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Japan Hour

It's Lunch Time

We resume our culinary journey around Japan. We next go to Shizuoka City in Shizuoka Prefecture in spring.

We resume our culinary journey around Japan. We next go to Shizuoka City in Shizuoka Prefecture in spring. It faces Suruga Bay and is the prefecture's second-largest city, with a population of 700,000. Suruga Bay is Japan's deepest bay. Along with sardines, horse mackerel and regular mackerel, it is home to about 1,000 species of fish, which is half of all the types of fish in Japan.

One of the first things we notice here is lots of sun-dried sakura shrimps. The peak season for sakura shrimp fishing is March so we want to see how they are caught. We head to the fishing port of Yui, hoping to join a sakura shrimp fishing expedition. However, when we talk to some of the fishermen, we find out that sakura shrimps live in the deeper areas of the sea and only rise close to the surface at night. So the fishermen are actually heading out to catch other kinds of fish via net fishing.

We get permission to join one of the fishing expeditions. It is led by Mr Mochizuki, who has 25 years of experience. He and his team catch one tonne of fish on this particular day, including cutlassfish, butterfly rays, sunfish, sea bass, flounder, leatherfish, beakfish and monkfish. At the end of the expedition, Mr Mochizuki allows us to accompany him home to see what he has for lunch. His house is a five-minute drive from the fishing port.

In the kitchen, Mr Mochizuki first removes the scales and heads of the freshly-caught sardines. He seasons some sardines and tiny horse mackerel with salt, pepper, rice wine and soy sauce. He puts the batter, sardines and mackerel in a plastic bag and gives it a good shake. When the sardines and mackerel are thoroughly coated with the batter, they are fried for five minutes. He then makes miso soup with the rest of the sardines and chopped homegrown Kujo green onions. Mr Mochizuki’s wife, meanwhile, makes fried duck egg seasoned with salt and sugar. She also prepares squid sashimi for the family’s lunch.

At 5pm, we return to the port to go on a sakura shrimp fishing expedition. Unfortunately, it has been cancelled due to high winds. We however meet a fisherman who is bringing in a load of sakura shrimps caught by the fishing union earlier. Mr Takeshi is the chairman of the Sakura Shrimp Fishing Union. He has been catching sakura shrimps for 60 years. 

We want to see what he eats for dinner so he invites us to his house, which is five minutes away from the port. He first makes sakura shrimp tempura using wheat flour. The batter is whipped up using the sakura shrimps’ moisture, after which water is added. The sakura shrimps are later fried until they turn red.  

The next dish is Okiagari. Soy sauce, sugar and rice wine are used to make the seasoning stock which is then boiled. Sakura shrimps, tofu and green onions are added and then stewed for a minute. The meal also includes sakura shrimp and celery salad.  

Our next stop is Sasebo City in Nagasaki Prefecture. It is a historical port town that was once a naval base. One of the city’s famous items is said to be Japan's very first hamburger, the Sasebo burger. We begin our trip by visiting the Sasebo Morning Market at 6.30am. Forty shop booths open for business at 3am and the vendors wrap up their day at 9am. They sell a variety of seafood and seasonal vegetables.

We talk to the president of Tsujiyama Products. We are keen to see where Mr Tsujiyama has breakfast each morning so he takes us to the market’s famous ramen shop. Its chef tells us a different breakfast broth is prepared each day, depending on the fish which has been caught that morning. On this day, the soup stock is made of seasonal clams and fish offal. Steamed leek, green onions, smoked chicken breast, bean sprouts and a dash of citron are added to enhance the flavours. Another popular item on the breakfast menu is a vinegared rice bowl with the catch of the day.  

After this, we make our way to the mountain region outside Sasebo City. We visit a vegetable farm where we meet Mr Kenji Kuroiwa. His family grows things such as potatoes, taro and pumpkins in a huge field 1.5 times the size of Tokyo Dome. We ask Mr Kuroiwa if we could see what the family has for dinner. We drop by their home, which is near the farm, in the evening after they have finished work.

Sea bream soup and a vegetable stew are prepared. Sea bream bones are used for the soup stock, which is mixed with salt and clear soy sauce. Chopped ginger is later added to eliminate the fishy smell. The stew includes daikon radish, kelp and potatoes. Small amounts of soy sauce and sugar are added to make the dish sweet yet spicy.  

1) The peak season for sakura shrimp fishing in Shizuoka is March
2) Do try the famous Sasebo burger when visiting Sasebo City


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