Catching Sea Urchin


Photo by cristty


The first evening was longer than I thought. Standing at the sushi bar, doing nothing but watching other chefs work made me extremely tired, both physically and emotionally. When I woke up the next morning, it was almost ten o’clock. It was bright, sunny, the usual 75ºF blue skies, a typical Southern California Weather. Some people love it, some people despise it, saying that they miss the rain, cold weather and snow. They complain the lack of opportunity to wear winter clothes like the long coat and down jacket. When I arrived Los Angeles from spending three years in Iowa, seeing the ocean was such a breeze, literally.  Growing up in Japan, I was so used to seeing the ocean and feeling the mass body of water. I was born in a small fishing village, grew up eating fish. I spent my teenage years in Matsue, a city by the Lake Shinji known for the beautiful sunset. The lake is also famous for seven delicacies such as Unagi and Shijimi – a tiny black clam like shellfish put in a miso soup. The Lake Shinji supplied over 40% all the Shijimi in Japan. In Summer time, I rode my bicycle with my friends for over an hour to the unpopulated rocky shores, passing the popular crowded beaches where people were basking in the sun. Upon picking a spot, we got off our bicycle, walked through the rocks down to the shore, then slipped on our bathing trousers and put on the diving goggles, jumped right into the ocean to catch some shellfish and Sea Urchins. After a couple of hours, we had enough to eat right on the shore and bring back home for dinner. Sea Urchins were my favorite. The kind I used to catch was called Bafun Uni; Horse Dropping Uni. The (surprisingly) unappetizing name came from its round donut shape, resembled the horse droppings. They had short spikes unlike Black and Purple Urchins which had longer spikes. Japanese Sushi chefs use purple or black Sea urchins at Sushi restaurants because Bafun Uni deteriorated quicker and Sushi chefs considered unsuitable unless they were fresh. Thanks to the modern advancement of transportation technology, these days many sushi restaurants in Tokyo can get fresh Bafun Uni all the way from Hokkaido. Still, nothing beats the freshly caught Uni. Fresher the Uni, the better it tastes. I was lucky to have taste Bafun Uni when I was young, long before I became a Sushi Chef.

Because I was used to Bafun Uni, I couldn’t understand why people were eating Spiky Purple and Black Uni. I thought they tasted inferior. Uni to me was Bafun Uni and nothing else. I later learned that it was because of the freshness. Japanese are one of the few people in the world eat Uni, until now. Thanks to the popularity of Sushi, many people in the western countries have discovered Uni. The United States is no exception. Currently, Santa Barbara and Mendocino Uni is exported to Japan and served at many of top rated Sushi restaurants in Tokyo.


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