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Salted/cured/dried fish roe goodness: bottarga vs 烏魚子 vs karasumi vs Myeongran vs mentaiko vs kazunoko

One thing I've recently discovered the Taiwanese and the Sardinians have in common is the food item of dried cured mullet roe. There's bottarga in Sardinia (as seen by Anthony Bourdain on No Reservations, where it's grated over pasta, like bucatini).

On the other side of the globe in Taiwan, wuyuzi, or 烏魚子 (also a type of mullet roe) is a local delicious delicacy can can go beyond a hundred bucks a box. The Japanese version is known as Karasumi and somehow looks virtually identical (or perhaps 烏魚子 is an influence from the Japanese occupied era in Taiwan post WWII). As far as I know they don't shave this stuff over noodles like in Sardinia (perhaps someone can prove me wrong).
I recently enjoyed this at a friend's place where it was served just lightly pan fried, then sandwiched inbetween small thin slices of raw daikon and garlic bulb stems (very delicious). For those who have access to this stuff (consider yourselves very lucky if you get it direct from Taiwan), how do you enjoy them at home? Also I hear you can bring this across customs as it is not considered a meat product (a few daring have even vaccuum packed fish and got away with it, but then again many are scared even trying to bring back blocks of dried cured bonito whole fish "blocks" for shaving).

Kazunoko is a different beast, a delicious new year's delicacy that's either enjoyed at the sushi bar, or embedded with saba (mackeral) which I only discovered at a Japanese food buffet in Taipei a few years ago.

Myeongran I only know about through wikipedia links. How are these normally served?

Mentaiko is not part of the category theoretically although some say it's derived from myeongran, especially the spicy version karashi mentaiko that's superb when stir fried with squid (or just served raw together).

Totally unrelated, but in Hong Kong, they add dried shrimp roe, sprinkled over brothless plate of egg noodles (lo mein), tossed with a little lard to give it smoothness, and some serve broth on the side to dip/drink. Like a pseudo bottarga bucatini I suppose.

Either way, they're all salted/cured/dried fishy eggy goodness.

How do you like yours?

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  1. if you like kazunoko, you might also like komochi konbu, which is sea kelp with herring's egg roe.
    i fount it tastier than regular kazunoko.

    the word mendai is a russian word for the alaska pollock.
    in northern japan, there is a dried alaska pollock called mintai, which was derived from russian word. just like ikura, which is also russian word for fish eggs.
    i like karashi mentaiko onigiri. simple and good.

    as for karasumi, it is eaten just like bottarga. some people call them italian karasumi because they just cannot speak italian.

    9 Replies
    1. re: yumyumyumyum

      How is karasumi served in Japan? Do they eat them as is, or grilled/baked/pan fried first? Shaved over starch like bottarga?

      Komochi konbu looks great, I hope to try it sometime. I've only had karashi mentaiko and tarako (cod roe), also good in onigiri.

      1. re: K K

        karasumi is served in pasta, in sandwich (with cream cheese). just the way you serve bottarga.
        traditionally they ate it as is or grilled on hibachi to go with sake but lately, italian way of eating is more popular, i guess. yes, shaved and tossed on pasta just like tarako spaghetti. (actually tarako spaghetti is a bit more creamy.)

        it is interesting that you mention that there are many common foods (or delicacies) in Taiwan and Italy. how about palette wise? i am curious because i was thinking (it may be too much to say but) italian and japanese have the same palette, such as saltiness and tartness. for example, lemon and vinegar are often used in italian and yuzu (or kabosu) and rice vinegar in japan. (japanese like vinaigrette.) also, basil is like shiso, etc. both like cili peppers but not too much. I am way simplifying but you get the idea.
        how do you describe Taiwanese palette? i am guessing it is just diverse.

        1. re: yumyumyumyum

          I completely forgot about the application of fish eggs in wafu pasta! I do recall having some sake marinated kazunoko nigiri one new year's eve a while back one time and it surprised me.

