To say people in Kochi are a bit obsessed with bonito (skipjack tuna) is an understatement. Not only does this southern prefecture boast the highest consumption of the fish in Japan, but they are also the proud custodians of a 400-year tradition of catching the bonito using the ipponzuri pole fishing method, a tradition that continues to this day.
One popular way of eating bonito is katsuo no tataki, or seared bonito. Actually, popular is an understatement since katsuo no tataki is, without doubt, the soul food of Kochi Prefecture, and a must-eat for anyone willing to venture out to this rural gem of a prefecture on the island of Shikoku.
Preparing this dish sees the fish cut into thick fillets and then placed onto a handheld grill. The tataki specialists then heap rice straw into a deep BBQ grill, then set it alight before thrusting the fish into the center of the now leaping flames. This unusual method of searing the fish is said to have originated with fishermen in the Tosa area (now Kochi Prefecture) who needed a quick slap-up meal after a long day working on the waves.
The outside of the fish is seared to perfection while the inside is still rare, almost melting as it is placed on the tongue. The fish also absorbs the heady, fragrant scent of the burning straw, giving katsuo no tataki an unmistakably satisfyinge taste. The katsuo fillets are then cut into relatively thick slices, and served with sliced raw garlic, ginger, onions and a delicious citrus sauce known as ponzu.
A great place to try some katsuo no tataki is at the Hirome Ichiba market, in central Kochi City. Another good location can be found at the Tosa Tataki Dojo where you can try searing the fish for yourself.