James Gallagher is the owner of Ezo Seafoods, one of the hardest restaurants to get into in Hokkaido’s Hirafu resort town. Most mornings, he drives to Sapporo, the capital, to shop in the wholesale fish markets, or buys directly from anglers in the coastal towns. I asked him if I could join in the forage.
He picked me up at 5 a.m. in a large white van. We stopped at a 7-11 for coffee, then plowed on through the dark. Snow crystals flew up in the headlights.
After a two-hour drive, we arrived at an airplane hangar of a market, crowded with vendors. He raced between sellers, buying crab, sole, clams, and sea urchins. There were oysters in boxes and crabs in crates of glittering ice. At James’s tuna supplier, an old guy in rubber overalls smoked a cigarette by the cash register. Right near his ashtray was a tray of sashimi, left out for customers. “There are perks to being friends with your tuna supplier,” James said, handing me a piece.
You have heard the lore about Eskimos having a hundred differ- ent words for snow. I’d need at least a hundred words, never mind some belly grunts and yowls and ululations, to begin to describe that tuna. Simply, it was the finest seafood experience of my life.
James finished shopping and led me down a narrow corridor, back toward the van, then stopped and parted a curtain in the wall. Inside was a sushi restaurant, but not quite. It was a small room where a stone- faced chef stood over an array of raw fish and a small pot of rice. He bade us to sit down. James did the talking. For approximately 20 bucks each, we proceeded to eat 11 rounds of the chef’s selections—whale, cod sperm(!), halibut, scallop, salmon, king crab, surf clam, shrimp, roe, and finally uni—and that became the finest seafood experience of my life.