Thursday, March 19, 2009
Maguro Bidding Market
This morning we were on a tuna battlefield! The bidding market was amazing. I rolled out of bed late, after having slept less than two hours and having drunk all of the beer in my mini fridge and stumbled down into the lobby with my sunglasses on at 5:45am. We got into our bus with doilies (all of the vehicles here have doilies on some parts of them, our bus has doilies where people’s heads rest) where the mayor was waiting for us. We arrived to the market and changed into our white rubber boots and flourescent pink trucker hats that had “Sendai” printed on them and walked along a catwalk above the bidding. I wish I had better words to describe how the auctioneer and the bidders sounded: an auction sounds funny in one’s native language as there’s a very specific intonation used by the people involved...in Japanese it sounds even funnier because the noises are so different. And I think Japanese sounds very ‘cute’ anyway, I like the short sounds and the way that vowels are drawn out, and the “HAI!” of agreement. It seems like people say things with as few words as possible, which seems very efficient to me. Down on the bidding floor, I was very happy to have been issued the flourescent pink hats (though sadly I was not allowed to keep mine, it would have been an awesome souvenir) as there were hundreds of people milling about, all with white boots, all looking at the fish as intently as we were. I enjoyed especially identifying some of the fish we had eaten the night before, and looking at the cuddly-looking Fugu swimming in shallow pans.This is a wholesale market, so it was interesting to see where the fish that consumers see in the fish market or the farmers’ market comes from. There were big prawns with their heads on and eggs in many colors stuck to their legs (some had green eggs, some had yellow eggs), and the huge tuna all lined up on the floor, that would be hooked through the mouth and wheeled away when they were bid on.Each tuna had a number painted on it, and potential buyers got there very early before the auction even started at 6am (they arrived at 4:30 am) to check with their own eyes the fish before bidding on them. The fish were absolutely gorgeous, all had their tails cut off, I think so potential buyers can see grade of the meatIKIJIMI is the method used of killing the fish, in which the gills are cut after the brain is spiked and then they cut the tail off to grade the meat. This method of killing stops all movement in the fish, so the meat does not get bruised by flopping around. Also tuna is the only warm-blooded deep sea fish so getting the blood out quickly keeps the meat from producing enzymes after death that would turn it brown.
After the tuna are sold, they are brought to the maguro cutters who are employed by the wholesalers (their representatives are the ones doing the bidding, the brokers) and the tuna is sliced into loins. We visited a cutting table that had one man who had been cutting for 30 years, his boss had been cutting for over 40 years. Watching him cut with the two different kinds of knives was interesting; he de-boned an almost 200-lb bluefin tuna (the biggest at the auction was about 220lbs) with an effortless grace that belied the fact that he was basically wrangling a barrell.
We had a really special treat: the maguro cutter sliced off pieces of tuna for us right there and somehow chopsticks and soy sauce and a plastic plate appeared, and us carnivores dug right in and felt as though we’d hunted something.