Father's Day is June 16
Iwashi (Sardine) from Mie Prefecture

Saba (or mackerel) is often priced really cheap in the U.S. and hovers around at the bottom of many sushi menus. It's known to be stinky and not as silky as other popular sashimi like maguro and salmon. But I'd like to make it known, loud and clear that I love saba and feel lucky that it's often priced so low. I don't care if I go to a cheap or swanky place, I will order saba.

Saba falls into the hikarimomo category. Hikarimono includes all blue-backed fish. Aji (horse mackerel), iwashi (sardine), sanma (pike mackerel), tobiuo (flying fish), and kohada (gizzard shad) all fall into the hikarimono category. I DIE with excitement when any of those are on the specials board at a sushi restaurant.

Hikarimono are not for everyone. My Japanese mother-in-law, who is über-sensitive to smell and dislikes garlic, does not care for hikarimono because it tastes namagusai or "fishy-smelling." In addition to the smell, some people may not be so excited by the silvery skin as. None of this applies to me however, and I am a huge advocate of hikarimono.

In general, there is a distinct scent to hikarimono. It smells a little bit of the salty air of the sea and the flesh has give. I love how the skin is perceptible only by sight (it should never be tough). The metallic exterior is so visually pleasing, proving its freshness to the eater. When in its optimum form, the taste has plenty of bursting umami, a little salty and without the over-the-top oiliness that toro or salmon has. Soy sauce should be used with discretion.

I recently trekked out to Sushi Ran, a fancy-schmancy white people place for sushi. I admit that I was a little bit skeptical because "Vietnamese Shaking Beef" was on the menu. But all was forgiven when I saw that the sushi bar specials included iwashi (sardine from Mie prefecture) and kohada (gizzard shad from Saga prefecture), both from Tsukiji market.

Kohada (gizzard shad) from Saga Prefecture

Don't get me wrong though, these were NOT cheap like your run-of-the-mill sushi restaurant saba. One piece was $5.25 each. ONE!
Column: Japanify


  • FYI- so called “blue backed” fish are not bottom feeders. They are fast moving , feed on other fish, and usually migratory. They aren’t popular because of their soft, oily, flesh. They also spoil quickly if not properly stored so shelf life is short. And, yes, they are “fishy” tasting.

    Sam on

  • I love these fish too!! i can eat saba for dayz. I have a vague memory of my mom telling me that white people are afraid of bottom feeders which is why we never see mackerel on American menus…?!

    chungy on

  • ha! I love that fancy-schmancy white people place for sushi! Did you feel like it was worth the price?

    My mom is not a fan of hikarimono, either, but she liked the ones she got there.

    seri on

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