The Best Sushi to Eat in the Winter
Eating sushi is something that is on a lot of people's list of things to do in Japan. In recent years a lot of seafood for sushi has become available all-year-round, thanks to developments in fish farming, but some fish still tastes better at certain times of the year. Check out this handy guide on what sushi tastes best this season to make your sushi experience even better!
Oct 31 2018 (Sep 09 2020)
1. Otoro (Hon-Maguro) (大トロ (本まぐろ))
Fatty Tuna of Bluefin Tuna
The most expensive and fattiest cut of tuna, otoro, similarly to other cuts of bluefin tuna, is at its best from October to February. It has a rich flavor thanks to the fat.
2. Chutoro (Hon-maguro) (中トロ(本まぐろ))
Medium Fatty Tuna of Bluefin Tuna
Chutoro has less fat than otoro, and half of each slice is made up of red meat. Enjoy the authentic flavor of tuna, with a combination of the umami (Japanese savory taste) of the red meat and the sweetness of the fat.
3. Akami (Hon-maguro) (赤身 (本まぐろ))
Red Meat of Bluefin Tuna
Not as rich as otoro or chutoro, akami has a slight sourness amidst the umami. Akami of high-grade wild tuna (if you get a chance to try it) is truly superb! This is probably one of the easiest things to try if you are new to sushi.
4. Akami (Mebachi Maguro) (赤身 (めばちまぐろ))
Red Meat of Bigeye Tuna
Fresh cuts of bigeye tuna can be very expensive, while frozen cuts can be sampled at a reasonable price. The akami of bigeye tuna has a mild sourness, rich sweetness from the fat, and a deep umami. Best eaten from October to February.
5. Bincho Maguro (びんちょうまぐろ)
A type of small tuna that has long been used for making canned tuna, albacore tuna has a fatty texture and a distinctive umami. It has become a popular sushi topping in recent years, and can be found in most sushi-go-round restaurants. Available throughout the year, but tastes best in the winter.
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6. Madai (まだい)
Red seabream has little fat, with a mild flavor and aroma. Wild seabream can be extremely expensive, but farmed ones can be sampled at a reasonable price. Best eaten from November to May.
7. Hirame (ひらめ)
A high-grade white fish that is best eaten from September to February, when it becomes fatty and takes on a slight amber hue. It has a refreshing flavor.
8. Engawa (えんがわ)
Olive Flounder Fin
This is an extremely rare cut of fish. It has a crunchy yet fatty texture, with a sweetness from the fat. Because of its rarity, it comes with a high price tag, but you can find engawa at sushi-go-round establishments, where they use fins of other species of fish.
9. Kinmedai (きんめだい)
Splendid alfonsino is a deep-sea fish. Despite its fatty flesh, splendid alfonsino has a surprisingly light flavor and a tender texture that melts away in your mouth. The best time to eat it is December to February.
10. Buri (ぶり)
Widely available in the winter months, Japanese amberjack is considered a type of white fish, despite is reddish appearance. It becomes more white in the winter as its flesh becomes fattier. It has a rich flavor from the fat.
11. Nodoguro (のどぐろ)
Blackthroat seaperch has become to be known as a high-grade fish in recent years. It is sometimes seared before being made into sushi, which melts the fat, giving it a luxurious texture. Tastes best from December to February.
12. Kawahagi (かわはぎ)
Threadsail filefish is available throughout Japan and is one of very few fish used for sushi that can be fished in Tokyo Bay. With a moderate amount of fat, it has a firm and slightly chewy texture with umami that gradually deepens as you chew. Best eaten from June to December.
13. Umazurahagi (うまづらはぎ)
With a similar texture to the threadsail filefish above, the black scraper has a light flavor. It is also valued for its liver, which is what is placed on top of the sushi in the above photograph. Tastes best in the colder months, from October to February.
14. Mejina (めじな)
A winter fish with a delicate pink hued flesh, its skin is sometimes seared to enhance the flavors. It takes on a lot of fat in the winter, giving it a rich sweetness and a pleasantly firm texture.
