Sashimi, or (o)-tsukuri, as it’s called in the Kansai region, is a key component in Japanese formal cuisine, not least in kaiseki-ryori multicourse meals and when staying at a ryokan traditional Japanese inn. It is also a regular on sushi shop menus, in shokudo canteens, and is eaten at home as a small luxury.
Freshness is paramount, and in the best kappo-style restaurants expect to have the fish, ika squid, tako octopus or kairui shellfish fished from a tank and prepared before your very eyes. Wherever you consume it, sashimi will be served according to the principle of shun, that is to say, served very precisely in season. There are also big differences in the type of fish chosen for sashimi according to your geographical location in Japan.
Akami, chutoro and otoro cuts of maguro tuna, madai sea bream, fugu blowfish -known as tessa, sake salmon, katsuo bonito, buri and kanpachi amberjack, awabi abalone, hotate scallops and different varieties of octopus and squid are all commonly used.
You dip the fish, perhaps wrapped in an aojiso green beefsteak plant leaf, into strong shoyu, often tamarijoyu, containing wasabi and benitade water pepper, a dark red peppery garnish. Even ordinary fish deserves the best shoyu, and, we must insist, freshly grated wasabi.
If you are ordering sashimi in a rural onsen ryokan hot-spring inn, you might find yourself served – as we once did in Ishikawa Prefecture – with tai no ikitsukuri. This is the finest madai sea bream, skewered and laid out in its death throes, already carved into sashimi slices, in a gruesome gourmet ‘death by a thousand cuts’. Fortunately, the practise seems to be going out of style.
Sashimi is not solely used to refer to fish. It also refers to thinly-sliced raw meat a la carpaccio, as in Kumamoto’s speciality basashi, an abbreviation of basashimi raw horse meat. Even the wholly vegetarian soy product yuba, in raw form, is termed yuba sashimi.