Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Celebrating Fish - Bonito Fish festival

It goes without saying that Japanese cuisine is incomplete without seafood. First thing that comes to the mind when we think of Japanese food is Sushi or Sashimi. Seafood in some or the other form is an essential part of every Japanese dish. Apart from the regular fish, crabs, shrimp etc, seaweed, sauces made from seafood all form an important part of Japanese cooking. Such is the importance of seafood that fish festivals are held in Japan in honour of certain fish.

We had the opportunity of attending one such fish festival in Japan. Early last summer we attended the Bonito fish festival at Iwaki city's Onahama port. My husband's colleague invited us to join his family to attend the event. We were curious to see what the festival was all about and joined them.

Bonito or skipjack tuna is known as "Katsu" in Japanese. It is fished extensively all over Japan and locally the name varies  from place to place. It is available from Spring to Autumn. It is one of the most versatile fish in Japan and can be eaten or served in various forms. It is eaten as sashimi (raw, with or without skin) or sushi (raw, with cooked rice) or even lightly grilled. It is sometimes also served as a topping over a bowl of cooked rice . Sometimes it is served with wasabi (grated horseradish) or grated ginger, soy sauce or with finely sliced garlic or leeks. One speciality of this fish is the way it is grilled. The fish is first grilled over charcoal or seared till the outside is cooked and then it is dunked in cold water to prevent it from cooking further, thus leaving the inside raw. It is then sliced and served as sashimi. The taste of the outer cooked layer and the inner raw layer is evident when eaten. Dried Bonito shavings or " Katsuobushi" are used in the dashi broth which is the stock in most Japanese soups. It is also used as a topping on rice, soba or okonomiyaki. 

At around 9 am on the day of the event, people had assembled at the Onahama port. There were stalls where various fish were being sold, Bonito being the celebrity of the day ! There was a touch pool where children could touch sea urchins, star fish etc. The event began with a small speech. It was then followed by a Taiko performance.

 Taiko is the traditional Japanese drum and the performance is an experience in itself. 

The attraction of this event was the sampling of the Bonito which was handed out to the spectators. Portions of Bonito sashimi and sushi were handed out (free of cost) and this was enjoyed by almost all present. 

Then we got to see the "roasting" of the Bonito. A large Bonito fish was wrapped in some hay and was thrust in a fire. 

In few minutes, it was taken off from the fire and buckets of cold water was poured on it to prevent further cooking. The fish was then cleaned and skinned and sliced into sashimi and offered to the spectators. 

In all it was an enjoyable experience. A must for sea food lovers. 

Onahama port was badly hit by the March 11th tsunami which devastated much of Tohoku's Pacific coast. 

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