The end of summer brings about the season for the similar-sounding “sanma” – or Pacific Saury. But it’s name in Japanese characters, 秋刀魚, means literally “autumn sword fish”, and the aroma of salted, grilled sanma wafting in the air heralds the arrival of autumn and the start of a season loved for its delicious harvests from the land and sea.
Indeed, the southward migration from the northern Pacific Ocean towards Japan at the end of summer is eagerly anticipated by fans, who can’t wait to relive the taste of what could be Japan’s favorite seasonal fish – best savored raw, of course, to enjoy its freshness and natural oils.
Every September, there will be a Meguro Sanma Festival where the fish is grilled over charcoal and given out to everyone in the line for free! In early Autumn, sanma contains the most oil – almost 20% of its body content – and hence makes for a very good grill, crispy on the outside and juicy inside.
The sanma used to be a humble fish for the locals as it used to be hauled in abundance and full of tiny bones, but there is a famous tale about the Emperor who got so hungry on a hunting trip that when he smelled grilled sanma in the air he asked his servant to bring him that tasty morsel. When the royal kitchen tried to replicate the taste, they removed the bones and did so many intricate seasonings to the fish that it tasted nothing like the manna from heaven the Emperor tasted on that fateful day. And so, he declared that sanma is only delicious in Meguro!
Grilled or raw, the sanma is no doubt the fish of autumn!
Shun (旬) translates directly into “season”, but strictly speaking in Japan refers to the ten days in which a food (be it a fruit, vegetable, fish or dish) is deemed to be at its tastiest and best period in which it is to be eaten. 季節（kisetsu), which also translates into “season”, refers to six periods within each season (spring, summer, autumn, winter), according to the solar calendar in which a change in the season is deemed to occur – an indication of the Japanese sensitivity to changes in the weather and climate, and its impact on crops and catches of the day. 「A Taste of Sh旬n」aims to bring you the freshest and best harvests, catches and dishes of the day.