The Humble and Rustic Himono

Japan is an island nation, so fish has been an abundant staple in the Japanese diet for hundreds of years. According to early documents, nobility from the Heian period had fish and vegetables as their typical meal. Banquet settings during that time consisted of common fare food such as rice, soup, and condiments such as salt, vinegar, hishio (fermented soybeans), and dried fish called himono.

14968705320_79484a305b_zThe Japanese custom of drying fish under the sun can be traced back to the Nara period (710–784). The Shosoin storehouse documents mention that early people dried small whole fish (an early form of himono) and offered them to the gods. The Honcho Shokkan, an illustrated anthology of food published in 1697, recorded the catching and drying of horse mackerel during the Edo period.

Himono. | halfrain

Before the invention of the ice box, electricity, and the refrigerator, drying and salting fish was a common method of preservation. The innards of the fish were removed, and the flesh was then salted and dried under the sun. This way, the fish would keep longer without spoiling. The fish was grilled over a hot flame before being served. This made a simple, cheap,  yet delicious meal. Nowadays, himono is still very much a Japanese staple and is often served at breakfast with steamed rice and fermented soybeans called natto.

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There are two types of himono: maru-boshi are dried fish in their whole and original shape, and hiraki  are cut open (butterfly style) before drying. There are several advantages in salting fish before drying it—proteins in the fish are not as easily broken down by enzymes, there are more taste compounds such as inosinic acid and amino acids present in the preserved fish, and fish can keep longer. Himono can be easily prepared at home without any special equipment. It is a frugal and healthy way to enjoy fish for a healthier lifestyle.

Hiraki. | tokyofoodcast.com

How to prepare himono:

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  • Butterfly the underside of a fresh fish.
  • Remove the innards and wash the fish well.
  • Pat the fish dry with a paper napkin.
  • Sprinkle salt all over the fish or, if you prefer, make an evenly distributed salt brine with 1 part salt to 5 parts water.
  • If you used salt and water to salt the fish, drain it first before drying under the sun.
  • Dry the fish under the sun until the surface of the fish is dry.

Himono lunch. | Hajime NAKANO

You can keep the dried fish in an airtight container until ready to eat.  Grill the dried fish until the skin is scorched. Enjoy!