Said to have originated in Tarumi ward, Kobe city, sand eel (sea fish, Ammodytes personatus) kugini is one variety of tsukudani (a salty sweet dish, made by boiling down ingredients in soy sauce).
Selected by Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries for its traditional flavor that tastes like mum’s cooking, kugini appears in Japan’s top 100 local dishes from agricultural, mountain and fishing villages.
Sand eels are boiled down in a flat kettle with soy sauce, mirin, sugar, ginger and other ingredients until all the liquid has evaporated.
It is said that the finished dish looks like old nails (‘kugi’ = ‘nail’ in Japanese), which is why it’s called kugini.
In the Seto Inland Sea areas of Osaka, Kobe and Awaji, kugini is a familiar delicacy eaten with rice, or as an appetizer with Sake.
With kugini, the most important thing is freshness!
At Tarumi harbor and Akashi port, fishermen leave early to fish at the Akashi Strait. They come back to the harbor each time they finish lifting their nets and the fish is put up for auction, sold, and is soon to be found lined up in front of stores.
The portions made by local households are so big that they need to be prepared in a cauldron! It is common to give some to neighbors and/or to send some to distant relatives.
At the beginning of spring when the ban on fishing for sand eels is lifted, you can smell the aroma of sand eel being boiled all over town. It’s become such a part of spring that it can be said, “spring will come soon after it starts to smell like sand eel”.
Kugini made from sand eel caught at Tarumi fishing harbor is sold by measure at the direct sales depot.
Starting with traditional kugini, to kugini with walnuts, spicy kugini among other novel arrangements, a wide variety is available for your enjoyment!
The direct sales depot is located within the Tarumi fishing harbor, less than a 5-minute walk from JR Tarumi station. (It’s right next to an outlet mall that looks beautiful at this time of year with its Christmas lights.)
During the sand eel season from the end of February to March, events related to sand eels (learning to make kugini, contests, and other events) are organized, apparently.
Kobe city Fisheries Co-operative Association Direct Sales Depot:
Address: 1-10 3-Chome Hiraiso, Tarumi-ku, Kobe city, Hyogo prefecture (within the Tarumi fishing harbor)
Business hours: 9:00～16:30
Holidays: New Year’s holiday (Dec. 29~Jan.4), Obon (Aug.14~16)
Access: 5-minute walk from JR Tarumi station towards south
URL: http://www.kobeshi-gyokyo.or.jp/gaiyo.html#gyogyou-gaiyo (Japanese)
Information on Sand eel events (in Japanese):
Setouchi Finder Photo-writer: Makoto Esaki / Yoko Suganami / Rainbow Sake Co., Ltd.
Yoko Suganami Rainbow Sake, Inc. After an extended stay in Hawaii, in 2011, I returned to my hometown of Kure, Hiroshima. Having worked at advertising companies in both Japan and Hawaii, I founded Rainbow Sake - a PR company with the goal of spreading Sake abroad. I hope that sake will ""bring the people of the world together"" and that I can be a part of that. I often travel abroad, and mostly to Hawaii and Singapore. Every time I come back home, I rediscover the beauty of my hometown and the happiness the easygoing, calm, fresh and simple sea and mountains of Setouchi bring.
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