A Taste of Tuna

Think of the last time you ate tuna.  Perhaps it was from a can – Chicken of the Sea? – and swathed in mayonnaise globs.  Maybe you dabbed a bit on a Carr’s cracker, or sandwiched it between slices of rye.   Or, instead, you a sucked down a smooth rectangle of sashimi, or ate it in a roll wrapped with rice and nori.

Now, think of an actual tuna fish.  What comes to mind?  …anything?

Picture this:  A rotund, four-feet long specimen with black and silver scales.  Tiny, yellowish triangular fins that jut out in a long line.  And a thick tail that’s bigger than the size of your head.  Behold the tuna.

At least, this was the tuna I saw last Saturday at Little Tokyo’s Woori Market during its weekly “tuna cutting performance.”   When a sizable crowd of mostly Asian and Asian American families had gathered, a chef with furrowed eyebrows leaned in to make a single long cut across the tuna’s belly.  The onlookers sucked in their breath.  Then the chefs started doling out small, glistening chunks of raw tuna.  People accepted eagerly, dipping the pieces into soy sauce before popping them into their mouths.  Meanwhile, a store employee spoke in Korean with a megaphone.  Occasionally, he would switch into English, exclaiming “amazing fresh tuna!”

No one was fazed by the sight of an enormous gutted fish, blood still oozing out of its crevices, lying on a folding table in an aisle adjacent to the pumpkins and cabbages.  Teenagers grabbed their camera-phones and started clicking away.  Toddlers hoisted on their dad’s shoulders peered – and tried to poke – with curiosity.  Mothers grinned with delight while savoring the fresh tuna taste.  I too, happily sampled a piece of the great fish.

Later, at the Japanese restaurant where I work, I told the sushi chef about my great discovery.  “Hisa-san!  I saw a tuna fish today!  It was four-feet long!”  I thought he would be impressed.  Instead, he merely nodded curtly and continuing chopping a hunk of salmon.

For many, and not just sushi chefs, it’s not so unusual to be familiar with the source of one’s food.  Think of the world’s farmers and fishers, for instance.  For typical Americans, though, it’s nearly unheard of.  I’m not sure if I really want to know where all my food comes from.  But the sight of that tuna with its belly sliced open filled me with awe and respect.  I will never eat tuna – whether from a sushi bar or can – the same way again.


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