Are you bored of the same old Japanese food and looking to try something new, exciting and a little strange? From potentially life-threatening to overwhelmingly pungent odors to just plain odd, here’s a list of 20 of the weirdest Japanese delicacies from the sea. If you are feeling a little bit curious and want to expand your Japanese cuisine horizons, click the link to find out more!
1. Shirako (fish milt)
Think of shirako as the male equivalent of caviar. Not that caviar is necessarily feminine, but whereas caviar are the eggs of fish, shirako is cod sperm. Technically it is the sperm sac and can come from many different kinds of fish. Shirako is described as tasting “creamy” and “custard-like.” It can be steamed, pan-fried or deep fried, but no amount of cooking will take away the uncomfortable silence when you tell your friends what you ate in Japan.
2. Fugu (pufferfish)
As fugu contains a lethal amount of poison, this is one fish that you want a professional to handle. And especially if you are thinking of trying the liver, which is delicious but full of poison, you may want to do some research on your fugu chef before chowing down. Usually fugu is served raw as thinly-sliced almost transparent sashimi or in a hot-pot dish, and apparently you can even eat its ovaries pickled in rice bran paste. Fugu death statistics are iffy, but one of the most famous people to die was kabuki actor Bando Mitsugoro who ate four fugu livers and died in 1975. Most fugu tasters will tell you the allure of trying the fish is not the taste, which is a bit bland and underwhelming, but the rush you get defying death.
3. Ikizukuri (live sashimi)
Not for the faint of heart, ikizukuri is the practice of preparing sashimi from live seafood such as fish, shrimp or lobster. The sashimi is then served right on top of the still living animal. Supposedly it makes the fish seem incredibly fresh, adding to the taste. Needless to say, ikizukuri is very controversial as you are basically consuming an animal as it sits dying in front of you. Watch this video below if you want to see it in action:
4. Funazushi (fermented sushi)
Funazushi is made by pickling a type of Japanese carp in rice for up to four years. The resulting fermented fish is then cut into slices and served as sushi. Funazushi is actually a very old style of preparing sushi that is still done around Lake Biwa in Shiga Prefecture. As you can imagine, the smell is incredibly strong and it has a vinegary taste.
5. Kujira (whale)
Images: Wikipedia, RocketNews24
Regardless of what the international community thinks, Japan continues its controversial whale hunts every year in the name of science and that meat is sold somewhat openly in Japan. And to the surprise of many, it is a fairly common menu item in some school lunches, though few adults actively seek it out and whale meat is not so common in restaurants. As controversial as whaling is, you would think whale meat would taste amazing, but most describe the taste as a little bland, which is probably why it is so often deep-fried when it appears on middle school lunch menus.
▼ A school lunch menu with whale to celebrate “Wakayama Day,” a prefecture known for its whaling industry
6. Tobiuo (flying fish)
Image: ExciteBlog (NihonSake)
If you are a fan of sushi, you may be familiar with tobiko, the colorful eggs of flying fish. But have you ever tried the actual fish? Flying fish are a lean and light-tasting fish but be careful of those sharp wings!
7. Ankimo (monkfish liver)
As horrifying as the monkfish looks, the liver is considered one of Japan’s finest delicacies. Its taste is compared to the richness of foie gras. Monkfish liver is served in a tangy ponzu sauce after being rubbed with salt and rinsed in rice wine.
8. Kurage (jellyfish)
Jellyfish is usually dried first because it spoils so quickly out of water. The dried jellyfish is then rehydrated by soaking it in water and served in a vinegar sauce. Some describe eating jellyfish like munching on rubber bands but others compare it more to cooked squid. It does not have much of a taste, so the dressing is key.
9. Shishamo (smelt)
Shishamo is a fish about 15 centimeters long that is grilled and eaten whole. It is often served in school lunches where kids fight over who can have the “most pregnant” one since the eggs are considered extra tasty. See? Kids all over the world are equally gross.
10. Shiokara (fermented fish viscera)
Made from mashed-up salted insides of various sea creatures that is left to ferment, shiokara is definitely not for everyone. Even a lot of Japanese people consider it to be an acquired taste. The somewhat unappetizing description may put some off, but many love its salty, strong flavor.
11. Hoya (Sea Pineapple)
This funny looking animal that seems like it belongs in a sci-fi film has a strange taste to match its appearance. While not incredibly common in Japan, it is often served as sashimi and supposedly goes well with sake.
12. Sazae (horned turban sea snail)
If you go near the ocean during summer in Japan, you may be able to see horned turban sea snails being grilled on the side of the road. They can also be eaten as sashimi and one of the most popular ways to eat it is to pull out the bitter-tasting black intenstine-like part at the bottom of the shell.
13. Kegani (horsehair crab)
Although tasty, these hairy crabs do not taste that much different than any other crab. Their hairy exterior is what makes them so unique.
14. Uni (sea urchin gonads)
Sea urchins are another one of those terrifying creatures with yummy insides. After carefully breaking the spiky exterior, the gonads of the sea urchin are scooped out and eaten raw. They have a briny, almost creamy taste and can fetch a high price.
15. Chirimen jako (young salted dried sardines or anchovies)
If you prefer to eat hundreds of fish at once, chirimen jako is for you. It is made by drying and salting young sardines or anchovies. They are usually put on top of rice or mixed in with vegetables. They have a very salty and slightly fishy taste, but are not overwhelming.
16. Awabi (abalone)
Although it looks like a clam, an abalone is actually a sea snail and is considered a delicacy in Japan for its chewy texture and crisp taste. Abalones are eaten raw as sashimi but are also grilled. A popular way to prepare abalones is to grill it live, right out of the water, as seen in the video below:
16. Mentaiko (marinated cod or pollack roe)
Mentaiko is actually an import from Korea, but after coming to Japan the spicy marinated fish eggs became an incredibly popular dish. Besides being eaten as is, it is also used for everything from rice balls to spaghetti to flavoring mayonnaise. It’s is so popular in Japan that you can even find mentaiko-flavored potato chips.
17. Namako (sea cucumber)
Sea cucumbers are usually eaten raw in Japan where it is eaten alone or with a vinegar dressing. It is considered to have a “delicate taste,” but some just find it very bland.
18. Shirouo no odorigui (dancing ice fish)
Image: FC2 Blog (aloe2)
Shirouo are tiny transparent fish that are eaten live and are said to “dance” in your mouth. They do not have a lot of taste, but dipping them in some soy sauce and eating a spoon full of moving fish is probably enough action for your tastebuds.
19. Kamenote (Japanese goose barnacles)
In Japanese this barnacle is called “turtle hand” since it looks exactly like one. They can be a little tough, and make sure you completely remove the shell before eating, but they have been called “juicy” and “tasty.”
20. Kusaya (Japanese style salted-dried fermented fish)
Image: Oshima Town
This Japanese delicacy is made by taking a fish like mackerel, soaking it in a brine for up to 20 hours, then laying it out in the sun for a few days. Some kusaya makers pride themselves on having used the same brine over several generations to make their stinky fermented fish. Although the smell can be overpowering, the taste is actually quite mild.
Have you tried any of these weird seafood treats from Japan? Would you try any of these strange delicacies? Let us know!