Utsubo (Moray Eels) are sometimes called the “Gangsters of the Sea” because of their rough and rugged appearance. You may have seen them in aquariums, but I am sure you have never eaten, or even considered eating, one before?? However, in south Tokushima Prefecture, in the Kaifu district which faces the Pacific Ocean, it is a common ingredient you will find on any household dining table.
South Tokushima is an ocean paradise!
Tokushima Prefecture is surrounded by the Seto Inland Sea, the Kii Channel and the Pacific Ocean, making it abundant in marine produce. The Kaifu Region (Southern Tokushima), which faces the Pacific Ocean, has got to have some of the most beautiful ocean landscapes in Japan. Many people come to Kaifu for surfing, kayaking, scuba diving and to enjoy other water sports.
Of course, seafood is also a specialty there, and you will find many restaurants where you can taste fresh produce direct from the ocean. In the city, you would expect to pay a high price for a seafood rice bowl or sashimi, but in Kaifu it is very reasonable. It is truly an ocean paradise!
It is in this Kaifu region that the Utsubo (Moray Eel), which we mentioned earlier, is a common dish when compared to other areas of Japan.
A winter tradition - drying out Utsubo in the sun
Within the Kaifu district, Utsubo fishing is most common in the towns Minami and Mugi. During the winter, it is usual to see Utsubo being dried out in the sunshine around the fishing ports (Utsubo fishing is between December and February). It is customary to hang up the fish that have been caught first thing in the morning, but Utsubo can be slimy, their long, wriggly torsos can be difficult to handle, and they have small bones, so it is not easy to clean and gut the fish. This difficulty in handling Utsubo may be one of the reasons why it is not eaten in other areas of Japan. However, Kaifu has a long tradition of Utsubo fishing, therefore fishermen and chefs excel in handling them, and that is why it is a common ingredient in this region of Tokushima.
It is recommended to try Utsubo Sukiyaki style!
Dried Utsubo is delicious, but we recommend you try pan-frying it or cooking it in a hot pot too. Especially in Sukiyaki style (in a sweet soy broth), it is exceptional. As you can see from the photo above, Utsubo has such a scary appearance at first, but the meaty part of the fish is beautiful and clean. It has a delicate flavor, and the plump skin is full of collagen - it goes excellently with a rich broth like that of Sukiyaki.
There are many restaurants and shops that sell Utsubo in Kaifu, so please be sure to drop by! Don’t let the appearance of the fish scare you - we are sure you will be surprised by its unexpected deliciousness!