Even though Japan is surrounded on all sides by water, the sea off the coast of Sanriku is especially famous as one of the three great fishing grounds in the world and boasts large amounts of catch. A 600 km shoreline stretches from the south of Aomori to the Oshika Peninsula in Miyagi. Here the Japan Current and the Okhotsk Current collide, yielding ample plankton and attracting a lot of fish.
There is also a ria coast stretching from the south of Iwate to the north of Miyagi, with countless inlets and capes. From antiquity, the coast has served as a home for seafood farming.
An assortment pack of seafood from Sanriku, evoking the food culture of each region
Many types of seafood are caught off the coast of Sanriku, including mackerel, pacific saury, scallops and sea urchins. While the fresh catch is delicious eaten as is, the extra effort put into processing them reflects the local food culture, including the way the food is flavored and served.
Urchins from the town of Hirono, grown on natural kombu seaweed
The town of Hirono, located at the northern end of the coastal area of Iwate, has no bays and is exposed to the open sea. The sea is too rough for farming seafood but is a great growing ground for natural wakame and kombu seaweeds, which are rarely found naturally in Japan. The deep purple sea urchins, grown in this sea on natural seaweed, are called Kitamurasaki urchins.
To make use of this blessed environment for sea urchins, the town of Hirono has built “urchin farms,” facilities for growing natural urchins stretching several dozen kilometers along the coastline. The farms are made by drilling approximately 3 m deep grooves in rocks found in shallow waters and letting natural kombu seaweed grow, which creates an environment filled with nutrients for sea urchins.
The baby urchins grown carefully near the port for a year are released into the sea and after another two years in the natural environment, they are transferred again to the urchin farms (the reproduction grooves) that are filled with natural kombu and wakame seaweeds for another year before they are shipped.
At Hironoya, the local seafood wholesaler, the urchins are processed using the classic method, without preservatives, using just salt to enhance the urchins’ original flavor. The urchins are also bottled with the utmost care and attention to keep each piece intact, resulting in a plump texture and flavor just like fresh, live urchins.
Pride of the Salmon Town: Flavored salmon roe
As we headed southward from Hirono, a ria shoreline appeared before our eyes. Miyako, Iwate Prefecture, is a “salmon town,” with the greatest catch of autumn salmon in Japan. Kyowa Suisan manufactures flavored salmon roe, using plenty of the highest-quality salmon roe, like those served at high-end sushi restaurants.
Using the already good-tasting fresh salmon roe, the company flavors the roe with kombu seaweed extract and soy sauce flavored with bonito and mackerel flake broths.
“The best salmon roe stays plump until it enters your mouth, and as soon as it gets on your tongue, it melts away,” says Ryota Suzuki, Senior Managing Director of Kyowa Suisan. Together with three other friends running a seafood processing business in Miyako, the four youngsters have established a group called Miyako Team Isaribi, to help revive the marine product industry. “It has been six years since the earthquake. The fishing industry in Sanriku is, though slowly, regaining its strength. You will feel it when you taste the good seafood here.”
Special "kaeshi" sauce carries the local taste of Sanriku to the next generation
Next, we visited Saikichi Shoten, a seafood processing firm in Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture. Their primary product is the golden pacific saury. Pacific saury caught off the coast of Kesennuma are cooked in a special sweet and savory sauce, eaten as a side dish to white rice. It is a unique product of Sanriku.
“The pacific saury caught off the coast of Kesennuma have just the right amount of fat. As their peak season moves down from the north, their fat level also goes down gradually. We simmer them slowly until their bones become soft. If they have too much fat, the skin can rip easily and the flavor of the fish can leech out, so we need to cook them carefully, because they are special Kesennuma saury. It was our predecessors who came up with this method to enjoy the local saury,” says Senior Executive of Saikichi Shoten, Kazue Saito.
