Updated: November 27, 2018
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All About Japanese Kani! How It's Used In Japan

Contrary to a popular belief outside of Japan, kani is not imitation crab meat, it's the Japanese word for real crab. This article clarifies a few misconceptions about kani and presents how real kani is used in Japan.

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What is Kani?

To start with let's just clear something up! Simply put "kani" means crab in Japanese. In the west, the word is sometimes used to refer to imitation crab but that isn't accurate at all. In Japan, the imitation crab is called kani surimi すり身 (surimi means minced fish or meat) or kani kamaboko 蒲鉾 (kamaboko translates approximately to fish paste).
Kani surimi is usually made with a combination of many types of white fish. Although this may seem like a modern culinary invention, surimi has been used in Japan since the 14th century. Present day kani surimi often has artificial flavours and MSGs added to give it a taste that is closer to real crab.
Nothing compares to the taste of real kani however! The King Crab is perhaps the most emblematic Japanese kani. It is one of the famous Hokkaido crabs the country is famous for. To know more about Hokkaido crabs, see the article below!
You are now probably wondering how Japanese people use kani so we'll give you a couple of popular ways to have kani in Japan, whether it's the real thing or kani surimi.

Kani Salad

One thing people make at home are kani salads. Real kani can be both in cans, which is comparatively cheaper than fresh kani, althoug still somewhat of a delicacy. The shredded canned crab is the perfect ingredient for a salad. People use it with green leafy salads or it can be used in Japanese style daikon radish salads as well. Add some wakame seaweed to that and you've got something that is truly Japanese! A western-style dressing can work just as well as a soy-based Japanese style one.

Kani Soups And Nabe (Hot Pots)

The miso soup is one of the most well-known dishes of Japanese cuisine. What many people don't know however is that it is quite adaptable! Indeed, on top of the basic ingredients that are tofu and leek, miso soup can really highlight the taste of a good crab!
This is a kani nabe. A gorgeous dish that is the claim to fame of Hokkaido in terms of kani cuisine. With tons of other fresh ingredient and a good broth, the kani is simply sublime in this kind of hot pot.

Kani Shabushabu

Shabu shabu (steamboat) is more widely made with meat, but when you can have it with good crab don't miss out on that chance! Although a little pricey, this is one of those dishes that you should definitely consider having if you go to Japan! A good place to have it, by the way, is at a famous chain retaurant called kani honke. It is from Hokkaido and is highly regarded throughout Japan for its relatively affordable crab buffets that include Shabu shabu and hot pots.

Kani Miso (Brain)

This time we're not talking about the miso soup, but the actual brain of the crab (which is also called "miso" in Japanese). The brain is the most valuable part of the crab for the Japanese. It is a rare delicacy that many people, including foreigners, really rave about.

Kani Sushi

Real kani sushi
Kani is often found in temaki sushi, mixed with mayonnaise. It goes really well with avocado.
Kani roll
Above is the imitation crab found in what are called "kani rolls".

If you happen to be in Tokyo, you might want to check out Gonpachi Nori-Temaki near the Harajuku station for some real crab rolls. The restaurant specializes in sushi rolls and serves some excellent kani ones.
There is a kind of sushi called chirashizushi, which is basically a sweet vinegar rice bowl with sushi toppings. Chirashizushi often has some crab as a topping. This is also a thing you should try if you are in Japan. Virtually unknown outside of Japan, chirashizushi is just as popular as temaki sushi in Japan.


Hope this clarified a few things about Japanese kani. The take-home point is that "kani" is not fake crab meat! Thinking that is would be blaspheme for any crab-loving Japanese. Hope you'll have the chance to discover the real rich kani cuisine in Japan!
Japanese food culture enthusiast. Love to explore new areas and discover local specialties.

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