Updated: May 15, 2019
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Sanma: All About The Delicious Skinny Fish (+Recipe!)

Sanma is the Japanese name for the Pacific Saury, a fish that is usually caught in autumn on the northeast coast of Japan. They are packed with nutrition, rich in flavor, and wonderful to eat in a variety of preparations.

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What are sanma?

Sanma (秋刀魚)
Sanma is the Japanese word for the Pacific Saury, a skinny, silver fish that is commonly eaten in Japan. In Japanese, sanma is written 秋刀魚, which literally translates to 'autumn sword fish.' The name stems from the fact that sanma are caught in the autumn, and are long, skinny, and silver, much like a sword.
Sanma on the teppan
Sanma are usually caught from late August through November, when they return south to lay their eggs. The later in the season the fish are caught, the more fat they will have developed, and therefore the tastier they will be. In Japan, almost half of all sanma are caught off the coast of Hokkaido, and the rest are mostly caught along the eastern coast of Japan.

What does a sanma taste like?

Grilled sanma with grated daikon and lime
Sanma caught in the autumn can have up to 20 percent fat content, and are therefore very oily and rich. The flavor of the fish will, of course, depend on the ingredients that it is cooked with, but is generally a richer, fishier taste.

How is sanma usually prepared?

Sanma is prepared in myriad ways. However, the most traditional and popular preparation is called shio yaki(塩焼き), which means 'salt grilled.' There is even a popular sanma festival in Tokyo each year that features thousands of grilled sanma!
Sanma matsuri in Meguro, Tokyo
Here are some other common ways to prepare sanma:

Sanma kabayaki


Mirin boshi (Dried and seasoned with mirin)


Sanma teriyaki donburi


Sanma pressed sushi


Sanma recipe: sanma teriyaki donburi (1 serving)

Here's my recipe for a teriyaki sanma rice bowl. You can double the ingredients if cooking for two.


-2 sanma (if you can't find sanma where you live, substitute another similar fish such as mackerel)
-1/2 a small onion
-1 shiso leaf (if you can find it, otherwise substitue with a different green)
-potato starch (or flour, if you can't find potato starch)
-Japanese rice

-Soy sauce
-Cooking sake


1. Start cooking your rice (follow the instructions on the bag if you don't know how to cook rice)

2. Clean each fish into 3 boneless pieces (see video for help)
3. Coat each piece of fish with potato starch. Cut the onion into thin slices.

4. Heat some frying oil in a deep fry pan over medium heat. Add the fish and onion, and cook until both sides of the fish are a nice golden brown color. Move the fish to a separate plate covered with paper towel, but leave the onions in the pan.

5.Add even parts of the soy sauce, cooking sake, mirin, and sugar to the same pan over medium low heat. About 1.5 tablespoons of each should be the right amount.

6.When the sauce starts to bubble up, add the cooked pieces of fish back to the pan. Quickly move the ingredients around the pan as the sauce thickens. When the sauce reaches a syrup-like consistency, remove the pan from the heat.

7. Fill a large bowl with cooked rice, and add the fish and onions to the top. Garnish with shiso leaf or other green, and enjoy!
I live in west Tokyo and spend most of my time thinking about food or going bouldering.

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