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Uni at the Hollywood Farmers Market

At the very south end of the Sunday Hollywood Farmers Market is a stand selling whole fish, crab, lobsters and live sea urchins. The urchins are submerged in buckets of water. Given that I love uni, I had looked longingly at this Santa Barbara based stand for a while, but never worked up the nerve to order something, not knowing exactly what I'd do with a whole sea urchin.

On a recent trip though, the guys behind the counter told me that for $7 I could get an urchin, and they would crack the thing open right there for me so that I could eat the precious uni. I paid, and they cracked. The urchin they handed me was still alive, its spines moving creepily as I held it with a paper towel. They didn't offer any plasticware (a spoon would have been handy) so I just stood there, scooping uni out with my hand and feeding my face, all the while drawing a crowd of curious onlookers.

The uni in my urchin was pretty sparse (it's a bit of a crapshoot because every urchin is different), but what was there was phenomenal; it was rich and buttery...the foie gras of the ocean. Tasting uni right out of the urchin definitely will make it harder for me to enjoy anything but the very freshest the next time I'm at a sushi bar. If you're looking for a fun experience and some great uni, give it a go.


Hollywood Farmers Market
1600 Ivar Avenue, Los Angeles, CA

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  1. wow, sounds awesome.

    1. you can do the same thing for $7 at masan....or you can get it mixed with rice and ggim or seaweed....clean and still moving

      1. God this makes me hungry. The first time I ever had uni, it was out of such a cracked shell, just harvested, handed to me by a diver/guide on flat-bottomed boat tour in Hawaii. He offered some to the whole boat, told them it was a "japanese delicacy" and everybody else refused. God, it was a gorgeous taste. I can remember it perfectly still, 15 years later...

        1. The guy behind the counter was John Wilson, he's been written up in a few publications and takes a lot of pride in his craft. He fishes up in Santa Barbara on brings the day's catch to the Hollywood Farmers Market. The SB uni is great there, especially at more than half the cost of a restaurant. Granted at a restaurant you get a spoon.


          Hollywood Farmers Market
          1600 Ivar Avenue, Los Angeles, CA

          1. nothing like fresh uni. You can also get it at the fish store @ Hermosa Pier; with a spoon

            1. My first taste of uni, other than for sushi, was at Le Bernadin, where it was served in its shell as a soup, It had been smoothed (blended) and fortified with butter - rich beyond belief, but oh so good.

              When sailing in the Cyclades, we were halted because of the strong winds for 4 days on Sifnos. We found lots to do, one of them was diviing for sea urchins and having them at cocktail hour. Yum!

              1. I've seen uni cracked open with a hammer and an ice pick when I was in elementary school; and like you said, the spines were moving. I know it's a delicacy, but I was so horrified that I've never been able to consume it. Maybe it's time I get myself to the HFM and give it a go.

                3 Replies
                1. re: OCAnn

                  it's in fact much easier to open urchins with a pair of scissors. I had one urchin from the Hollywood's farmers market guy, and while very good, I thought it wasn't as good as Mediterranean urchins, which are much smaller but pack much more flavor.

                  You can also buy oysters from Carlsbad at the market, and make a meal of oysters and urchins to take back home.

                  1. re: bad nono

                    Where can you get Mediterranean urchin in LA?

                    1. re: albatruffles

                      No idea - I don't think they'd be fresh enough, would they? That's the problem with urchin, you want them as fresh out of the sea as possible. But if you ever go to Greece, Corsica, etc. just make sure to have the small urchins. Uni will never taste the same to you.

                2. Thanks for this tip! I walked right by them last week because I didn't want crab but I had no idea they had uni-my favorite!

                  I've heard about the wriggling and I've always been a little afraid. It didn't bother you?

                  1. You can get the same plus many more options at Quality Seafood on the Redondo Beach boardwalk. Truly, this is the place to go. Outstanding live seafood prepared to order while you wait. Make your selections from the live seafood tanks filled with over 50 types of lobsters, crab, oysters, clams, mussels, sea urchin, other mollusks, fish and shrimp in a laid back, open air setting by the ocean. The live Santa Barbara uni is absolutely delicious at $6.95 per (w/plate, spoon & napkins). Call first to check for availability before making the drive.

                    Quality Seafood
                    130 S. International Boardwalk
                    Redondo Beach, CA 90277
                    (310) 372-6408


                    Quality Seafood
                    130 International Boardwalk, Redondo Beach, CA

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: degustateur

                      When I moved to California in '75, I lived in Venice and would ride my bike down there once a week to have soft-shell steamer clams. Did that for 10 years until I moved to Silver Lake.

                      By '85, Venice Beach was a hell-hole, and the water was unfit to swim in, not to mention the filth on the sand. I'd watch the big tractor beach rakes rake up the debris in the early morning, only to take it to the water's edge so it could recirculate - called the mayor's office, supervisors - councilmen - NADA. I moved.

                      1. re: degustateur

                        the uni at Redondo beach I had was pretty gross. Though it was live, it was not cleaned very well and had all the "fishness" that make people hate uni

                        1. re: peppermonkey

                          Confused by what you mean "....it was not cleaned very well .."

                          Did you expect the inside to be scrubbed, and the uni reinserted?

                          1. re: toitoi

                            no of course not but it was still "bloody" with pieces of "shell" and other things...hard to describe

                      2. i bought some uni from the same stand a couple weeks ago. it was outstanding - fresh, clean, and sweet flavor. we ate some raw and then blended the rest with butter, tossed it with fresh pasta and topped it with caviar. john is really great and will tell you everything you need to know about fish. this week we tried his halibut, filleted fresh off the whole fish. it was delicious and $6 less per pound than the other fish lady.

                        as for uni in sushi restaurants, my favorite spot - sushi central in palms - uses local west coast uni and its the best i've ever had.

                        1. I can't wait to try this out as a huge Uni lover. Although I'm a huge fan of both uni and the Hungry Cat, I've always been disappointed when I've ordered it in shell there. It's never been even close in flavor to uni ordered at a solid sushi restaurant.

                          I can imagine that it's best during the cooler months- does anyone who frequents the stand year round have any comment on the best season?

                          The Hungry Cat
                          1535 Vine St, Los Angeles, CA 90028

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: LATrapp

                            Totally agree about the uni at Hungry Cat - very disappointed when I had it. Only one time, and never again there.

                            The Hungry Cat
                            1535 Vine St, Los Angeles, CA 90028

                          2. All you ever wanted to know about sea urchins with pics.