Popular Japanese Shellfish 

Hustle for the mussel

This much-prized gastropod actually tends to have both fans and detractors, largely one suspects due to its texture - quite chewy - and the presence at the far end of the muscle of the tsu gourmet's favorite, the eye-wateringly bitter wata intestines and reproductive gland. Yes, you read that right.

While it is possible to consume sazae as sashimi, more often than not it is grilled in the shell over a direct heat, the process known as tsuboyaki, literally "grilled in the pot". It is served hot, and you extract the muscle from the shell with a tsumayoji wooden toothpick. A Franco-Japanese fusion dish is sazae escargot-yaki, where garlic butter is melted into the shell as in the famed French snail repast.

The season is generally regarded as from March to May, but in Northern climes they are taken until August. The majority of Japanese turban shells originate in Nagasaki, Yamaguchi, Mie and Ishikawa prefectures. Iki-Tsushima sazae from Nagasaki are said to be the finest.

Historically turbo was the shellfish of choice to celebrate the Girls' Day Hina matsuri festival, though today it has been almost universally replaced by hamaguri Venus clams. They are rich in vitamin A, vitamin B, 'good' HdL cholesterol, and taurine.

Sazae 74

 Sazae     

When to eat

From mid-Spring, on those occasions you feel like a little luxury.

Where to eat

At seafood specialists such as Tsukiji no Kai in Tokyo, or grill them yourself at home or on the barbecue.

FGL recommends

Try tsuboyaki accompanied with a robust, dry sake, or perhaps some Nagasaki-sourced Ikkiko barley mugi shochu, a traditional spirit with roots dating back to the 16th century.

John F. Ashburne

John F. Ashburne

Editor-in-Chief Foodies Go Local