July 15, 2010

Japanify: The Japanese Canned Fish-Off

by Yoko Kumano


When the heat rolls in, laziness comes in the form of “I don’t want to cook.” Maybe it’s also an instinctual thing where I am unconsciously preparing for a fire or earthquake which is more likely to happen in the hot summer months by hoarding a bunch of canned booty. Whatever the reason, I am always in search of canned food. And there’s a whole world of canned food out there to discover. Living in Japan opened up a new set of possibilities for me in the canned food sector.

Wikipedia says this about canned food:

The process was first developed as a French military discovery by Nicolas Appert. The packaging prevents microorganisms from entering and proliferating inside.

Very good. So canning is French and safe to eat. It’s also very 2009, thanks to the recession, when there was an 11.5% increase in sales in the U.S.

The Japanese have perfected all types of preserving methods: freeze-drying, canning, pickling, etc. In fact, my beloved two types of food natto and miso are perfect examples of how the Japanese join deliciousness with spoil resistance.

I’d like to showcase some of my Japanese canned fish favorites. All three cans range in price from $1.69 to $2.29. I am not that creative and always eat my canned fish with fresh steamed rice, but I just can’t think of anything more perfect.

From left to right:

Kakukawa Miso Mackerel (Saba), Nissui Miso Sardines (Iwashi Misoni), Nissui Soy Sauce Pacific Saury (Sanma Ajitsuke)


Kakukawa Miso Mackerel


I love the packaging of this can. It’s so retro and the image on the front actually looks pretty gross. Once freed from the confines of its steel cylinder, the fish and sauce contents plate nicely. I topped this with some shiso. I enjoyed this with a bowl of steaming rice, like I did with all the others. I liked the heartiness of this one – it was kind of addictive and reminiscent of Rousong (pork, meat floss).



Nissui Soy Sauce Saury (Sanma Ajitsuke)


This one was probably my favorite out of all three. The sauce is described as “Soy Sauce” on the can, but it has a little tinge of sweetness – but not so much that it tastes like teriyaki sauce. This was perfect with shiso streamers and a pile of grated ginger. I will definitely be going back for more of this soon.



Nissui Miso Sardines (Iwashi Misoni)


Another type packed in miso sauce. This was also excellent. I topped this one with shiso and ginger as well. Although thinking back, the miso types might work better topped with green onions to cut the sweetness of the miso. This one was less porky and more fishy than the mackerel miso one.



Doing this taste challenge confirmed the importance of garnishing canned food. All three types look pretty unattractive straight out of the can, but with minimal TLC can look quite presentable. On top of pumping up the aesthetic quality of the dish, ginger seems to be a great addition to canned fish since it provides life and contrast, thanks to its tart spiciness.


  • seri
    Posted July 15, 2010 at 8:52 pm

    I’m not sure if it’s because I haven’t had food in 3 days, but all of them look so delicious. I’ve always liked canned sardines, but I’m guessing these are probably much better. Especially with the garnish. Did you get them at Tokyo Fish Market?

  • Anders
    Posted July 16, 2010 at 2:29 am

    I have to say, I’m totally grossed out. For me, fish has to be fresh. How old might the fish inside the cans be, I wonder? Could it be several years old? Is there an age limit?

    Do they have canned sushi in Japan as well?

  • yoko
    Posted July 16, 2010 at 2:35 am

    Seri: Yeah, well canned sardines (American style) can be quite gnarly. Although I am sure some types from Europe could be pretty good. I had some DELICIOUS canned tuna from Italy at Kayoko’s the other day.

    Anders: Oh I am totally janky like that and will eat canned tuna, salmon, etc. I, on the other hand, have an aversion to canned veggies. And I must admit, I don’t think I could go for canned pork, beef or chicken. Bottled and fermented tofu is A-OK for me though.

    As for canned sushi or sashimi, I don’t think that would be possible. These canned fish are cooked before canned. I think it would not be possible to preserve anything raw (uncooked) in a can. Someone prove me wrong.

  • yamahomo
    Posted July 16, 2010 at 11:32 am

    You guessed wrong Yoko! Did you know sushi popper? Probably this is as gross as it can get in terms of “canned” sushi..


  • kayoko
    Posted July 16, 2010 at 12:00 pm

    WOW these Sushi Poppers are SO NASTY-looking, that we’ve gotta order some and try it. It says it contains no raw ingredients, and instead, they have “flavors”. !!!


  • Anders
    Posted July 16, 2010 at 12:38 pm

    While you guys are busy ordering sushi in a can, you should also get some Canned Unicorn!



  • yoko
    Posted July 16, 2010 at 1:02 pm

    These are both amazingly disgusting finds! Kayoko, I really dare you to order and eat these sushi poppers. Anders, thanks for the heads up on canned unicorn. I like how they are kind enough to say this “Not yet approved by the USDA or FDA.” At least they are honest.

  • kayoko
    Posted July 16, 2010 at 4:50 pm

    Magic in every bite!!! “The Other White Meat”! OMGOMGOMG. AWESOME!!!!

  • kayoko
    Posted July 16, 2010 at 4:51 pm

    Anders: YUMZERS, totally ok!

  • Posted July 18, 2010 at 1:04 pm

    Welcome to the Society.

  • yoko
    Posted July 18, 2010 at 2:09 pm

    Jonny – I visited the society. Amazing blog! This will be my Sunday reading today.

  • emi
    Posted July 20, 2010 at 3:39 am

    canned sardines pan-fried with some shoyu and placed atop a bed of watercress, all on a rice bowl. quick, easy, nutritious and delicious.

    ps- those sushi poppers are ridiculous!

  • yoko
    Posted July 20, 2010 at 2:16 pm

    Emi! Oooh, nice sardine tip. I will definitely try that.

  • kayoko
    Posted July 21, 2010 at 1:17 am

    My mom used to send me care packages full of Japanese canned fish when I lived in NYC. I love this stuff– I remember this used to be my favorite as a child, over grated daikon. It was considered “poor food”, but it’s so goddamn good!

    As Biggie says in J.U.I.C.Y.: “Born sinner, the opposite of a winner/ Remember when I used to eat sardines for dinner.

    And if you don’t know, now you know…

  • Posted July 21, 2010 at 6:34 pm

    Canned fish is my father’s must food item when he goes camping. Heating a canned fish direct on fire with can and adding some green onion, almost-burned miso and fish oil are lovely, it makes cheap OZEKI one cup sake taste like high-end doiginjo. Yum!

  • Posted August 1, 2010 at 5:53 pm

    i bought all three cans recently from new york’s sunrise mart and i cant wait to try them!! :)

  • Nimal Kulatunge
    Posted February 20, 2012 at 12:20 am

    I am looking for a Canned Mackerel exporter from Japan. Preferably a manufacturer and exporter or a trading company.

    Best regards,


  • yoko
    Posted February 20, 2012 at 5:11 pm

    Hello Nimal,
    Unfortunately I don’t know any exporters of canned mackerel. Are you based in the US? You could call or email the embassy of your country in Japan and ask them for resources.

  • solomon antwi boasiako
    Posted December 18, 2015 at 11:54 am

    I am please asking if you can direct me to the producers of canned sardines in Japan so that I can import some to Ghana.
    Thank you

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