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Ika squid comes in around 100 edible varieties, and is extremely popular on menus at all levels of restaurant from exclusive, expensive ryotei to the humble shokudo. Yari-ika spear squid, hotaru-ika firefly squid, surume-ika Japanese common squid, koika cuttlefish, and kensaki-ika swordpoint squid are among the favorites. Hokkaido, Aomori, Miyagi, Nagasaki, Iwate and Ishikawa Prefectures boast ika as their speciality.
Seasonality is always important in Japanese cuisine, but it strikes this writer that it is doubly true with squid. Get it when it is at its peak, or try something else! Surume-ika has the longest season, from March to November, while hotaru-ika and yari-ika have the shortest, being caught from May to June and December to February respectively. Hotaru-ika are the tiny squid often served as ika-meshi stuffed with steamed sticky rice and simmered in shoyu, dashi, sake and sugar.
All varieties of squid may be served as sashimi, in nigirizushi hand-pressed sushi, as yakimono, furai and tempura. Ika no Shiokara whole squid, entrails and all, pickled with salt and allowed to mature is considered a sake lover’s delight. I’ve been trying for three decades and still can’t develop a liking for it.
Tako octopus varieties include the Seto Inland Sea’s ma-dako, best in January and February, the large mizu-dako, most often taken in Hokkaido, and the small ii-dako. The latter ‘rice octopus’ gets its name for the cross-section of a sliced, mature specimen, where the ovarian tissue resembles, it is said, rice grains.
Tako is rarely served raw. It is usually grilled or steamed, where it is often cooked in a shoyu and sake sauce. In Osaka, it appears as takoyaki flour balls with octopus filling, and it is traditionally a feature in oden hotchpotch, especially the Kyo-oden style found in Kyoto at such luminaries as Takocho in Gion. If just the squid ‘legs’ are served, they are referred to as geso. They’re popular, deep fried, in izakaya.