if you were to wander into one of the estimated 46,000 convenience stores in japan, you would eventually come upon a section of the refrigerated shelving designated for rice balls. some of them contain extravagent ingredients, like spiced cod roe, chopped green onions, and fresh wasabi. others are decidedly non-japanese in flavor, such as the surreptitiously bright yellow dry curry rice balls.
but no matter where you go, regardless of whether you are in a 7-11, familymart, circle k, daily yamazaki, or lawson, you will undoubtedly find a rice ball labeled “sea chicken.”
it contains, as you might guess, a 1:1 mixture of tuna and mayonnaise. they are the cheapest for a reason. namely, because they are just awful.
sea chicken, also known as tsuna-sarada , is one of the only culinary sensations in japan that i just can’t seem to get into. and while i don’t really care for it much, i don’t think it should be eliminated from the culinary landscape of japan or anything. i’m not going to spend this post talking about the health ramifications of eating foods which are comprised of literally 50% mayonnaise (which should be obvious). nor will i waste it making an argument for why other rice balls/sushi plates are far superior (even though they are).
instead, i’m going to spend this post talking about the profound cultural and linguistic influence sea chicken.
yes, you read that right.
at the beginning of every english class, i pick randomly choose three questions my students know, write them on the board, and allow them to walk about the class asking as many of their friends as possible in four minutes. almost two years ago, during one such session of the “today’s conversation game,” i asked a 5th grade student of mine what his favorite salad was. without a moment’s hesitation, he candidly replied with the words “corn salad.”
when i heard “corn salad,” the first thing that came to mind was something akin to a corn salsa. kernels of corn, maybe some diced onion, probably some black beans, a few sprigs of cilantro, and a little salt. every tex-mex restaurant in the united states has some variation on that theme, and i was impressed with the novelty of his answer.
so, like an idiot, i followed up and asked him, “why?”
again, without hesitation or regret, he responded, “because i like mayo.”
and in that single second, he had turned the tables on me. i was shocked and confused. as soon as he justified his answer, i honestly had no clue what food he was talking about. i give him a weak “oh wow, good job,” and moved on with the lesson in an effort to disguise how discombobulated i was. but at the end of the day, i couldn’t forgive myself for not knowing. i bit the bullet and asked a fellow teacher what corn salad was. he gave me the most straight forward answer you could imagine.
he said the word “corn,” and mimed opening a can and pouring its contents into a bowl. then, while holding his imaginary bowl of corn in his left hand, he held his right hand as if it were grasping something. he said the word “mayo,” pointed his right hand towards the bowl, and made a farty noise with his mouth for five seconds. then he mimed stirring. he concluded by victoriously proclaiming, “finish.”
and i died a little bit inside.
- 1 large can of tuna
- 4 split, toasted rolls
- 2 stalks of celery
- 4 cloves of garlic
- a thumb of fresh ginger
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 7 or 8 stalks of green onion
- plain yogurt
- half a small white onion
- 2 tbsp sesame seeds
- 1 tsp black pepper
- salt to taste
- one cucumber
- baby leaf spinach
- use a rubber band to suspend a coffee filter over a tall cup. spoon the filter full of yogurt, add a tiny bit of salt, stir once or twice, and let it sit. you should be able to see the whey slowly dripping into the cup.
- peel the garlic and ginger, then finely mince them. put the sesame oil into a frying pan, bring the pan to medium high heat, and add the garlic and ginger. saute until the garlic and ginger are fragrant and a little soft, then set them aside in a bowl and pop them in the fridge to chill.
- after about 90 to 120 minutes, start assembling your salad.
- finely chop the green onions, white onions, and celery.
- combine the veggies (including the garlic and ginger), tuna, black pepper, sesame seeds, and tuna. the yogurt should be very thick by now, almost sour cream-like in texture. spoon in enough yogurt to reach your desired consistency.
- add salt to taste.
- julienne the cucumber. add a few leaves of spinach, some julienned cucumber, and a spoonful or two of tuna salad to each roll.
- enjoy sea chicken, guilt free.