Karashi-mentaiko (spicy salted cod roe) (辛子明太子)
Karashi-mentaiko (spicy salted cod roe) is foodstuff made from the ovaries of a kind of cod, Walleye pollack, processed by seasoning it with red pepper sauce. It has been referred to as Mentaiko recently, however, this expression is not correct. Food made from the ovaries of the walleye pollack similar to karashi-mentaiko is cod roe.
Karashi-mentaiko is a specialty of Hakata (Fukuoka City, Fukuoka Prefecture) and also known as a souvenir from the Kyushu region and Yamaguchi Prefecture. However, it is now commonly found in food stores across the country.
Origin of the Name
It is possible to trace the derivation of the name to the Chinese language, however, its actual origins come from Korean, in which walleye pollack is known as 'myonte.'
Salted walleye pollack was imported to northern Kyushu and Yamaguchi regions in the 17th century. As a result, walleye pollack have been called 'mentai' in these regions since the Edo period. The expression of 'mentai' in Chinese characters '明太' in Japan came from the fact that 'myonte' was written as '明太魚' or '明太' in the Korean Peninsula. Therefore in Japan, '明太' means cods and '明太子' means cod roe as '子' (ko) means a child or children.
There is a food called '辛子明太' in the Korean Peninsula, which is 'cod' processed with red peppers (generally, '辛子' means peppers.)
Processed walleye pollack was already prevalent in the food culture of the Korean Peninsula by the 17th century. And it was during the Edo period that it was brought to Japan.
Just after the Russo-Japanese War to the middle of the Pacific War, the Ministry of Railways (later known as Japan National Railways and today's JR group) was operating the Shimonoseki-Busan ferry between Shimonoseki City and then-Japanese territory Busan City (today's Busan Metropolitan City) in Korea (today's Republic of Korea). Fermented peppered ovary from 'mentai' namely walleye pollack called 'Myonnajjo' in Korean language was imported to Shimonoseki via the ferry. This was a food dredged with red pepper and garlic and something similar to 'kimuchi' (rather than today's karashi-mentaiko).
In 1949, ovaries were dipped in a red pepper sauce and went on the market in Hakata under the name karashi-mentaiko,
However, it did not sell well as it was too piquant for the Japanese people at the time. Later in 1959, an improved karashi-mentaiko went on the market, and its recipe was distributed free of charge and was prevailed in Hakata. Further, karashi-mentaiko was made in a new method to preserve the product longer by reprocessing karashi-mentaiko and dredging it with red pepper, which was sold in Shimonoseki around 1960.
In 1975 when the Sanyo Shinkansen bullet train line reached Hakata, the Hakata specialty karashi-mentaiko spread rapidly throughout the whole country before karashi-mentaiko in Shimonoseki. As the Hakata product went on the market first, the dipping process product developed in Hakata became more popular than the reprocessed type developed in Shimonoseki. The Hakata type was adopted and is still used for mass production today. However, for a smaller market, the reprocessed type products are also being manufactured and distributed today as a high-grade article and these two types are successfully segregated (there is an impression that only the reprocessed method have been adopted by manufacturers of Shimonoseki such as Maeda and so on, but both methods have been adopted in Shimonoseki from the past).
In the '80s, it began to sell in department stores and retail stores other than souvenir shops, and today it is used as an ingredient for rice balls and pasta country-wide. In 2007, the sales volume of karashi-mentaiko for processing use exceeded that of souvenir use.
Although expensive products that retain the original shape of the ovary are mainly sold as gifts or used at receptions, and lower priced products that do not retain the original shape are sold for domestic consumption, there is no difference in quality. Karashi-mentaiko with broken membrane is called 'kireko' (literally, broken thing) and is sold at a lower price. These days, options of more attractive 'tinted products' and 'color free' health-oriented products become available at more and more stores.
How to Serve
Serve it as it is as a side dish, or cook it slightly depending on each one's preference. It is also favored as a relish that goes with sake, or as an ingredient for chazuke (boiled rice with tea poured over it).
It is sometimes dressed with mayonnaise (mentai-mayonnaise), dairy cream and cheese.
Pasta with sauce that uses the 'mentai-mayonnaise' is sometimes served with the name 'tarako spaghetti' or 'mentai spaghetti.'
Boiled pasta with karashi-mentaiko broken into flakes with a topping of Mominori (toasted and crushed dried laver seaweed) is also called by the names in some cases.
Some people make a spread made from karashi-mentaiko flakes and apply it to bread.
Karashi-mentaiko and Mentaiko
Mentaiko' generally means Karashi-mentaiko, however, in some regions in western Japan such as Fukuoka Prefecture, 'mentaiko' indicates pepper-less cod roe or 'tarako' thus caution should be exercised when using these names as people in different regions refer to them differently.
As aforementioned, mentaiko originally means 'children of walleye pollack' and this indicates 'cod roe.'
However, it is thought that when 'karashi-mentaiko' was brought as souvenirs to the regions where there was no word such as 'mentaiko' for cod roe, an abbreviated word form of 'karashi-mentaiko' or 'mentaiko' spread throughout the country.
When it is used as the name of a dish, a further abbreviation in the form of 'mentai' indicating 'karashi-mentaiko' is often used as shown above in the case of 'mentai spaghetti.'