15. Kamasu (かます)
Barracuda favors warmer waters of the south, and has distinctive sharp teeth. It has a light flavor but plenty of umami. It is in-season in the autumn and early Winter, from October to December.
16. Kasago (かさご)
A small fish that was once a widely available, it is now a rare item. It's best eaten with only a small amount of soy sauce so that you can fully enjoy its delicate flavors. Keep an eye out for it from December to March.
17. Mutsu (むつ)
Although considered a simple ingredient in the past, gnomefish is now known as a high-grade whitefish. The light pink-colored flesh has the perfect amount of fat infused throughout. This tender fish tastes best in the winter, but is not available in many places.
18. Mebaru (めばる)
Japanese rockfish tastes exactly like how you would expect whitefish to taste. The delicate flavor becomes fattier in the winter and spring, which increases the sweetness.
19. Kinki (きんき)
Once a common fish used in kamaboko (fish paste cake), these days kinki is only found in high-class restaurants. The white meat as well and the gelatinous layer just below the skin melt away, leaving a sweet taste in your mouth. Best time to eat it is October to March.
20. Budai (ぶだい)
Parrotfish has a rather humorous appearance. This fish eats mainly seaweed, making its meat less odorous than most. It has a mild flavor and a gently springiness, and is best eaten in the winter.
21. Fugu (ふぐ)
Known for its highly potent poison, pufferfish is a high-grade fish with a distinctive texture, refreshing flavor, and a delicate aftertaste. There are several types species of fugu eaten in Japan, but the torafugu variety is unusual, as its skin, meat, and milt are not poisonous like the other types of fugu. Best eaten in the winter.
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Fish with Iridescent Skin
22. Shimesaba (しめさば)
Mackerel is known to lose its freshness rapidly, so it was always cooked or marinated in vinegar in the past. You can find fresh mackerel these days, but it is more often marinated in vinegar, as it enhances its sweetness and umami, and improves the texture. It is best eaten from September to January.
23. Namasaba (生さば)
Thanks to recent developments in fishery and fish farming, you can now enjoy fresh mackerel all over the country. The farmed fish in particular has a rich flavor. Tastes best in the fall and winter.
24. Nishin (にしん)
Cultivated in Hokkaido, Pacific herring is not widely available as a sushi topping outside of the prefecture. It has a more refreshing flavor compared to other fish with iridescent skin, which tend to have quite a rich, fishy flavor. Often marinated in vinegar, it is in season from November to April.
25. Sawara (さわら)
Japanese Spanish Mackerel
Japanese Spanish mackerel is called by different names depending on how big it is, and sawara refers to fish measuring more than 70cm. It has a mild flavor and a tender texture, making it as popular as tuna in some places. It can be quite pricey, and is best eaten from December to April.
26. Hata-hata (はたはた)
Sailfin sandfish has been used as a sushi topping for a long time. It is usually marinated in vinegar beforehand, and has an elegant and light flavor with a sweet aftertaste. Tastes best from winter to spring.
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Shrimp and Crab
27. Botan-ebi (ぼたんえび)
This is quite a large kind of shrimp with a rich sweetness and springy texture. Sometimes served with the head still attached, it is best eaten in the winter.
28. Ama-ebi (あまえび)
A deep-sea shrimp that is a common sushi topping. It has a sweet flavor, and tastes best in the winter. If you feel okay about eating raw shrimps, this is a nice option.
29. Sakura-ebi (さくらえび)
Sakura shrimp can be served fresh or fried, and the nigiri is usually wrapped in nori. It is often served with ginger and wasabi to enhance its flavor. It has a sweet taste and a tender texture. Its seasons are from April to June and October to December.
30. Taraba-gani (たらばがに)
Red King Crab
This is a large type of crab, measuring 1m in width when it spreads its legs. It has a stronger taste and sweetness than other species of crabs, and has a firm texture. Fresh red king crab is a high-grade sushi topping. Best eaten in November and December.