          The wuyuzi/karasumi and bottarga is the only similarity I can think of right now in terms of having a parallel type of food product. I think Taiwan and Japan have a lot more in common than Sardinia/Italy vs Taiwan. Can't really describe the Taiwanese palette as it is quite diverse as you guessed, and the Japanese influence is also very deep rooted even post WWII occupation. There's excellent Japanese food in Taiwan all over, even hybrid kaiseki to fusion to Okinawan izakaya, strong tea culture, onsen (perhaps not as lavish as in Japan) and of course local takes using seasonal ingredients (eating "shun" as you would say). While the Taiwanese "wu mei" is virtually identical to Japanese ume, that is also used for making wine, vinegar, dessert soup/drink that's quite excellent, and in some cooking, the citrus component is not as widespread or as popular as say yuzu, sudachi, or kabosu (they have the kumquat which can be a bit too strong, for drinks usually paired with green lemons/limes), although those Japanese fruits can be purchased in Taiwan on occassion(I saw Japanese mikan in bags at a few supermarkets).

          Eastern Taiwan has a katsuoboshi making factory (and off the coast of Hualien where they catch katsuo). Southern Taiwan is where they catch bluefin (kuro maguro) during the mid summer months as they migrate though that area, and lately the prices have gone up like mad. There are mackeral (farms?) and unagi farms to the west (the unagi is sold exported to Japan where it is probably more delicious and a bit safer to eat than the ones from China). Night market food....you'll find some stalls that will sell their versions of takoyaki, dorayaki, taiyaki, cuttlefish skewers.

          This might just need its own thread.

          1. re: K K

            i am not an expert on taiwanese (i wish i was though) but let me tell my experience.
            i had a really good taiwanese bbq before. it was a soysauce (not so strong) based flavor but well balanced and definitely taiwanese (i meant not japanese or chinese). maybe it was due to some special spices along with garlic?
            so i thought taiwanese is generally well balanced flavor with lots of different spices and not crazy spicy like south east asia or some part of china. (japan also has spicy spices such as chili pepper and sansho but does not use too much of them.) also in breakfast, they have either okayu or simple noodle. so maybe they can also take something so simple and blunt?
            i liked eating taiwanese food because it got more complex flavor than japanese and tasty and comforting.

            1. re: yumyumyumyum

              Are you referring to the BBQ like grilled pork chop or chicken in the Taiwanese style bento or combo meals? Or the night market black pork sausage on stick with raw garlic? The marination for the chicken/pork is mostly soy sauce, ginger, scallion, garlic, some spices, but yes can be quite addictive (even the fried versions).

              Especially good are the styles of bentos sold at train stations (or those who try to emulate that flavor), maybe in the vein or inspiration of eki-bento...

              There is also a niche of BBQ that is parallel to Korean BBQ or yakiniku (widely available in town, and also offered as an alternate type of izakaya, where you sit at the counter and get your own personal grill, where it goes beyond beef tongue / tan shio, and you can do baby lobster, pig intestines). Lots of good stuff.

              Last time I visited, I saw a Japanese cable TV show (subtitled in Chinese), Japanese host was doing a food tour of central Taiwan night market, eating up the local delicacies. He ordered in Mandarin and made his way around like a pro.

              1. re: K K

                i was invited to the bbq that my Taiwanese friends were doing. it was chicken bbq and as you said it was marinaded with soy sauce, ginger, scallion, garlic, some spices. and yes, they were addictive.

                yesterday, i just read a book on taiwan street food and all looked so good. so many kinds of buns, noodles and snacks. i really want to go there now.

                btw, have you ever tried fugu's eggs? especially chaduke style?
                fugu's eggs are basically poison. but if it is put in nuka for a few years, it becomes delicacy. it is kind of miracle.
                i have not tried myself though...
                maybe you can try if you are brave enough...:)
                here is some info but it is only in japanese but i think you would get the idea.

            2. re: K K

              lemon cream pasta sounds really good...