The secret to its flavor is the special "kaeshi" sauce, used since the time the company was first established, topped up with each use. The sauce is in fact an invaluable asset for Saikichi Shoten, as it is hard to make it from scratch. During the Great East Japan Earthquake, the barrel containing the sauce was washed away by the tsunami. Saito gave up on it at one point, but “Our staff miraculously found it from the piles of rubble, and thanks to them we can still continue with this taste,” reflects Saito.
The sweet, savory, soft and fleshy pacific saury is perfect with white rice. With a pinch of prickly Chinese pepper, the taste becomes more sophisticated, a perfect match with beer.
Processed foods from Ishinomaki, enhancing the taste of their original ingredients
Of the Sanriku shoreline, the waters near Kinkasan Island in Ishinomaki is said to be one of the best fishing grounds. The mackerel pulled into Ishinomaki port are lauded for their large size and quality fat.
Yamatomi, a seafood processing firm in Ishinomaki, makes vinegared mackerel with mackerel from Ishinomaki. They are lightly seared first to lock in their great taste before being flavored. To make use of the mackerel’s original taste, the vinegar is only used moderately. The mackerel are quickly put through this uniquely sweetened vinegar, jointly developed with a manufacturer with over 300 years of history. The small bones are removed carefully by hand. When it enters the mouth, a smoky smell fills the mouth, with a pronounced mackerel flavor.
Ishinomaki Port is also famous for its large catch of long-nosed eel. Using long-nosed eels from Ishinomaki, Yamatomi serves simmered and grilled eels, prepared with their own special technique.
Long-nosed eels live in deep waters and have dark, tough skin, so tough that they cannot be cooked without the appropriate advance preparation. They are heated instantaneously with a special machine that uses heat and steam, to plump them up and keep them in one piece. They are then split open, soaked in sauce overnight and grilled directly over heat. It has a soft, fluffy texture and goes very well with the sweet and savory sauce. It can also be served immediately just by warming it up.
Collaborative efforts in Sanriku arising from recovery efforts
The producers and manufacturers introduced in this article are supported by Kirin Kizuna Project, a project the Kirin Group initiated to support recovery from the Great East Japan Earthquake.
This project started in July 2011 and is themed on “developing bonds” and is based on three main activities: supporting the recovery of local cultures and food industries; helping children regain their smiles; and helping people to maintain physical and mental health. Speaking on the support activities, Shinichi Fuchida, Designated Public Relations Manager, Kizuna Promotion Division, CSV Headquarters, says “Beer is made with barley and hops. This means that beer manufacturing is founded on agricultural products. Immediately after the earthquake occurred, we have extensively supported agriculture and fishing by providing hardware like machinery and equipment, to software like product and sales channel development. In these six years we have developed many products alongside the people we are supporting and I would like people to enjoy these products and also visit Tohoku.”
This time, E-ZEY JAPAN is offering an assorted gift pack with the various seafood introduced in this article and Ichiban Shibori Sendai-Dukuri beer manufactured at Kirin Brewery’s Sendai Plant.
Ichiban Shibori Sendai-zukuri is a first-press beer available only in this area, designed to match the local palate. Mitsuru Tanikawa, Head of Brewing (at the time of the interview) at the Kirin Brewery Sendai Plant, says “The concept of Sendai-zukuri is appreciation for local people. Our plant was unable to ship our product at one point because of the damage from the tsunami, but we managed to resume operations with the help from local Kirin supporters. We wanted to have that feeling of appreciation at the core of our product development.”
The beer is designed to enhance the taste of Sanriku’s seafood. It is made with Sasanishiki rice from Miyagi, used for sushi, and hops from Tohoku. It has a flamboyant aroma, refreshing bitterness and aftertaste. We invite our readers to savor the beautifully matched, refreshing beer and many gifts from the sea of Sanriku.
Writer : YUKI MOTOMURA / Photographer : YUTA SUZUKI / Movie : CHIZU TAKAKURA
〈E‐ZEY JAPAN〉Sanriku’s treasure box and Kirin Ichiban Shibori from Sendai
Iwate Prefecture Tourism Information
Miyagi Prefecture Tourism Information
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