Oct 24, 2011

Hatahata (Sandfish) is Akita’s Traditional Taste of Winter

Shottsuru (しょっつる) is a type of fish sauce from Akita Prefecture, which is one of the 3 major fish sauces of Japan along with Ishiru from Ishikawa Prefecture and Ikanago-shoyu from Kagawa Prefecture.

Fish Sauce is a common seasoning throughout Asia. In the ancient Japan, it was called Hishio and was sold in the central cities in Nara and Kyoto.

Akita’s fish sauce is distinctive in its ingredients. It is made from Hatahata (sandfish) caught off the coast of Oga Peninsula.

Shottsuru takes 2-3 years to brew.

Shottsuru (塩汁、塩魚汁) can be dated back to the early Edo period, and was traditionally made solely with the fish and salt. Now it has been produced in modern technique with additional ingredients, but there is a brewery who still produces it in the traditional method (Their product has been recently chosen as Ark of Flavor by Slow Food Japan!)

What is Hatahata?

Hatahata is a sandfish. Akita Prefecture has the largest catch of Sandfish in Japan. The fish has been an important protein sauce for Akita people in the old days, which was even sung in a famous folksong (“Akita-Ondo”). Today even designated as the prefectural fish!

The Kanji character of Hatahata (鰰)comprises parts that indicat “fish”(魚) and “god”(神)– The countless fish washed out on the rocky coast along the Japan Sea in the thunderstorms during the most severe winter must have appeared as if it was an act of god!

Traditional Taste of Akita Has Been Protected:

Hatahata is a fish that Akita people long for in winter. The fish usually live at the depth of 250 meters in the seawater. In December, the fish comes up to the 2 meters deep to spawn. That’s when the fishermen catch using large nets.

By 1970s, the fish were harvested with no limitation of catch and served as the important protein source in Akita’s food culture. However, the catch suddenly declined from 1- 20,000 to 70 tons in early 1990s, and was annouced as the verge of extinction.

That was when the local fishermen made a desperate decision: In 1992, they have voluntarily restrained fishing for 3 years - such was a rare case in the world. As a result, the amount recovered up to the estimated number of 1,000 tons by 2000 and about 3,000 tons by 2003.

The traditional taste of Akita has been protected by those patient fishermen!

Distinct Flavor of Shottsuru:

How does Shottsuru taste like?

Despite how fishy it may sound, it is surprisingly mild and rich in flavor. Shottsuru is the main ingredient in Akita’s signature winter dish, Shottsuru-nabe, a hot pot with Hatahata and tofu and other ingredients. Also, in recent years, contemporary chefs are adopting some innovative ideas and recipes: the most popular style is the Italian style as in the picture below!

Shottsuru-nabe, Akita's Famous Hot Pot!

Hatahata and other ingredients!

Pasta Flavored with Shottsuru!

Shottsuru is available at many stores around Akita Prefecture! Just visit grocery stores and souvenir shops like Tazawako Ichi across JR Tazawako Station. Get your bottle and share your recipes with us!

Different bottles of Shottsuru are available in Akita.

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