The Squid Season
According to the Japanese seasonal calendar, the eighth month marks the beginning of autumn. And, indeed, there is something different in the air these days. Nature has a tired, worn out look. Signs of ripening and withering—those telltale harbingers of autumn—can be spotted here and there. Consulting my own copy of seasonal haiku words—I was somewhat surprised to see ‘squid’ listed as a one for August—even though it’s consumed the whole year through. This got me thinking and researching a bit about this ubiquitous sea creature.
Japan is actually the world’s foremost harvester and consumer of squid (also often referred to as cuttlefish). Eaten raw or cooked, deep-fried or sautéed, it is available year round as the cephalopods migrate up and down along Japan’s coast. Squid usually live 600 meters below the water’s surface where temperatures are 6 to 27 degrees Celsius. As squid are drawn to light, boats are rigged with large electric bulbs throughout the main deck to attract the catch. Perhaps one of the most eerie and magical things is the sight of glowing squid boats off on the horizon on a dark night.
Indeed, squid do have a mysterious quality to them. The Japanese Flying Squid use their distinctive fins to propel themselves through the air. Check out images of their aerial action here—but don’t expect to see any video footage yet. Some mysteries on this earth remain undocumented.
Due to its pervasiveness, there are regional squid dishes all over Japan. Perhaps one of the most famous is Hakodate squid. Every year Hakodate celebrates its Harbor Festival with its famous squid dance. (Watch and learn the dance here.)
It’s not surprising that squid has worked its way into Japanese the language as well. To “decide on the squid” is a term used in sumo or gambling, when one quits while one is ahead. This term is coined because squid emit an ink cloud to conceal their escape when being attacked.
Now, with all this talk of squid in Japan, how is it prepared? One of the most traditional ways was raw—as sushi or sashimi. The influence of Western food has also found squid meat and ink to be included in pasta. One of the most classic and beloved ways in Japan is roasting squid whole over charcoals. Served at festivals and izakaya alike, it’s a tasty simple meal. Check out recipe for this festival style squid here. Speaking of izakayas, squid jerky is also a tasty snack with your beer and peanuts. However, squid is often included in any manner of dishes as a protein alternative. Check out ‘Cooking with Dog’ (no, the ingredient is not dog. Rather, the dog is the host—an amazing YouTube series that any lover of Japanese food should watch regularly) to learn how to make Gomoku Ankake.