Surume (Dried Squid) (スルメ)

Surume is a processed food made by drying in the shade or machine-drying the squid whose internal organs have been removed. It is a type of dry food. Surume has been used sice a long time ago in a southern part of China as well as in Southeast Asia while having a long shelf life. In Japan, surume is considered to bring good luck whereby it is used as one of the auspicious gifts exchanged between the families of a bride-to-be and groom-to-be; in this case, surume is written out in kanji characters representing three wishes, i.e. long life and happiness, to stay with her husband for life, and to be a good wife. It is also referred to atarime in a slang term.

Characteristics

Butterfly a squid such as yariika (Loligo bleekeri), kensakiika (Loligo edulis) or surumeika (Tdoradodes pacificus) leaving the tentacles intact, remove entrails and eyes and pierce the body and tentacles together with bamboo skewers so that the body stays flat. Dry the squid prepared in the way above in the sun or in a hot room or chamber where a fire is built to raise the temperature (machine drying). After this process, the water content of the squid will be reduced to approximately 20% of the body weight.

Surume has a long shelf life and has various ways of cooking such as to soak in water to make a soup stock, to simmer with seasonings and to pickle with other ingredients including kelp and herring roe to make Matsumae-zuke (Matsumae style pickle). Additionally, as in the celebrated lyrics of the popular song 'Funauta' sung by Aki YASHIRO, the surume which is toasted over the flame and eaten right away can be cited among simple foods eaten with sake. Surume is very hard to gnaw off and cannot be swallowed unless it has been chewed thoroughly. Accordingly, eating susume is considered to have beneficial effects on jaws. Another characteristic of susume is that, the more it is chewed, the tastier it becomes.

Sureme is produced in various areas across Japan having the fisheries of squids, however, the import from countries such as Vietnam and Thailand has recently increased.

Types of Surume

There are the following types of surume depending on the specie of squid used:

Ichiban-surume (the top-grade dried squid): Dried yariika or kensakiika.

Niban-surume (the second-grade dried squid): Dried surumeika.

Kotsuki-surume: Dried shiriyakeika (Sepiella japonica Sasaki).

Fukuro-surume (surume in bag): Dried aoriika (Sepioteuthis lessoniana). Fukuro-surume is named after its drying method in which it is dried without butterflying the mantle of the squid.

Nutrients

Per 100g: 334 kilo calories, water 20.2 g, protein 69.2 g, fat 4.3 g, sodium 890 mg, copper 9.90 mg, kalium 1100 mg, zinc 5.4 mg and phosphorous 1100 mg. Additionally, squid is rich in taurine which is also contained abundantly in surume.

Surume as Culture

In Japan, squid has been eaten since ancient times and surume also has a long history as a dry food with a long shelf life. At traditional ceremonies or rituals, surume is regarded as a token of good luck being a representative item among betrothal gifts for the other party. When used as one of betrothal gifts, the kanji characters phonetically expressing surume are used symbolizing, along with another betrothal gift konbu (kelp) (written in kanji characters representing a fertile woman), the wish for woman's good health and many children. Additionally, surume is buried in the sumo ring as a good-luck item.

There are various opinions surrounding the rationale for surume to be considered a good-luck item. One of such opinions is that because it keeps for a long time, surume is a symbol of happiness that lasts for many years, another one is that since the Muromachi period, money has been referred to as 'oashi' (legs) whereby surume with many legs (tentacles) brings good fortune.

Since 'suru' in surume suggests 'to lose money,' around the mid-Edo period, it was reworded to 'atarime' ('atari' means to win) to be used for good luck.

Useful Information

Today, surume basically means dried squid but there is an opinion that it is a corrupted pronunciation of 'sumimure,' which once was a generic term for schools of ink-spurting creatures and dried octopus used to be referred to as surume as well.
In the "Wamyoruiji-sho," the dictionary compiled in the Heian period, there is a definition which reads, 'Small octopus meaning surumeika and yariika. Also referred to as surume.'

When surume is torn lengthwise, it can break into bite-size pieces and will become easier to be eaten. This is due to the fact that the muscle fibers of squid are distributed laterally and, although it is easier to tear the squid in the lateral direction along the muscle fibers, the fibers of a torn piece stretch longitudinally and one will have to chew surume thoroughly before swallowing. On the other hand, it is harder to tear surume lengthwise but, by tearing surume in that fashion, the muscle fibers are cut off, hence, it will make it easier to swallow without chewing so much. As a result, one can eat surume comfortably even if his or her teeth are not strong enough.

When used in Chinese cooking, surume is first stretched by soaking in water. It is known that, if soaked in an alkaline solution made by dissolving ashes or baking soda in water, the alkaline component softens the protein in surume whereby the surume regains its shape like a raw squid.

It is also used as a slang term meaning that 'it is not particularly impressive at first but one will develop greater appreciation for it over time,' borrowing from the characteristic of surume that more one chews, the tastier it becomes.