May 6, 2014
The Japanese Eat Caviar Every Day
I am currently in Kaunas, the second city of Lithuania. I was surprised and pleased to find that it is incredibly cheap, particularly when compared with Tallinn in Estonia and with Russia, where I have just been previously. For this reason, I decided to splash out and go for a decent meal.
I noticed caviar on the menu and it seemed like the right part of the world to try it, especially considering it only cost around $14. Quite a large portion came in a silver dish, with several tiny and delicious bread rolls and some butter (an open sandwich of caviar is how the Russians do it, apparently). It was quite an intense flavor, and one would certainly have to be a fan of a strong fishy, salty taste to enjoy it, but I could see what the fuss was about. It was a rolling flavor, that is to say it had stages where the taste changed in your mouth, like a lot of really good food and drink does.
I later did a bit of research on caviar and found that this experience wasn’t quite as exclusive as I thought it was at the time – enjoyable though it was. The real luxury caviar is black caviar, as many people may already know, and be thinking “God, doesn’t he even know that!” but I’ll continue regardless! The traditional and finest caviar comes only from sturgeon in the Caspian Sea or Black Sea, known as beluga, ossetra and sevruga caviar, with beluga being the best. It is the eggs of the fish, also known as the roe. However, over-fishing has meant that this black caviar is even more of a rarity, and therefore a luxury and an expense, than it was before.
These days, even most Russians who can indulge in caviar do so with red caviar, which is the roe of salmon. This is what I had eaten, and briefly at the time thought it looked like something I quite often have on sushi at home in Japan. A bit of research reveals that it is in fact exactly the same thing. On sushi, it is usually a very small amount, on one or two pieces at a time amongst many others, but nevertheless I have technically been eating caviar quite often without realizing it.
It is one of my least favorite sushi types in Japan, actually, because the eggs are almost tasteless. They are unsalted, whereas the Russian version is heavily salted and I think that makes all the difference. Of course, Japan is famous for minimalism when it comes to food and generally I am in favor of this; letting the natural flavor of the food shine through. But when it comes to fish eggs, a bit of salting is key, it seems.
It sounds very doubtful that I will ever get to try the much loved and sought after black caviar, unless I have somehow failed to realize that they actually spread it on Big Macs in Japanese McDonald’s. But it is quite odd to note that Japanese people will wolf down caviar (even the Japanese name “ikura” is borrowed from the Russian “ikra,” meaning soft-shelled eggs) in the sushi they buy in plastic boxes from convenience stores at lunchtime.
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