Taking a small break from my little monsters before we return for more adventure + betrayals + drama, and back to wondering about what have become of us and our values?
Tadaaaa… i present to you…. Ugly Fish!!!! No, this is not the official name for this traditional Tokyo delicacy which has delighted Tokyoites since the Edo period.
My colleagues and I went to a famous restaurant in Asakusa, Iida-ya(どぜう飯田屋) which specializes in anything ugly fish related, as this dish is believed to be best eaten in summer and is extremely nutritious during this season. Ugly Fish stars the Dojo Loach (Misgurnus anguillicaudatus), a freshwater fish that live in paddy fields and wetlands all across Japan. The Dojo loach has also been made famous by the current Prime Minister of Japan, Noda who likened himself to this bottom-feeding, humble species. Try googling it, and you will see his face plastered all over your screen.
It was not easy to be excited about this dish, as no matter how they tried to decorate and beautify the plate, they still consisted of scrawny black little things. When fried, these flavour-less fishies pick up the salty taste of the batter, and the earthy taste of fried burdock shavings. I love anything fried and salty, and this is not an exception.
When uncooked though, Ugly Fish is covered in a slimy film, which is said to help them live a little longer even out of water. Resilient little things, these guys! The freshest heroes are served in all their naked glory, their greyish, at times bluish naked glory, a la “hot pot” style. One of the highlights of serving it this way is for one of us to gross out a newbie to this dish, squiggling them fishes to feign life. Of course after a while, it gets stale. Covered with dashi stock, the fire was turned up, and the fishes made their inevitable jumps along with the gurgling stock.
The Ugly Fishes soon lost the twinkle in their eyes, the glisten of their skin. Death descended, and Death became. We enshrouded them with a blanket of thinly-sliced green onions, a yin and yang of flavours. The Dojo nabe (どぜう鍋), as this style is called, was then served sprinkled with Japanese shichimi chilli powder and a kind of Japanese pepper called Sanshou (山椒). The fishes are to be eaten whole, head, body, bones. Chewing on their softened bones can be a challenge for the uninitiated, and one has to take care not to rush too much and choke. The perk: Calcium.
They are actually pretty good, really, once you deal with your initial reluctance and suspicion. At least, do it for the sake of seasonal traditions, and the experience is well worth it, especially when accompanied by some good warm sake…