Fifty Dollar Fish


My favorite restaurant serves tempura, as you might guess from the name Tempura Sakamoto (天ぷらさか本); but, one reason I like the restaurant so much is: that’s not all they sell. I often enjoy their sashimi, preferring it over many sushi restaurants, and a lot of specialty and seasonal items find their way onto the table. Shioyaki (塩焼), which literally means “salt grilled”, is one of the yummy items. A fish, of just about any kind, is sprinkled with salt and placed on a grill under radiant heat. The result is tender, juicy, and delicious.

Sanma (秋刀魚) is a long, slender fish which gets consumed in the Fall. It is prized for its slightly fatty condition and the blend of sweet flesh and the bitter belly. I hate linking Wikipedia, but here it is. Apparently it is called Pacific Saury or Mackerel Pike in English and it’s Latin name originated on the Kii Peninsula (紀伊半島), where I live. Sanma came up in a few interesting conversations lately.

Normally I go to Sakamoto’s alone and sit at the counter chatting with the owner while I eat; however, a few weeks ago I went with a junior high teacher and a high school teacher, so we sat upstairs at a table. One of the newest staff members was serving us and she has pretty good English skills, so I decided to interact in English as much as possible. When I asked her what off-the-menu items were available, she told me they were serving sanma shioyaki and I ordered that up. Realizing that wouldn’t be enough food, I was looking over other items. Suddenly, remembering I was short on cash, I thought to ask how much the fish cost. I was stunned by the answer, “Five thousand yen.” I checked to make sure, and then canceled my order: I really wanted it and I knew the Sakamoto’s would run a tab for me, but I don’t like to do that.

A week later, I was telling some students in a class about the fish. It had been on my mind because I was remembering how many times people have treated me to sanma. I was feeling a bit sheepish. Anyhow, my students freaked out. They said sanma should be about two or three hundred yen and they were about 100 yen at the supermarket. I knew Tempura Sakamoto serves special ingredients, but couldn’t imagine twenty times the price.

On my next visit to the restaurant we cleared it all up. Indeed his fish are specially shipped from Hokkaido and have a luxurious fattiness to them; however, the price is five hundred yen, not five thousand yen. I’m sure they teased their employee mercilessly after that. Also, I’m a little sad that I missed out because now they are out of season. I can still get the 100 yen fish to cook at home, but I’ll have to wait for next year to get the good stuff. Also, I should add that I was not overwhelmed by the mistaken price because there are some very expensive fish in Japan.


2 Responses to “Fifty Dollar Fish”

  1. Gabriel Davidson Says:

    How is Akira? I really miss Sakamoto. If you go there often, please tell him I (Gabriel, or, more usually in Japan, Gabu) said hi. If it’s not too much trouble, maybe you could get his email and send it to me through email or facebook? I seem to have lost it since I left Tsu.

  2. びっくり Says:

    They are doing well, but his mother was injured recently. I will pass on your message.

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