When you think about Japan, what comes to mind? Sushi? Kimono? Or perhaps Japanese sake? As you may know, Japanese people love eating fish, and fish is part of the daily diet of many Japanese individuals. When you go to the supermarket, you will find many fresh fish on sale. In addition, people in Japan eat fish not only because it is commonly available, but they eat fish for its health benefits too.
If you’re also a big fan of eating fish or are open to the idea of trying fish while you’re staying in Japan, knowing how to distinguish between fresh or stale fish is a must!
In this article I will show you how to find some of the freshest fish for your dinner.
1. Think “Beautiful”
First of all, follow your intuition and look for the fish that looks “beautiful” at first sight. The fresh fish doesn’t have any milky cloudy mucus, but instead looks clean and shiny. Also, if you look carefully at the fish, check for scales that are still intact. Most fresh fish have little to no damage on their body.
2. Clear Eyes
Checking fishes’ eyes is one of the most popular methods that Japanese people use to check the freshness of a fish. This method is so widely known that even those who know little about fish know about this method. If you look at the fishes’ eyes and they have very clear, sparkly eyes, this means they have most likely just arrived from the ocean. On the other hand, stale fish may have red eyes that appear cloudy.
3. Clear, Red Gills
It may be difficult to check the gills of a fish if it is cold already and wrapped in plastic at the supermarket (I will tell you how to check at the supermarket below). However, if you’re going to buy fish at the fish market or a fish store, make sure to check its gills.
Try to turn over the fishes’ gills with clean fingers or ask a store assistant to help you out. By doing this, you can vividly see red colored flesh if the fish is really fresh. However, if fish are no longer fresh, their flesh looks dark red, or even nearly black.
If you are allowed, try to hold the fish by the tails in your hands and see if the fish will hold still without bending or looking slumped. If the fish is straight, then it is fresh. If you cannot hold the fish well from the tails, you can try to touch the stomach of the fish instead. If it feels firm, this means the fish is fresh enough. If the stomach is soft, the fish is likely going bad already.
5. The Smell
Did you know that fresh fish don’t smell that much? If you move your face closer to the fish (try to be discreet) and smell it, fresh fish does not have a strong fishy smell. However, if the fish is no longer fresh, you will smell a fishy smell right from the entrance. You will also smell the blood from the fish.
6. How to Find Fresh Fish at the Supermarket?
If you’re in Japan, you may know it’s quite common to buy fish at the supermarket. However, it can be difficult to identify which fish are fresh when they’re all displayed nicely in the supermarket.
Don’t worry, there is a small trick to find out the freshness of a fish here as well. In addition to my advice above, follow these as well:
・Take the fish with plastic wrap from where it was placed, and give it a closer look. Normally, there is bright lighting in the supermarket’s fish area. Use this to try to look at the fish’s sparkle and freshness.
・Try to see if there is no drip from the fish on the plastic package. This drip contains the flavor of the fish, so if there is dripping, this means the fish no longer has a good taste.
Now you know more about how to find fresh fish and what to avoid when shopping for fish.