Tunafish

In general, I don’t like going out in the weekends, even though here in Japan most shops, museums, and cafes are open. There are simply too many people around for my taste, and even those places that seem totally off the beaten tracks and are quiet during the week are crowded. Well, if you have ever been to an average Japanese home, you can imagine why people are fleeing them…

Anyway, I ran out of food on Sunday and decided to go shopping to the nearby supermarket. I happened to pass by the fish counter, and there was a tunafish on display, a whole Bluefin Tuna from an aquaculture, about 1 m long and weighing some 50 kg. And when I was told that they would start cutting it up and selling it in just a few minutes, I knew I had to stay and watch this.

At 11 am sharp the whole thing started; the fish was brought back behind the counter, and a young girl who seemed to weigh not much more than the fish started carving it up, under the noisy encouragements of her colleagues. First the head was removed, and then two relatively thin slices right behind the head were cut off the fish. A friend of mine called these parts kama, kind of the shoulders of the fish, and she said that these were the best parts of the animal, even though there is not much meat to them. It seemed to me that those three parts were sold whole and on the spot, but I am not sure.

Afterwards, a deep cut was made along the spine of the fish, and the skin was removed from the back in large stripes. The belly was removed next. It yields the fatty parts of chutoro and otoro, the latter being the most oily part of the fish from right under the skin and light pink in appearance. The last part to be cut from the fish was its back, called akami, there the meat is dark red and relatively dry; it is usually sold as maguro.

a pack of otoro tunafishBoth back and belly were further cut down by an assistant and then those pieces were packaged and offered to the onlookers. I bought a small piece of very expensive otoro. This little piece of 77 grams cost me almost 1000 YEN. I ate it as sashimi and yes, it was absolutely worth it!

It surprised me how much time it took to cut up the whole fish – about 45 minutes in total. The girl obviously did not do this the first time, and the knives were obviously big and sharp – and still you could see how hard she was working throughout. Every time she had finished cutting off one piece, she held it over her head like a trophy and thus presented it to the audience, and we were all clapping and cheering, which I found funny somehow. Altogether this was an interesting experience, and I wonder how this would be in the large fish market in Tokyo, at 4 am in the morning…

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