31. Zuwai-gani (ずわいがに)
Found in cold waters, the queen crab that you see in Japan is often imported. You can usually get it for a reasonable price. It has a smooth texture, and its sweetness is a perfect match for the vinegared rice. Best eaten in the winter.
Squid and Octopus
32. Mongo-ika (もんごういか)
This is a large cuttlefish that is considered a high-grade ingredient in the Kansai region, but relatively unknown in Kanto. With a rich sweetness, it is quite a popular sushi topping. Best season is from October to April.
33. Mizu-dako (みずだこ)
North Pacific Giant Octopus
This is the biggest type of octopus in the world, and can measure up to 3m in length. Unlike the previous octopus, North Pacific giant octopus is often served fresh. It has a soft texture and a sweetness that increases with each bite. It is in season from November to April.
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34. Aka-gai (あかがい)
The top shellfish sushi topping, bloody clam has been popular since a long time ago. It has become a high-grade ingredient in recent years. It has a distinctive ocean-like fragrance and a slightly metallic flavor, which is due to it having hemoglobin in its blood. Best eaten in the colder months.
35. Aoyagi (あおやぎ)
Dubbed "idiot clam", surf clam is found all over Japan. As you take a bite, you will taste a sweetness first, followed by a bitter aftertaste. Best season is from December to May.
36. Hokki-gai (ほっきがい)
Sakhalin Surf Clam
Reaching its peak in winter, Sakhalin surf clam has a smooth texture and a sweet flavor, with an aroma of the ocean. It can be served raw or cooked.
37. Hotate (ほたて)
Because it is widely farmed these days, scallop is available throughout the year at a reasonable price. It is usually served raw, and has a pleasing soft texture and a delicate sweetness. Because of its mild taste and soft texture, it is a good option for trying shellfish sushi for the first time.
38. Taira-gai (たいらがい)
This is a large shellfish that can grow as big as 30cm. Although it looks like scallop, in addition to its sweetness it has an ocean-like aroma and a bitterness, and a texture that could be said is better than scallop. It is a very rare sushi topping that tastes best in the winter.
39. Tsubu-gai (つぶがい)
Popular in Hokkaido and Tohoku region, whelk has a crunchy texture and a slight sweetness. It is in season from December to May.
40. Kaki (かき)
The oysters you see in restaurants are mostly farmed. It is usually served raw at sushi restaurants, accompanied by condiments to bring out its unique flavor. It tastes best in the colder months.
41. Bai-gai (ばいがい)
Finely Striate Buccinum
This shellfish is found deep in the ocean. It is soft in texture, and its sweetness and aroma of the sea go well with the vinegared rice. It is in season in the winter.
42. Honmiru-gai (本みるがい)
A large shellfish, trough shell was a common sushi topping in the past. Some people find its strong flavors overpowering, while others love it. It has a firm texture distinct to shellfish. Best time to try it is from December to May.
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43. Tarako (たらこ)
Because it goes amazingly well with rice, cod roe has been gaining popularity in recent years as a sushi topping. It is marinated in salt, and is a good option for someone trying fish roe for the first time, as the texture is relatively smooth. Available all year, but considered to be in-season in the winter.
44. Shishamokko (ししゃもっこ)
With a similar texture to flying fish roe, capelin roe is marinated in either salt or soy sauce. Best time to try it is from October to December.
45. Shirako (白子)
This is one for the adventurous. Seminal fluid of cod is usually the milt of choice at sushi restaurants. It is popular for its smooth texture. It is at its best in the winter.
46. Shira-uo (しらうお)
Not a common sushi topping, icefish is small fish measuring around 10cm in length. It has a bit of a bitter taste, so it is often served with ginger and other condiments. It has a soft and smooth texture. Best time to eat it is November to March.
Check out the article below for our full list of sushi toppings.
Eating sushi in Japan is a completely different experience from what it's like in other parts of the world, with a wider selection of toppings available. With this guide, there's no need to get flustered by the sheer number of fish on the menu at a sushi restaurant. Simply scroll through the list and see what seasonal favorites catch your eye!
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.