Note: Click the pictures to check out the new image viewing trick I installed!
Since I have been in Japan, I have been lucky enough to work at just one school everyday and every Tuesday and Thursday the art teacher makes an appearance. Her name is Yuko-sensei and she rocks. In addition to being the art teacher, she speaks conversational English and happens to be the best cook on Kyushu.
Every week on her days here, she hauls in some sort of concoction from her kitchen, usually in the form of a large crock pot of delicious soup. She has introduced me to a plethora of Japanese foods I wouldn’t otherwise have eaten.
And Japan is known for some strange foods. Squid, octopus, pufferfish, horse… even dolphin and whale! Yep, its in the news as Japan’s yearly scientific expedition is off to snag a quota of 900 minke whales and 50 fin whales. Australia has already had some headline grabbing confrontations.
The point of this post is not to debate the ethics of whaling and I won’t go into how the whales killed for scientific purposes end up in fish markets, but I will say a few things though. If you eat meat, I don’t see much difference in the killing of a cow versus a whale for food if they are not endangered (which some hunted whales are). But that is certainly a general statement as there are many aspects such as killing methods to be considered.
I’m sure by know you have figured out that this week’s specialty is the infamous whale (kujira in Japanese). It was cooked two ways and I tried both.
The first was the skin of the whale that in part times was used to make lantern oil. It was thinly sliced and semi-transparent, just what I pictured blubbery whale meat to look like. It was prepared in a mix of cooked potatoes and carrots and the most “fishy” thing I have ever tasted. That’s the only way to describe it: fishy. It tastes like thawed Gorton’s Fish Sticks that have been stored in your Dad’s tackle box smell. I would guess this is a more common flavor in Asian seafood than Western, where the goal is for fish not to smell like fish.
The second dish was described as the actual “meat” of the whale and was fried in a batter with ginger embellishments. Delicious. The texture was soft and chewy and the color, surprisingly, a dark tinted reddish brown. It reminded me not unlike a very tender and better tasting chicken liver. The battering added a lot to the size and taste of each bite-size chunk.
Yuko’s favorite way to eat whale is as sashimi (刺身), which is the Japanese style of slicing very fresh, raw seafood into pieces for consumption (like sushi without the rice). Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to sample that because supposedly its a bit bloody and she thought it might be too much for me, though I would have tried.
Yuko’s father was at one time a whaler, sailing everywhere from the Antarctic region to the waters off the U.K. As the industry turned more unpopular and quotas decreased, he changed careers to that of a crab fisherman! She still has a few whale teeth, which are considered good luck in Japan and money is sometimes put inside.
So there it is. I ate some whale. I hope Greenpeace doesn’t hack my site.
For a more detailed background see History of the Traditional Diet: Japanese and the Whale.