Updated： July 27, 2018
Japanese Food "Uni": Here's How People Eat Sea Urchins In Japan
Uni is a Japanese food that is really gaining popularity in many parts of the world. Here's the essential information you need to know on uni and how it's eaten in Japan.
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Sea Urchins... A Delicacy?
Sea urchins are found in every ocean of the world, across many climate zones, from polar to tropical. So, if you've walked on a beach virtually anywhere on the planet, chances are you've once come across the spiky echinoderm.
For many people, what comes to mind when thinking of a sea urchin is a marine animal that leaves behind a beautiful exoskeleton that you can collect as a souvenir from the beach.
And for other people, sea urchins are above all synonymous to one of the most sublime delicacies found at sea. Sea urchins have been viewed as such for centuries by people of the Mediterranean, native Alaskans, and East Asians just to name a few.
Uni: Sea Urchins In Japan
Quite possibly more than anywhere else, Japan reveres the sea urchin as one of the most sublime delicacies there is. This shouldn't come as such a surprise when we think of how much Japanese cuisine relies on items that are found at sea.
The Japanese call "uni" 雲丹, which in their native language, is a combination of the character for cloud and a kind of rusty red. Uni, strictly speaking, refers to the animal's gonads. Each sea urchin gives five of these small pieces.
Taste-wise, the uni has an unmistakable deep savoury umami and a fresh salty taste form the sea. The texture is extremely soft; the little red clouds literally melt in your mouth the moment you bite into them. The sea taste and the creamy texture of uni are quite similar to that of salmon roe. Perhaps for that reason, they are often served together in Japan. You can have them together simply on a bed of rice. This is called an ikura-uni kaisendon.
Another popular way it is served is as a topping for a nigiri sushi. This is a staple that you can find in nearly all sushi restaurants in Japan. Although uni is considered a delicacy and is relatively expensive compared to other types of sushi neta (toppings), it is widely available because people love it so much. You can even find uni nigiri sushi at sushi train restaurant where a plate is typically between ¥300 and ¥600 for instance.
Prices can vary greatly based on the quality of the product, but typically, good quality uni will be sold around ¥4,000 per 100g. Boxes of uni kept refrigerated are even given as seasonal gifts in Japan.
At home, people can use them as a topping for pasta for instance. Combined with nori seaweed, it makes a delicious "wafu" (Japanese-style) type of pasta. It's not uncommon to see this dish on the menu of Italian restaurants in Japan.
Uni is gaining in popularity worldwide. It might seem a bit foreign if you've never had it but it's really not that strange. As a rule of thumb, if you like fish roe, you will likely like uni! You should definitely try it if you have the chance. In Japan, try to have it as part of a kaisendon (seafood bowl). You can surely find these at fish markets such as the famous Tsukiji Fish Market of Tokyo. Some seafood restaurants even specialize in uni dishes. Uni is truly a Japanese delicacy worth discovering if you have had it already.
- Japanese food culture enthusiast. Love to explore new areas and discover local specialties.
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