The tataki cooking technique is now used around the world, but it originated here in Kochi. Literally meaning “to hit”, it’s a brief searing method lasting around 90 seconds, in which fish or meat is cooked over towering straw-fuelled flames. The flames partly cook the outside of the fish, searing its dark flesh black and leaving its exterior with an intense, smoky barbecue flavour while its inside retains a raw and succulent sashimi quality. Chefs roughly cut it with huge knives into thick slices and serve it alongside spring onions, ginger and garlic and seasoned with salt or soy sauce.
These days, Japanese restaurants apply the tataki technique to salmon and even beef, but its smoky source harks back to bonito. In fact, it’s become so popular in Kochi that people regard it as a symbol of the whole prefecture – and travel from far and wide to sample it.
“We have katuso-no-tataki at home as well, but I heard about how good the Kochi one is, so that’s why I came to the market,” said Kazuko Watanabe, who travelled from Japan’s Gunma prefecture, some 800km north. “The quality at home is different – it’s better here.”
Watanabe had given into her cravings and ordered two portions of the dark, delicious fish. Several other diners around the noisy indoor market had done the same thing – including me.
In 2011, I embarked on a 100-day trip which took me to all of Japan’s 47 prefectures. I ate incredible dishes all over the country, from Kyoto’s extraordinarily ornate, multi-course kaiseki dining to toriwasa (raw chicken) in Nagano to shirako (cod sperm sacs) in Aomori to the fabled beef in Kobe. Yet, above them all stood the tataki in Kochi.[NewsNaira]