In Japan, whale tongue is a disappearing delicacy.
Literally translated, the Japanese word saezuri means the chirping sound made by birds. This delightful definition has also led to the word’s application in the culinary world, where saezuri refers to a dish made of whale’s tongue. According to one account, the cooked tongue received its melodious name when a chef, biting into the fatty stewed meat, declared that eating it sounded like birds chirping.
Though the provision allowing Japanese whaling is much-debated as a questionable loophole for commercial whalers, saezuri is made from the legal “scientific whaling” of minke whales, which are not endangered. Saezuri may have begun as a way for whalers to use every part of the animal, but because whale consumption is on the wane, the tongue is relatively rarely eaten today. It can be found in oden shops, where an array of fish, meat, soy, and vegetable products stew in huge pots of miso-flavored broths (mingling their flavors but separated by partitions). Cooks usually simmer the tongue for hours until it has a deep, luxurious flavor and melt-in-your-mouth texture. Plucked from the broth and served sliced or folded and skewered in yakitori-like fashion, saezuri is often paired with koro, a skin-on, spongy-textured whale meat. Diners can wash them both down with hot or cold sake.
Where to Try It
Takoume BuntenKakudacho, 9−25 , Kita, Osaka, 530-0017, Japan
This 170-year-old restaurant may have been one of the first to serve saezuri.