Love At First Bite: Exploring Japan's Exotic Tuna Eyeball Snack
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Japan is a land of many culinary delights. From the complex and delicate flavors of traditional Japanese cuisine to the creative and vibrant dishes of modern Japanese cuisine, there is something for everyone. But one of the most unique and intriguing dishes is the tuna eyeball snack. It's not uncommon to find these peculiar packages in Japanese shops, seemingly "watching" you through large fish eyes.

In this article, we'll talk about the history of eating tuna eyeballs in Japan, the perceived aphrodisiacal and other health benefits of eating them, and what it's like to eat a tuna eyeball snack in Japan.

Introduction to Japan’s Tuna Eyeball Snack

Tuna eyeballs, or "Maguro no Medama," are a popular snack in Japan and are boiled and served with a light soy sauce. They are usually served as an appetizer or a snack and can often be found in izakayas (Japanese "after-work pubs") and seafood restaurants. Izakayas, which mean "stay-drink-place," are casual places to get a drink and relax that often serve these eyeballs as appetizers. You can try tuna eyes already prepared in a variety of ways, such as fried, stewed, or lightly steamed.

Not only do they offer the gourmet dish in a variety of preparations, including sautéed and braised, but even in cocktail form, called "Tuna's Tears."

History of Eating Tuna Eyeballs in Japan

Tuna eyeballs have been eaten in Japan for centuries, as people in Japan relied on the sea for their food and used every part of the fish they caught. The practice dates back to the Edo period (1603–1868). During this time, tuna eyeballs were eaten as part of a traditional fish meal and served with soy sauce, and the custom of eating them has been passed down through generations.

Today, tuna eyeballs are most popular in coastal regions, where fresh tuna is readily available. It is usually served as an appetizer or a snack in seafood restaurants and izakayas. It's a popular item in Japan and is gaining attention around the world.

There are a few possible reasons why people in Japan eat tuna eyeballs, apart from believing in their aphrodisiacal properties:

    Nutritional value: Tuna eyeballs are a good source of protein, vitamins, and minerals.

    Taste: Some people in Japan enjoy the taste of tuna eyeballs, which are usually boiled or grilled and then seasoned with soy sauce or other condiments.

    Availability: Tuna is a common fish in Japan, and tuna eyeballs are a readily available and inexpensive source of protein.

    Tradition: Eating tuna eyeballs is a traditional practice in Japan, and some people may continue to do so out of cultural or personal preference.

The Health Benefits of Eating Tuna Eyeballs

Tuna eyeballs, like most seafood, are healthy snacks that are high in protein and low in calories. They are also a good source of iron, calcium, and vitamins A and C, as well as an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which can help reduce inflammation and improve heart health.

Also, tuna is the best place to get selenium, a nutrient that is important for the thyroid to work well.

Tuna eyeballs are also a great source of antioxidants and can help protect the body from free radical damage, which can lead to chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease. Lastly, eating tuna eyeballs can help boost the immune system.

Is the tuna eyeball snack an aphrodisiac?

There is a popular belief in Japan that eating tuna eyeballs can be an aphrodisiac, which is justified based on the fact that tuna eyeballs are high in amino acids, which are important for sexual arousal. Additionally, tuna eyeballs are high in zinc, which is important for sexual health.

Although there is no scientific evidence to support the claim that tuna eyeballs are an aphrodisiac, it is still a popular belief in Japan. For some, eating the snack is a way to experience a unique culinary experience and may even have some aphrodisiac effects.

How are tuna eyes cooked and eaten?

The fleshy eyeballs, about the size of a tennis ball, are a delicacy in Japan and are prepared by chefs as appetizers and bar snacks. The sclera is the tough outer layer of the eye that protects the lens, iris, and gelatinous fluid within. Cooking makes the sclera too chewy to eat, but the contents of the eye become soft and can be sucked out like bone marrow.

In Asian cuisine, eyeballs are typically prepared by sautéing them in sesame oil and ginger or lightly braising them in a soy sauce and mirin mixture. The eyes themselves have a mild flavor, with some people comparing them to squid, mussels, or a hard-boiled egg.

Popular Tuna Eyeball Dishes in Japan

While tuna eyeballs are popular in Japan, they can also be used in salads, soups, and even sushi.

Tuna-eye dishes are served in many restaurants in Japan and the rest of East Asia. The most common way to cook it is to boil it in water and add soy sauce, sugar, mirin (a rice wine similar to sake), or sake to taste.

Tuna eyeballs can also be grilled or fried. Grilled tuna eyeballs are often served with a light soy sauce or teriyaki sauce. Fried tuna eyeballs are often served with a spicy mayo sauce.

Aphrodisiac or not, nowadays, izakayas serving tuna eyeballs are common. The cooked eyeballs are typically served as an appetizer for a larger meal.

So, if you're feeling particularly daring on your next visit to Japan, you can visit one of the restaurants located near the Naha seafood market in Okinawa and watch as the chefs prepare this unique dish before your very eyes (no pun intended). Be sure to chase it down with a shot of "Tuna's Tears" while you're at it. As an alternative, you can inquire about them at select sushi bars. Kanpai!