A lot is made about Japan’s “four seasons.” But whether you think that’s special or not, one thing you absolutely must do in Japan is try seasonal food. Known as shun, this untranslatable word reflects the idea that food has the best time to be eaten. This is true for things like fruits and vegetables but also seafood.
What does it mean for fish to be in season? Well, ignoring farm-raised varieties, different species pass close to Japan at different times of the year, so that’s when fishermen head out to catch them. Certain fish may also taste better during certain seasons.
With that in mind, here are five fish types that are at their best in the spring.
1. Tai (Sea bream)
Few kinds of fish are as important as tai (sea bream) in Japan. Japanese people have enjoyed this white meat fish for a long time, evident by the bones found in ancient shell mounds. It’s also often a part of celebrations because of its striking red color and name, which sounds like a part of the Japanese word medetai, or promising.
For example, you can eat it during the New Year’s period of oshogatsu, at a wedding, and during okuizome, the 100th day after a baby’s birth.
Along with being the inspiration for the shape of the desert taiyaki, tai is eaten in several different ways in the spring, when it’s plump for the spawning season. It can be eaten raw, with seared skin as aburi, or with the kawashimozukuri method, where a sushi chef will tenderize the skin with boiling water before cooling it in ice. You can also serve it cooked whole, as part of taimeshi, or seabream with rice, as taichazuke with seabream and tea over rice, or in any other way.
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