Updated: June 18, 2019
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Japanese Fishcylopedia: Shirasu (Whitebait)

Shirasu is the Japanese word for the boiled and partially dried fry (baby fish) of the sardine family. The small, see-through (white when cooked) fish that are a popular ingredient in Japanese cooking. In addition to being delicious, they are also very nutritious!

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What is Shirasu?

Shirasu (しらす) is a Japanese word that typically refers to the boiled and partially dried fry(immature fish) of iwashi(sardine). The tiny little fish can be found in almost any Japanese supermarket, and are popular as a topping on rice, or used as an ingredient in various dishes. To be considered shirasu, the fish should be less than 2cm in length. The term is used almost exclusively to refer to sardine fry, however, the word can also be used more broadly to refer to the fry of herring, sweetfish, conger eel, and others as well.

Chirimen Jako vs. Shirasu

Chirimen jako
When boiled and only partially dried, but still white and somewhat moist, the fish are called 'shirasu' or 'shirasu boshi.' When they are dried further, becoming harder and more jerky-like, the fish are called 'chirimen jakko,''chirimen,' or 'ojakko.' Different localities have different ways of calling the little fish, but the basic difference comes from the amount that they are dried.

Health Benefits of Eating Shirasu

Eating shirasu will keep you beautiful!
When you eat shirasu, you're eating the entire fish, bone and all. This means that you're getting every last bit of nutrient that the fish had inside of its body! Shirasu are filled with calcium, which is great for your bones, taurine and potassium, which are great for liver functioning, and many other vitamins and minerals that your body needs for healthy functioning. Shirasu are also rich in RNA, which help with cell regeneration and can have anti-aging effects! Basically, eating shirasu is really good for you!

Can You Eat Shirasu Raw?

The short answer is yes. However, because raw shirasu spoil very quickly, you'll almost never see them in a major city like Tokyo, or in a city that isn't on the ocean. Typically, if you want to eat raw shirasu, you'll need to go to a coastal town where you can buy raw shirasu that were caught on the same day.
Raw shirasu
Kanagawa prefecture (next to Tokyo), is famous for its shirasu, and is easy to access from Tokyo. If you visit Kamakura or Enoshima and walk around town, you'll see plenty of shops advertising raw shirasu (during shirasu season, from spring to fall). Be aware, however, that there are days when the water is too rough or the catch is poor, and raw shirasu will be unavailable.

Best Places to Eat Shirasu

Raw and boiled shirasu bowl
As mentioned above, Kanagawa prefecture is famous for its shirasu, and is one of the most popular places to visit to eat raw shirasu (nama shirasu). Here is a link to our article about the best places to eat shirasu in Kamakura, Kanagawa:

In Closing

Shirasu is a delicious and nutritious part of Japanese cuisine. If you've never tried it before, put it on your list of must-try Japanese foods!

I live in west Tokyo and spend most of my time thinking about food or going bouldering.

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