Despite its rather unassuming deportment, nori (海苔, dried seaweed) is an essential component of many Japanese dishes, including makizushi (sushi rolls) and onigiri (rice balls).
But, what is nori?
Its relatively nondescript appearance belies an impressive variety of flavors and styles which can be used in a wide range of food, and it’s good for you as well (as long as you don’t eat too much in one sitting, of course). We sat down with Tomoyoshi Ugai, the third-generation owner of Hatoya Noriten in Tsukiji, who graciously educated us on the ins and outs of this surprisingly versatile ingredient.
Please tell us a little bit about when nori is in season and how it is cultivated.
Nori’s shun is from November to April, and connoisseurs prize the ichiban-tsumami (first harvest of the season; also referred to as hatsu-tsumami and shin-nori) that becomes available toward the end of the former. Miyagi Prefecture, Tokyo and Ise Bays, the Seto Inland Sea, and Ariake in Tokyo are among the most famous areas for production, and since the methods of cultivation differ between each region, the respective flavor differs as well.
There are two methods of cultivation used in Japan: the first is ukinagashi (a.k.a., betanagashi), where the nori is grown on nets floating on the surface of the water, and the second is sasaebashira (literally, “support column”), where nets to which nori has been affixed are attached to posts erected on the seabed. Since the nutrients of the sea are concentrated in nori that has been cultivated using the traditional sasaebashira method, which in turn gives it a pleasing flavor and aroma, there are many cases where nori harvested from Tokyo Bay and Ariake utilized this method are sold as premium products.
What is the most expensive nori you sell?
That would be the “Motenashi-kyo” premium-flavored nori, which sells for 3,600 yen for 18 sheets. The second-most expensive is “Saga no Hatsutsumami” [“first harvest”], which goes for 1,080 yen.
What is your best-selling product?
“Yakibara” [literally, “toasted rose”], which is nori that’s dried without forming it into sheets, is very popular since you can sprinkle it on soup and noodles and it’s very easy to eat.
What other kinds of nori are there?
We also carry wasabi-nori and goma-nori (sesame nori). If you like wasabi, you’ll love wasabi-nori, and goma-nori goes great as a seaweed snack to accompany beer.
How should nori be stored?
Nori loses its flavor if exposed to moisture or humidity, so it’s best to put it into a re-sealable bag and store it in a refrigerator with a controlled temperature and humidity level–don’t leave it in the packaging it came in after opening!
Anything else we should know about seaweed?
At our store, we also carry many other kinds of products such as funmatsu-dashi (powdered soup base) and nori-no-tsukudani (nori made with soy sauce and mirin); you can sample all of them, so by all means please stop by and try them for yourself!
Hatoya-noriten Main Store 鳩屋海苔店本店
Founded in 1938, Hatoya-noriten is a much talked-about retail seaweed shop where you can purchase high-quality nori carefully selected by the owner’s discerning eye at reasonable prices. It has garnered attention as a merchant that seeks to “educate not only professional chefs but also members of the general public about the deliciousness of nori” as well as one where people can enjoy “kikinori” (nori tasting). The owner Ugai-san is known for his unique baritone voice with which he calls out to passerby, and he frequently appears in a variety of TV shows as a popular figure in Tsukiji.
Closed: January 1st-4th (New Year’s holiday)