi chefs also use Kobujime, so adjusting the moisture content is a key point in preparation.

The name “Ise ebi” comes from the Ise Peninsula, which includes the Ise region, where it is often caught. The taste of fish caught in this region is good, and Chiba Prefecture currently boasts the largest catch of Ise ebi.

However, imported products such as Australian spiny lobster (Jasus novaebolandiae Holthuis) and Rock lobster (Jasus edwardsii (Hutton,1875)) from Australia and New Zealand are much more widely distributed. Rock lobster is distributed only in the southern hemisphere and looks different from Spiny lobster. The Rock lobster is different from the Spiny lobster in appearance, and the Spiny lobster has a transmitter that produces a sound, while the Rock lobster does not.


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Revision date: March 7, 2023

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