Mackerel finds high-profile spot on menus in Japan

There are increased opportunities to enjoy dishes that use mackerel produced in various areas. Fish-loving volunteers serve branded mackerel at events across the nation, while others are attempting to vitalise a local shopping area with dishes using canned mackerel produced in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture.

They say they are attracted to the fish's range of rich flavours that overturn its image as a cheap fish for the masses.

In late February, about 90 people took part in an event at a restaurant in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, to eat Shimizu-saba mackerel landed in Tosashimizu, Kochi Prefecture.

Shimizu-saba has developed as a brand by adopting measures to keep the fish absolutely fresh, such as keeping blue mackerel alive while transporting them from fishing boats to a tank at the local fishermen's association.

The fish can be eaten raw as sashimi, and is characterised by its springy texture on the tongue.

The event was held by the Zen-Nihon Saba Rengokai (All-Japan mackerel association), a group formed in 2013 by people who love mackerel.

The group holds such "saba night" events about four times a year. Takaaki Kobayashi, who heads the group, calls himself a "saba-nist."

Yoko Ikeda, a member of the group who is in charge of public relations and calls herself a "saba-sienne," said she had visited 15 places related to mackerel, including areas where mackerel are produced or processed, across the nation during a two-year period.

As for branded mackerel, the Seki saba from Oita Prefecture is well known. However, Ikeda said mackerel has been attracting attention partly due to new brands such as Hachinohe-mae oki saba, mackerel caught off Hachinohe, Aomori Prefecture, and Gokujo (highest quality) saba, from Choshi, Chiba Prefecture.

There is a restaurant that specialises in toro-saba, which is fatty mackerel like toro fatty tuna meat.

The restaurant Sabar, is operated by Sabaya Co., an Osaka Prefecture-based company producing and selling mackerel sushi.The restaurant only uses chub mackerel fished off Hachinohe or the Sanriku coast in the Tohoku region.

Last year, the company opened three Sabar restaurants in Osaka and Kyoto prefectures one after another, and opened another Sabar restaurant in the Ebisu district of Tokyo in March.

To enjoy the rich taste of the restaurant's fatty mackerel sashimi, you'll have to shell out 1,980 yen (S$21.84), plus tax, for half a fish.

To open the Sabar restaurant in Ebisu, the company raised about 10 million yen - half of the capital necessary to open the restaurant - online through crowdfunding.

"We felt there was a good response, that there are many mackerel fans," a senior official at the company said.

In the Kyodo district of Setagaya Ward, Tokyo, about 10 restaurants offer dishes that use canned mackerel as part of an effort to vitalise the district. Among the restaurants, four use canned boiled mackerel produced in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture.

Kihachi, a restaurant featuring grilled pork on skewers, offers a dish of canned mackerel and vegetables dressed with curry-flavoured vinegared miso, priced at 550 yen including tax.

The soft fatty mackerel goes well with the textures of sliced onions and cucumbers.

Ramen shop "Makotoya" offers a "canned mackerel ramen," which is ramen topped with grilled mackerel, priced at 750 yen including tax.

When a plant manufacturing canned mackerel was severely damaged in the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011, workers at these restaurants reportedly went to the area as volunteers, looking for cans buried under debris and washing them.


The kinds of mackerel fished in Japanese coastal waters are mainly chub mackerel and blue mackerel. In addition, a large volume of Atlantic mackerel fished in the North Atlantic Ocean is imported to Japan. The volume of mackerel catches in Japan was 1.63 million tons in 1978, but decreased to 260,000 tons in 1991. In recent years, the volume has been around 400,000 tons.