          2. re: K K

            I was reading the comments. I was born and raised in Japan. In Japan, TRADITIONALLY, we do NOT use karasumi for pasta, sandwich, Nowadays, people think of karasumi as bottarga, maybe some people do use it for pasta or sandwich. But, the ones made in Japan are very expensive and precious, people enjoy that as it is. Slice it thinly and served as hors doeuvres, mainly the snack for sake. Sometimes, we grate it and mix with rice vinegar and make some type of salad dressing, but it's very rare. The texture of karasumi is very different from Bottarga and is even different from wuyuzi.

            1. re: thebirdie

              What is the name of the fish typically used to make karasumi in Japan?

        2. I like 烏魚子. That is about all I have to say. I also like shrimp roe, but I threw out my last ditch and now I have problem buying a new batch.

          1. Nice topic with all this umami goodness. Your post gives me new ideas for internet shopping and gifts to request.

            I have been mostly satisfying my fish/shrimp roe cravings from more available sources like ikura, fresh seafood, dried shrimp roe and caviar (occasionally).

            Have only recently tried bottarga for the first time, and was hooked. I only had a limited quantity and so did not want to muddle the taste with excessive ingredients. It worked well thinly sliced on angel hair pasta with just a bit of olive oil, lemon rind and juice (especially to cut the slight metallic taste). I also liked it on pasta with some lemon cream sauce, and squid ink pasta made it even prettier. It also makes a nice appetizer with beer or cold cider, especially with rye toast and butter

            Karashi mentaiko onigiri or just on rice, for comfort food.

            In fact, a lot of dried shrimp roe on egg noodles, with chopped green onion and dressed with lard and XO sauce (which also contains shrimp roe), also makes for good comfort food.

            1. 烏魚子 is terrific in Taiwanese rice rolls, congee or as "sandwich meat" between two slices of pan-fried mantou. Also great just sliced and garnished with toasted peanuts and scallions and, of course, accompanied by a cold Tsingtao.

              2 Replies
              1. re: ipsedixit

                My dinner hosts broke out some French red wine with the wu yu zi (but we also had other things). Either way, it's an excuse to drink!

                The pan fried mantou sounds great, almost yaki onigiri like.

                Some great ideas so far on this thread, keep em coming!

                1. re: K K

                  "The pan fried mantou sounds great, almost yaki onigiri like."

                  That got me thinking maybe I should make a wu yu zi musubi ...

              2. I grew up eating Myongran Jeot at home and it's one of my favorite Korean sides...it's typically eaten straight up as an accompanyment to rice, and I've never seen it prepared any other way than straight up maybe with a drizzle of sesame oil.

                I've only had mentaiko once, and it was the spicy kind which tastes basically the same as every myongran jeot I've ever had.

                It's not roe, but my favorite jeot is Changran Jeot - which is made from fish guts. So delicious!

                2 Replies
                1. re: joonjoon

                  Seconding the changran jeot!

                  I remember my mother mixing myeongran jeot and scallions into the egg mixture for gyeran jjim once in a while...

                  1. re: sukekiyo

                    Oh man that sounds awesome...I think I'm going to try that the next time I make gyeran jjim! Drool...

                2. 烏魚子 is the exact same thing as karasumi. In fact, I've seen packaging with the word karasumi right on the box next to the Chinese lettering.

                  We always have tons of 烏魚子 at home. Parents never buy it, always get it as gifts from people visiting from Taiwan. It's a popular "omiyage" for travelers.

                  My dad either pops it into the toaster oven to broil it or just pan frys it a bit. I think I've seen him soak it in some rice wine first. Served sliced with slices of raw garlic and we just eat it with dinner like any other dish.

                  I think the good karasumi is supposed to be moist inside, but I tend to prefer the drier ones since they don't stick all over your teeth.

                  I've seen stands selling karasumi slices at night markets in Taiwan before, but it was crazy expensive compared to every other food item sold on the street.

                  1. I totally love roe cooked in the fish, which I've only had a couple of times, including fried pregnant smelts/shisamo.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: limster

                      Those are one of my favorite snacks evearrrr!!!

