Uni … that word conjures up images of orange, yellow and gold in my mind, and I’ll start drooling 😋. What’s so good about Uni that just thinking about it makes one salivate? Its rich creamy sweetness engulfing your taste buds.
It didn’t start out that way though, I remembered the first time I tried Uni…
My First Try
Many many years ago, my friend, AL, and I were at a Japanese Teppanyaki and Seafood Buffet at Hilton, Singapore. I’d heard about Uni from another friend who loved it and told AL. We decided to ask the staff if they had Uni and they brought 2 pieces of Uni gunkan sushi to our table.
First look wasn’t much of an impression. In fact, it looked rather suspicious with that yellow ochre brown colour. We gingerly picked it up and put the Uni gunkan sushi into our mouths. First taste was an even worse impression.
AL had the best description of our first try – “Looks like diarrhoea, taste like diarrhoea”. 🤢🤮
It wasn’t a pleasant experience and totally put us off. We wondered why anyone in their right mind would want to eat that thing!
Back then, it was harder and expensive to get fresh seafood from Japan. Thus, the Uni wasn’t the freshest thing served. If I had decided then to never try it again, I would have never known how delicious fresh Uni can taste.
The Turning Point
I didn’t try Uni again for many years after that as it was expensive in Singapore and there weren’t many opportunities to eat it.
The second time was the turning point. My cousin, MX, and I were visiting Osaka in 2009 and went to Kuromon Ichiba Market for some sashimi. Besides Ika and Chutoro, we also picked a small tray of Uni. That Uni changed my world of taste. To MX and me, that was the best Uni we have ever tried. Rich, creamy with a sweetness that swept over our tongues as the Uni melted in our mouth. Even now, we still talked about that unforgettable Uni.
How to tell if it’s bad Uni, Ling?
Bad Uni taste well… bad. It tastes a little off and not pleasant on the tongue with a mouthful of yuckiness. Makes you not want to eat anymore and just want to quickly rinse the bad taste out of your mouth. Just the look of it generally will give you an idea if it’s bad. The colour tends to be more brownish and the Uni looks dry and thin or mushy and runny. The gonads do not hold their shape well and they smell.
How to tell if it’s good Uni, Ling?
Good Uni, on the other hand, is usually rich and creamy with a sweet aftertaste. The gonad shape holds well and looks plump, while the colour looks vibrant and appetising. Sometimes Uni may look mushy and runny, but it doesn’t necessary mean it’s bad especially when the colours look nice and there’s no bad smell.
Good Uni melts the moment you put it on your tongue and the flavours slowly spread out, tantalizing your taste buds. It makes you want to eat more; at the same time, you don’t want to finish it all up too quickly as you want the flavours to linger in your mouth. You’d want to eat it slowly, savouring the delightful dance on your tongue. Eating good Uni is heavenly, giving you a high, an ecstasy.
However, everyone’s taste buds are different, and some people don’t like soft things. Thus, your experience with Uni may be different from mine.
Where to find the best Uni, Ling?
For a long time, I couldn’t find any Uni that matched up to the one I had in 2009. Uni quality was getting better in Singapore, but still short of that taste and the reaction it created. I could get decent Uni at a reasonable price in Hong Kong, still it didn’t quite hit the spot. I even tried Uni in Iceland, fresh from the sea, it just wasn’t as good.
Not until I went to Hokkaido where I found my Uni heaven.
My first trip to Hokkaido was in Feb 2017 with my friend, SY. We were hitting all the fresh seafood markets, eating up a storm – King crabs, Snow crabs, Hana crabs, Ikura and of cos Uni. We had rice bowls topped with Uni with Ikura, Uni with Kani, Uni with Hotate. At Hakodate, we even queued for Uni that was processed additive-free without preservations. That was one very satisfying trip.
It was on my second visit to Hokkaido in 2018 where I tasted Uni comparable to what I tried in 2009. I had the best Uni at Rebun, Reshiri and Rausu. Uni from these 3 locations surpassed the taste of the 2009 Uni, as these 3 locations have good quality Kombu which the Uni feeds on. In my opinion, Hokkaido’s Uni is easily the best in the world.
Does price equate to quality, Ling?
Yes, it does. What you pay is what you get. The Uni MX and I bought cost JPY780 (S$12) in 2009. It wasn’t a big portion and it’s impossible to find good Uni at that price now.
Here’s 3 different Uni trays that I’d bought. Though they were all different types of Uni, it’s still quite clear that the price reflects the quality you get.
JPY600 tray – definitely looked the worst among the 3 trays. I bought that in Kagoshimashi Chuooroshiuriichibagyorui Market and that was the best available. You’ll notice that they placed the Uni downwards so that you can’t see the little bumps on the gonads. I wonder 🤔 if it’s to hide the quality. My friend, BR, bought a JPY500 tray from a different stall vendor and you can see that hers were small little pieces and the colours were darker. Even though it’s not the best Uni, my tray tasted better than hers, as it had more moisture while hers was dry and bitter. I would classify BR’s Uni Tray as bad Uni.
JPY1100 tray – was bought at Hagi Seaside Mart. You can see that the gonads shape looks better, and it’s placed upwards so that you can see the little bumps. The colour is different as it is a different type from the Rausu tray. Taste wise was satisfying for that price.
JPY2650 tray – was bought at Rausu Roadside Rest Area and the best looking of the lot. The gonads are plump, hold their shapes very well and you can even see the little bumps clearly defined (check main feature photo for a closer look). The colours are also vibrant and appetising. Taste wise was awesome! Rich, creamy and sweet.
Such prices can only be found in Japan and is very affordable compared to buying Uni in Singapore. Prices outside of Japan tend to be higher as there’s air freight cost involved. It can easily cost 5 to 10 times more in Singapore, depending on the quality and where you buy them from. That’s why I don’t mind splurging on Uni trays when I’m in Japan.
That’s it for this post. I just wanted to share one of my favourite Japanese foods with you (and drool 😋 over the photos).