I was talking to a client the other day about a parasitic stomach virus that some people get when ingesting Saba or Japanese mackerel that was fished out of season...i.e. caught too early. The ideal time for catching this fish is from Autumn through Winter.
The Japanese mackerel is a very popular seafood in Japan, so popular that a road was named after it in Kyoto called "saba kaido" or Old Mackerel Highway-- a 75 km route connecting Kyoto with the Port of Obama. ( On the map looking up near the Sea of Japan side there's a line that stretched down to Kyoto).
For centuries Japanese have been enjoying this delicious fish. Back in the day there wasn't any refrigeration, so this fish had to be salted in order to prevent it from spoiling. The mackerel decays very fast after it dies. Often times on hot days certain bacterial strains form in the organs of this fish and when people ingest it they get sick from a parasitic stomach virus that causes that person to vomit. If left untreated could develop into a stomach cancer years later. Usually a weeks worth of penicillin does the trick of killing this virus.
For me, I love this fish and even though it's not necessarily a product of Kanagawa prefecture, it is still very popular here. In spite of such a fact, Kanagawa boasts of having its own signature saba delicacy called "sabazushi" which the Kyotoites claim too is their own creation. The people in Fukui could probably claim the same as they too have a similar delicacy.
Other ways in which saba is enjoyed . There's Akisaba, or early autumn saba which is juicier and fatter and quite flavorsome. Then there's the Shime-saba that's marinated in vinegar, and then there's sekisaba which is eaten exclusively in the winter and is said to be incredibly delicious. I've tried all of them and must say that all of them tasted delicious.
Areas in West are known for having the tastiest mackerel. The Bungo Channel which separates two major islands, Shikoku and Kyushu, is known for feeding the saba during its migratory route. The Japanese obey the seasons and this is why fish is tastier than most countries. Year round fishing is so unnatural and so unhealthy for the aqua marine life.
So, for all of you sushi eaters out there be patient and wait a few more months for the really good saba.
Special thanks to Surviving Japan for hosting this months matsuri.