Awabi (abalone) is a luxurious clam. When it is eaten raw, it tastes faintly like the sea, but its crispy texture is what stands out the most. It is delicious, but almost impossible to find on sushi menus as they are so hard to obtain due to strict California laws. On the Northern California coast, you must have a license to fish abalone during the open season (April to June), and even then you can only take a few at a time. If officers catch you with more than the allotted amount (the maximum number changes annually), they will fine you quite heavily.
Abalone cling to rocks and can take over ten years to grow to a consumable size! These days they are only half as big as they were 30 years ago, since they were nearly wiped out due to over-fishing. Find stats and good information about abalone here. Kuni says that he gets his abalone from a farm in Cayucos, CA, near San Luis Obispo. As long as they're farmed, they're legal. He can only accept gifts of fished abalone to serve without charge.
Kuni serves awabi with kimo-joyu (soy sauce with guts). He takes the guts of the awabi and adds one part shoyu with one part mirin, and mixes it together in a suribachi (mortar and pestle).
I've had awabi many ways -- baked, roasted, grilled. But raw is by far the best, as long as it's super fresh. If you ever see awabi on any menu, or at your local fish market, get it! Ask for the guts while you're at it!
*Photos by Johnny Lopes.
*Sushi Kuni is located at 10211 S. DeAnza Blvd in Cupertino. Call Kuni ahead for awabi with his special kimo-joyu 408-257-5864.
*Kuni is my father.