                    2. Hey K K

                      Do you have a favorite, or preferred, brand of 烏魚子or mullet roe in Taiwan?

                      I've got someone who is willing to bring some back to the States for me. She's headed to 興達黃昏漁市 .... Is there a vendor there you can recommend?


                      13 Replies
                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        Yo ipse,

                        Is that in Kaohsiung? Not an area I'm familiar with, sorry. However it appears to be the birthplace if not capital of 烏魚子 so you should be already set. Looks like people visting that fish market get them grilled or roasted on a stick and eat like lollipops. Maybe your friend can sample the ones she likes best before buying?

                        Maybe you want to ask your friend to bring over some salted cured mullet liver 烏胗 as well...


                        If she's daring, have her vacuum pack some local seafood, freeze it, and bring it over for a feast.

                        This source says that the darker the mullet roe, the more expensive it is


                        1. re: ipsedixit

                          Stumbled upon this mail order link by accident (not sure if they ship to the US)


                          Your friend might want to look for mullet roe sourced to wild mullet. It will be a bit of a premium like the above link, which is a little less than US$30 a box.

                          The link below also has some really interesting information. For those that can't read Chinese, basically it says that the Taiwanese mullet roe traces its origins back to Nagasaki (Japan) circa 400 to 500 years ago. The article claims that the Japanese view mullet roe, goose liver (pate?) and fish eggs (the word after that is jam or paste) as the ultimate delicacies as valuable as precious gems.

                          The wild mullets apparently migrate from off the coast of Kyushu Japan and arrive in the waters off Taiwan within 10 days of 12/22 to spawn, then swim back to Japan. (and if this is the case, curious where the Japanese get the roe to make karasumi?)

                          1. re: K K

                            Thanks K K.

                            I have heard that one has to be careful in buying wild mullet roe because some of it can be processed and imported from China. But, yes, wild mullet roe caught and processed in Taiwan generally commands the highest price premiums -- esp. deep-sea mullets.

                            1. re: ipsedixit

                              Yes definitely, and there's always shady vendors willing to make a fast buck at someone else's expense (hence the nickname "black shops"). For all we know that info in the mail order link could be partly true, but it makes for great reading either way.

                              1. re: K K

                                It's arrived!!!

                                Now, I just have to figure out if it made the trans pacific journey ok without being in the deep-freeze ...

                                Pic below.

                                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                    With some funds, persistence, and communication, you can go to yahoo taiwan auction site and bid on mullet roes. The trick is finding a vendor who will ship to the US and you don't end up paying arm and a leg...


                                    1. re: K K

                                      I've heard that "mullet maws" can be even more expensive than the roe.

                                      1. re: K K

                                        I feel bad because I didn't buy it last year when I went to Taiwan. They have a lot of these displayed in the airport stores as well. I know it is more expensive to buy them at the airport, but I so wanted to buy them. I just was not sure if I am allowed to get them through the US custom, you know.

                                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                          My friends seem to think "why shouldn't we be able to bring mullet roes back? It's not meat!". The truth? I don't know for sure.

                                    2. re: ipsedixit


                                      Looks vacuum sealed? You should be ok for a week in a dry cool place, a month in the refrig to upwards of a year in major deep freeze, assuming that mail order website's recommendations are legit.

                                      1. re: K K

                                        No, it's not vacuum sealed unfortunately. It was packaged fresh from the vendors from what I am told.

                                        It's sealed pretty tight and was transported in one those portable cooler/lunchbox things. So we'll see.

                                        1. re: K K

                                          Well, I can happily report that it made the 16 hour journey without damage.

                                          And, I can also report that sliced thin, quickly grilled, it goes great as a substitute for ham/canadian bacon in Eggs Benedict. For some reason, the runny yolks really bring out the brininess of the mullet.

                                          Oh, and no hollandaise sauce, rather it was a ketchup and Sriracha blend with some diced garlic and chopped tomatoes.