Uni, or the sea urchin, is one of those love it or hate it foods. Given its spiky and explosive mine-like appearance, one has to wonder what was going through the mind of the first person who decided to try and eat it.
Probably something along the lines of: something so well-armored must be trying to protect something very precious inside, let’s find out what!
Plainly speaking, what the inside consists of is mainly the sea urchin’s gonads – precious to the uni in its own universe of course, and now, also to the growing number of fans of uni throughout Japan, and the world.
The summer months from May to August, before spawning season, is when the uni is at its creamiest and tastiest, with the Bafun Uni being the most famous and expensive type in Japan.
Now,”Bafun” literally means “horse dung” – which is probably what the uni’s appearance reminded some people of. While fresh and good uni tastes sweet and creamy, not-so-fresh and not-so-good uni could potentially bring to mind the unmentionable. So if the uni facing you looks dry and listless, it is best avoided, as it will probably taste like it looks.
Uni can be enjoyed in various ways – uni fans fantasize of devouring uni rice bowls, while those who just want a taste of it can try it in sushi form.
In the Sanriku region of Tohoku in the northeast of Japan, uni is often baked in a clam shell. Whereas in Hokkaido, you will see uni being grilled in its own shell.
In Aomori, uni is put in a clear broth, together with slices of abalone, in a traditional dish caled “Ichigo Ni”, which literally means boiled strawberry. Apparently the cloudy appearance the soup took on when the uni was added reminded people of strawberries in the morning mist.
And to end off your journey of the uni-verse, why not try uni-meshi, which means uni rice and is rice that has been cooked together with uni.