Marriage of fish, egg and rice

Wabisuke Tai-Meshi
PHOTO: Wabisuke Tai-Meshi

MATSUYAMA - Place a raw egg into broth made from kombu seaweed and dried bonito shavings and then soak fresh sea bream sashimi in the broth. Pour the broth and the sashimi over hot rice and enjoy.

The chewy sashimi and the flavor of the broth, which has become mild thanks to the egg, will spread through your mouth. This is the ultimate tamago-kake gohan, rice with raw egg.

It is believed to have originated from a dish that members of a navy based on Hiburi Island created on their ship by putting a slice of fish on rice in the Heian period (794-1192). Hiburi is a small island less than 30 kilometers in circumference located off Uwajima, Ehime Prefecture.

In the Nanyo region, southwestern Ehime Prefecture, the modern dish is called tai-meshi, as it uses tai (sea bream) that is commonly cultured in the region.

The Yomiuri Shimbun Yoshio Yamamoto, head chef at Wabisuke, fillets a sea bream into three pieces.

There's also another kind of tai-meshi in Ehime Prefecture that involves rice cooked with a whole sea bream, which is a local specialty of Matsuyama and other areas. To distinguish between the two, tai-meshi with broth is sometimes called Uwajima tai-meshi or Nanyo's tai-meshi.

"You'll want to try many bowls of tai-meshi," said Yoshio Yamamoto, 45, head chef of Wabisuke, a restaurant of local dishes in the Ebisu district of Uwajima. He explained the secret of the popular dish: Make a slit along the belly side of a fresh sea bream with a kitchen knife and sliver both sides of the fish, leaving the backbone. After peeling the skin off, cut the fillets vertically with a sashimi knife.

"It's Uwajima style to cut the fillets into thin pieces that are thinner than general sashimi, which is cut at an angle," he said. Thinly cut sashimi blends well with the broth, according to Yamamoto.

The flavor of the broth varies by restaurant. The basic broth at Wabisuke is made using kombu seaweed and dried bonito shavings, although Yamamoto did not give me the precise recipe - that's the restaurant's secret.

Add soy sauce and mirin sweet sake to the broth and cook briefly, adding dried bonito shavings to taste.

When sashimi such as horse mackerel is used instead of sea bream, the dish is called Hyuga-meshi. This is a corrupted form of Hiburi, where pirates set up a base.

"Tai-meshi that uses abundant fresh fish is a luxurious dish only available in places blessed with rich marine life," Yamamoto said. I'm fully satisfied with the dish for its easy cooking method and taste.

Reporter's comment

The great taste of the fresh sea bream and the sweetish broth boosted my appetite. This dish makes the most out of its ingredients, which reflects the history of the region, where people have lived with the seafood-rich Uwakai sea. I hope the clean sea is protected and the flavor of local cuisine will be handed down to future generations.

Top sea bream breeding area

Fish flourish in the Uwakai sea, where changes in water temperature are minimal throughout the year. According to the Ehime prefectural government, the prefecture has cultured the most fish in the nation since 1978.

Production of cultured red sea bream was 30,573 tons in 2012, or 54 per cent of the domestic total. More than 90 per cent of those 30,573 tons were cultured in the Nanyo region of the prefecture.

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