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Hagi Seaside Market, Hagi, Yamaguchi Prefecture

E Eto | Feb 26, 200811:50 AM

I love going to Hagi on the western coast of Yamaguchi prefecture. It's a scenic town, rich with history and best of all, there's good food to be had there. The two seafood items that are associated most with Hagi are squid and uni. The uni in Hagi is different from the Bafun uni from Aomori in northern Japan. Since I've never done a side-by-side tasting, I can't say for certain which one I prefer. Besides these, there's always a bounty of amadai (in the snapper family), sazae (turban shell), anago (sea eel), awabi (abalone), and fugu, just to name a few.

On this trip, we decided to eat at one of the restaurants in the Hagi Seaside Market (aka SeaMart, 萩しーまーと). The seaside market is a retail market with many fish counters as well as vegetables, dry goods, souveniers, and a cafe, and obento take-out stand. We were accompanied by a relative who's a life-long Hagi native, who is very familiar with the local cuisine. Being in his 70s and eating washoku all his life, he possesses a discerning palate, which I've seen in action. One of the reasons that we went to the Hagi Seamart is that I asked where I can eat some local, seasonal items, and one great reason to visit the restaurants in the Seamart is that you can buy some fish at any of the fish counters, and you can have it prepared by the restaurant (for an extra charge, depending on the kind of fish you buy). We all ordered some small teishoku and then we also brought in some things purchased at the market.

We got one tray of uni, and we also brought in a good piece of fugu. Before I go on, I need to address the fugu. There are many different species of fugu that are eaten in Japan. The highly prized torafugu is the one that gets all the attention, and is more abundant further south in the Shimonoseki area of Yamaguchi prefecture and in the Oseto inland sea. The fugu that is local to Hagi is called Mafugu. If torafugu is considered the king of fugu, mafugu is considered the queen of fugu (so it says on the Hagi brochures). Further, it seems that much of the fugu that is available in the big cities are farmed torafugu, and it still fetches a good price. Mafugu, on the other hand, is almost always caught wild, and is considered more poisonous than torafugu, but since it's not in demand in other parts of the country, it's also relatively inexpensive.

The teishoku lunches at the Seamart restaurant (I'm blanking on which one we went to) are pretty standard, and good values for what you get.
These would have been enough for lunch, but we had to have some of the local specialities. First the uni tray (for about 700 yen)

The fugu we had sliced for sashimi, and the bony parts we had fried up for kara-age. The bony parts made for good gnawing. As you'll notice, the sashimi slices of mafugu are different than you'd find with torafugu in that they're sliced thick, rather than the traditional translucent thin slices. According to our Hagi native guide, this is because mafugu has a better texture than torafugu, so it doesn't have to be shaved so thin to enjoy. Parts were a little chewy, but overall, I really enjoyed the thickly sliced mafugu than the delicately sliced torafugu I've had in the past. You get a better sense of the fugu this way. The fugu at the market cost about 1200 yen, and we had to pay an extra 1000 yen to have it prepared.

Since mafugu is only caught in this area of the Japan sea, Hagi and probably the coastal towns around Hagi are the only places you cat eat it. I'm not sure if it's local pride or the fact that my 70 year old relative has had access to such fresh fish all his life, but I've enjoyed his frank comments about comparing the local specialites to the ones prized in, say, Tokyo: "torafugu tsumaran" "bafun uni tsumaran". This is the Yamaguchi way of saying "ain't no good".

Hagi Seaside Market website:

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