Photo:yoppy on Flickr

Buri: A Winter's Delicacy in Kanazawa

Japan is a country of many delicious local cuisines.  In Kanazawa City for example, there's a famed fish, yellowtail, that's fondly regarded for its quality in taste during the winter season.  It’s caught locally, and can be savored in as many different ways as to tease any diners' tastebuds.

In addition to cuisines, there are also expressions that are often unique to a locality.  Here again in Kanazawa, as November ends, and as the cold and damp winds of winter approach, one often overhears the expression, “Buri O-koshi” (ブリ起こし).

Translated into English, it reads "Yellowtail Awaken!" (cue the thunder).

Photo by Mike on Flickr


And, like many local expressions, it's absolutely unobvious to, well, the non-locals.

Buri O-koshi refers to the terrifically fierce winter thunderstorms that are unique to the broader Hokuriku region, and how the mighty thunder rattles the depths of the surrounding seas awakening (O-koshi) the slumbering yellowtail (buri), and sending them off onto their winter migration from the northern waters of Hokkaido southwards along the Sea of Japan coastline, and into the waiting nets of the Hokuriku fishing boats.

A school of awakened yellowtail. Photo by Vincent C Chen on Wikimedia Commons

Or if you’d rather it be more simple, it refers to that glistening gorgeous slice of fatty yellowtail on the sushi counter that’s singing out your name.

Another Form of Awakened Yellowtail Photo by Ron Dollete on Flickr

If you've never had fresh yellowtail caught locally during the peak of winter, you must (it’s referred to as kan-buri (寒ブリ) which means “winter yellowtail”).  It's incredibly tasty, and with a touch of soy sauce, it’s sheer melt-in-your-mouth savorlicious!  And, if you’re finding yourself feeling a bit short with only a few slices, then opt for a gorgeous heap, and treat yourself to a yellowtail donburi!

What you can do with only a few slices of yellowtail. Photo by Kohei Fujii on Flickr

When at their peak size during the winter migration, a single yellowtail can weigh as much as 8 kilograms, which makes for a nice filet for grilling or pan-searing.  On a cold winter’s night try stepping into one of the local izakaya’s and after settling onto a stool at the counter, order yourself a pan-seared filet of teriyaki yellowtail.  The sweet and savory sauce balanced wonderfully with a garnish of grated radish, makes for a delightfully rich mouthful.

If you happen to be out with a group of friends, then gather yourselves around a pot of yellowtail shabu shabu.  Shabu shabu is a pot of simmering dashi (water boiled with fish seasoning and kelp), around which is set an assortment of uncooked vegetables, mushrooms, and dipping sauces, which the diner (yes, the diner!) then cooks to her own preference.  Almost always, thinly sliced beef takes center stage, but here in Kanazawa in the wintertime kan-buri steals the show, and it’s pure delight to enjoy a lightly blanched slice finished off with a dip in ponzu sauce.


yellowtail shabu shabu.

If you’re looking for something that reflects more upon regional tastes, then you must try the Yellowtail and Radish.  Both are simmered slow and long in a dashi base flavoured with sake, mirin, soy sauce, and other traditional condiments.  It’s deceptively simple, but in fact great care is taken in balancing out the naturally oil rich taste of the fish and the astringency of the radish, and simmering just long enough to serve up a radish that’s tender to the bite without overcooking the yellowtail.  Whew!

 Yellowtail and radish. Photo by sakaki0214 on Flickr

When it comes to yellowtail, the ultimate of regional specialties would have to be kabura-zushi.  Kabura-zushi is salted raw filets of thinly sliced yellowtail sandwiched between slices of salted radish (kabura), and this “sushi” (zushi) is then pickled in a barrel of fermented rice.  The fermentation period is for up to as long as 10 days, over which the taste matures from a rich salty flavor to a mildly sweet and sour taste.

Fermented and delicious kabura-zushi. Photo by Ttaakkaco on Wikipedia

So next time you find yourself in Kanazawa in the wintertime, be sure to look it up.  The season typically runs from late November through early February, and can be found at the market and in most all sushi restaurants, and izakayas.  Ask for it if you don't see it, although it should be impossible to miss!  And speaking of missing, be sure to keep an eye out for the other signature winter delicacies of Kanazawa: Like sweet shrimp and winter crab!

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