Sunday, June 10, 2018

Tuna Lunch at a Fishing Port

It’s a pity that this time we couldn’t stop by the Katsuura Fish Market to witness the famous tuna auction that happened in weekday mornings – we were way too late for that by the time we drove over from Shirahama plus the market was closed on Saturday. But that didn’t stop us from making a pit stop at this small coastal town for a seafood lunch right by the fish market.

Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo might be the more famous one but Katsuura (Nachi-Katsuura, to distinguish itself from the other town in Chiba Prefecture with the same name) has its fair share of tuna catch going through their port daily and auctioned off in the similar manner at the market, the fifth biggest in the country. And in the neighborhood surrounding one could easily find restaurants serving their most well-known catch in various ways of cooking. One such restaurant is Takehara just round the corner from the wholesale fish market.

It’s a pleasant morning drive along the southern coast of Wakayama with a quick stopover at Kashinozaki Lighthouse at the tip of Kii-oshima Island for the spectacular view of coastal rock cliffs and the classic white stone-built lighthouse built by British engineer in the mid-19th Century. Along the way up the western coast there's also the interesting stone pillars called Hachi-gui-iwa formed by wave erosion.

And we reached Katsuura on the western coast just slightly after noon and found Takehara quite easily in the block filled with restaurants, cafes and souvenir shops in between the train station and the fish market. The place seems to be very popular with locals and tourists – it took us a while to get the parking spot at the lot outside, then it’s another good 20 minutes wait inside the restaurant before we were seated in one of the spots at the counter. And the stream of customers continue to come in while we waited with the line soon spread to outside on the street. I love the casual vibe of this shokudo-style restaurant which looked like a small family business with husband being the chef and wife serving the customers.

Tuna, or Maguro, is the specialty of the restaurant and its menu focused on this prized ingredient. And most people went for their signature Maguro Set so that’s what we ordered as well. We began with a small plate of pickled vegetables and a bowl of aburi maguro as our appetizer. Chunks of raw tuna was seared by blowtorch then served with slices of raw onions, lemon and ponzu. Taste of raw onions can sometimes be too intense but here’s it’s more sweet then being sharp, and that along with the citrus ponzu balanced well with the fatty tuna chunks with a hint of smokiness. And as we learned afterwards, the sauce worked well for dipping for our later courses too.

Our main course of maguro sashimi came shortly after, along with rice and soup to complete our lunch set. Two different cuts of tuna were presented - the majority were the leaner cut with two pieces (out of the total 7) being the more delicate chu-toro (medium fatty belly), served in a deep plate with fresh seaweed and a dab of wasabi. Both were good in their own way – the leaner maguro chunks has rich meaty flavor and firm texture, and the chu-toro has the good and balanced fatty flavor and even more tender, and they were served in generous portion, cut thick like a mini nuggets. Soy sauce is available at the counter but I reckon they were even better with the milder ponzu sauce that’s left over from our appetizer course.

There were also a number of a la carte dishes available to order in addition, including various internal parts and cuts of tuna. We saw what the customer next to us was having and asked for the same. Turned out it’s called Maguro no Obire which was the tailfin seared then simmered in broth with drizzle of lemon juice and a dipping sauce with green onions and shichimi powder. It has an even more intense meat flavor plus bits of collagens from the tail. I only wish we have more rooms to try more of the dishes including heart, stomach lining and milt (shirako) – that would have been interesting.

It was a delightful meal and was ridiculously cheap – no wonder it attracts quite a crowd. Looks like a return trip to the region was in order and I would love to stay in town next time for more tuna and to see the fish market.

When? March 24 2018
Where? Takehara, Oazatsukiji 4-23, Nachi-Katsuura-cho, Wakayama Prefecture, Japan
竹原 和歌山県東牟婁郡那智勝浦町大字築地4-23
Menu Highlights? Anything Tuna

(Part of the Wakayama Travel Series)

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