Even if you don’t speak Japanese, if you’re a sushi lover, you’ve probably heard some of the language’s fish-based vocabulary. Maguro is pretty readily understood as “tuna” among foodies with a palate for Japanese cuisine, and many people who can’t put together a complete sentence in Japanese still know that uni is sea urchin, for example.
Not as many non-Japanese speaking diners are as familiar with the word iwashi, or sardine, though. Although sardine sushi isn’t unheard of, it definitely trails in popularity behind less fishy-tasting fare, and its relatively low price and humble image mean it doesn’t have the same level of pizazz as a seaweed-wrapped pile of ikura (salmon roe) or a glistening cut of otoro (extra fatty tuna belly).
Visual impact isn’t a problem, though, for one Japanese restaurant chain’s latest creation: the Whole Sardine Sushi Roll.
We’re about a month away from Setsubun, which is celebrated on February 3. Originally meant to mark the start of spring in Japan, the holiday is sometimes referred to in English as the “Bean-Throwing Festival,” due to the practice of throwing roasted soybeans to ward off evil spirits. It’s also customary to eat one soybean for each year of your age to ensure good luck in the year to come.
Those aren’t the only traditions associated with Setsubun, though. Many people also buy ehomaki, thick sushi rolls, which they eat while facing towards whichever point of the compass has been deemed the most auspicious for the year. But perhaps the most unusual Setsubun activity is decorating the entrance to your home with something called hiiragi iwashi.
As you can see, that’s a cooked sardine head stuck on a sprig of holly. Like the roasted soybeans, hiiragi iwashi are thought to ward off demons and misfortune, as explained in this handy illustration.
▼ We imagine it has a similar effect on salesmen, religious solicitors, and actually just about anyone who gets within a few steps of your front door.
Kurazushi, one of Japan’s most popular budget-priced revolving sushi restaurant chains, has decided to combine ehomaki and hiiragi iwashi with its newest menu item, the 350-yen (US$2.90) Whole Sardine Roll.
Unlike an actual hiiragi iwashi, though, the 10-centimeter (3.9-inch) Whole Sardine Roll isn’t a strictly decorative piece. Featuring a whole Hokkaido-caught sardine, a leaf of oba (Japanese basil), and grated plum, it’s meant to be eaten, even if we’re not sure which end we’re supposed to start from. Kurazushi is even considerate enough to remove the backbone before serving it, although diners are still cautioned to be careful of smaller bones, which are always something to look out for when eating fish in Japan.
If you’re not up to the challenge of chowing down on a whole fish from head to tail (with the eyes included, of course), Kurazushi is also offering less extreme ehomaki, such as pork cutlet, shrimp, and egg.
We’re not sure if any of those offer the same two-for-one Setsubun effects of the Whole Sardine Roll, though, even if you decorate your house with one.
▼ Really, if you hang this on your doorknob, you’re just asking for a hungry RocketNews24 writer to come by and eat it.