A Very Versatile Gem-Like Fish: SHIRASU
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In Japan, the fresh ones are referred to as "nama"【生：なま】and the cooked ones are normally called the "kama-age"【釜揚げ：かまあげ】, or "kettle-cooked". Some sprinkle the dried shirasu on their salad, for added flavor and calcium, mix it into their stir-fried rice, or even use it as a general condiment for dishes.
Shirasu is highly versatile in Japanese cuisine.
So, just like any other fish, whitebait actually comes into season as well.
Although shirasu can be found throughout the year, spring, just around April, or autumn, around October, are said to be the best seasons for the little fish in Japan. (Although this may vary depending on where in Japan you're at.) This is apart from the period of time when you're actually not allowed to catch them, which is from January to March in many places! You can't expect to find fresh shirasu all throughout the year, making it extra special when it's available.
The differences between the ones in the US, the UK, Australia, etc.
As the whitebait grows, its flavor actually changes.
The smaller kinds are the ones that can be properly called shirasu, and they have a sweetness to them. As they grow older, the taste changes from sweet to a small packet of umami, and then as time goes on they start to have a slight bitterness, that adds complexity to the fish's flavor.
That is why the fresh ones served in Japanese dishes are the ones that are smaller.
The closest place you can get to from Tokyo would be the Kamakura/Enoshima area. It only takes about an hour and a half from Tokyo Station to get there! This region along the coast in Kanagawa Prefecture is called Shonan, and it's also famous for surfers, if that piques your interest.
It's just sooo tempting.
We were so impressed we wrote an article on this pizza, if you want any more details.
... and finally, the shirasu-don
Where else can I eat shirasu in Japan?
To be more specific, if you're looking for some other really great places to try the fish, in the Kanto region (the eastern part of Japan), there's the Suruga Bay or Numazu in Shizuoka. If you're in the western part of Japan (the Kansai region), you can go to either Awajishima in Hyogo, or Wakayama.
A quick round up!
All, the best on your next foodie trip to Japan!
Heading to Shizuoka for more shirasu?
Or looking to go to Enoshima? Take a look at our recommended day trip to Kamakura and Enoshima, finishing it off with a beautiful sunset over the beache.
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