Carve that tuna

The emcee initiates the bidding process with the audience!
Every day at noon, visitors to Sakai City can join diners in Daiki Suisan Kaitan Sushi restaurant to witness a demonstration in carving up a Hon Maguro or bluefin tuna.  This is one of the exciting highlights in our Osaka itinerary and while I’m partial to sashimi, I’m a little apprehensive about watching the fish being cut up.  As our coach arrives and parks in front of the fish wholesale market where Daiki Suisan has two restaurants nearby, I don’t have time to mull over it as our group is welcomed and ushered into the Daiki Suisan Kaitan Sushi restaurant.

Guests are seated around a kaitan or conveyor belt, dining on freshly made sushi that they can pick from the moving belt but my eyes are riveted to the bluefin tuna that’s lying lifelessly on a cutting board.  I realise that we arrived just on time.  While the emcee-auctioneer is adjusting his microphone, a master carver is strapping on his gloves to start the carving demo.

Fish Carving

The master carver slicing into the Bluefin tuna
I’m standing behind a crowd, at least three deep away from the kaitan but I still have a clear view of the master carver as he raises his sharp knife to effortlessly slice off the fish’s jaw.  With deft movements of his sharp knife, he removes the skin off the top of the fish head and proceeds to carve out one of the most coveted parts of the fish head – its fleshy cheeks.  The cut pieces are passed to an assistant who quickly puts them in trays and wraps with cling film as the emcee gives a running commentary in Japanese and addresses the audience with an upraised arm.

Members of the audience responding with counter-bids!
When the audience responds with a chorus of Japanese words and similar upraised arms, I notice their pointed fingers and guess they are giving lower counter bids to the auctioneer’s offer price.  As more fish parts are offered, the shouting gets louder as diners and members of the audience join in to call out bids.  Carving a fish is certainly a fine art and I guess I can cope better with watching, probably because the process is bloodless.

I learn that various parts of the tuna are sold separately because each part commands different prices – the most expensive being the fatter portions of the fish – like the Ootoro or belly meat.  It is the norm for sashimi or raw fish connoisseurs to bid for the best deals and get their favourite parts of the fish for their own consumption or for re-sale in their restaurants.  From the enthusiastic bidding for the fish parts, I can see that raw fish lovers know that the best parts of the fish tastes so good that they should never be cooked!

Fish Market

Customers shopping for the choicest fresh seafood
As the bidding for freshly cut fish continues in the Daiki Suisan Kaiten Sushi restaurant, our group moves to the adjacent Daiki Suisan Fish Market for a tour of the wholesale outlet where shoppers can buy home fresh seafood or arrange for the restaurant to prepare and serve the seafood in a meal.  Established as a leading seafood wholesaler, Daiki Suisan has a distinct advantage as a retailer with their consistent supply of fresh products from around the country for their group of restaurants in the Kinki Region.  Its past noon but the market still has a throng of shoppers browsing around in the various sections to buy fresh fish, shell-fish, prawns and snow crabs, pre-cooked seafood as well as packed cooked meals.

Customers can also buy cooked meals here
As I walk around the market to look at the interesting range of seafood, I’m also stealing looks at the shoppers and thinking about the traditional Japanese diet that promotes longer life spans.  The Japanese has the longest life expectancy in the world, averaging 78 years for men and 85 for women, and many Japanese look remarkably young for their age. 
As I watch one of their staff slicing raw fish before arranging them in a pretty fan on a plate, I’m convinced that I should adopt the Japanese eating habit because raw fish retains more nutrients and slows down the aging process! 
Take your pick of fresh cuts of sashimi!
Besides obtaining fresh produce from the sea, I learnt that Daiki Suisan also cultivates tuna to meet the demand for quality seafood.  Looking at all this food in the market is making me hungry and I’m overjoyed when the tour ended with an invitation to dine in the adjacent Daiki Suisan restaurant.  As the first course of appetizers is served, we exchange a polite, “Itadakimasu” the Japanese wish equivalent to Bon Appetite among our group members before tucking into our delightful lunch made with the freshest seafood.

Fast Facts

Sashimi can't get any fresher than platters like these from the fish market!
Fish carving demos are held daily at 12 noon with a second demo session at 6pm on weekends.  Daiki Suisan has two restaurants located close to their Fish Market at Nakamura-cho, Kita-ku, Sakai City, Osaka Prefecture, Japan.  For more info, visit website:

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Life & Times on 16 January 2014

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