Sazae turbo or spiny top shell is a strong tasting much sought-after gastropod, served as tsuboyaki in its shell grilled over a direct heat, from which your extract the muscle with a toothpick, or as sashimi.
It’s a common accompaniment to sake. Be warned that the intestines and reproductive bits at the end of the muscle are also eaten, and are extremely bitter. The tradition has long been forgotten, but sazae used to be ceremonially offered, and eaten, at the Hina Matsuri Girl’s Festival on 3 March each year. Visitors to Nagasaki, Yamaguchi, Mie, Shimane and Ishikawa Prefectures will find the finest local specimens.
Even more coveted than sazae, awabi abalone or ear shell is a typical summer delicacy in high-class ryotei, kappo-ryori specialists and sushiya. It is best eaten as sashimi. Iwate, Miyagi, Chiba, Nagasaki and Yamaguchi all claim their abalone are the best.
The asari short-necked or baby clam sports beautiful patterns and may be yellow, beige, red, purple or multi-colored. It is best from winter to early spring and is commonly used in miso soup, nabemono and in tsukudani simmered in shoyu and mirin. Asari no misoshiru baby clams in miso soup is our household staple, and is - not strictly by coincidence - reported to be an excellent hangover cure.
Fukagawa-nabe hotpot is an asari speciality of Tokyo, and when done well it is superb. The people of Honshu get to eat asari in season twice in a year, but Hokkaido-dwellers only once. Asari are generally inexpensive, so if you do pay a little above average you can be sure of getting something really special.
Torigai cockles or heart shell cockles are extremely sought after, especially in the Kansai region during the summer months. They are not inexpensive, and are soloely eaten as sashimi. Tokyoites never really developed a taste for them, but they have been caught in nearby Chiba Prefecture where they are nicknamed tonbo, dragon flies. Elsewhere they are termed otokogai man shellfish, inugai dog shellfish and kitsunegai fox shellfish, no less.
Baigai is a type of whelk, 7cm in height, especially good from Toyama Bay. It comes in sunomono, aemono cooked with leafy vegetables, tsukudani and yakimono.