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How To Eat A Whale

At the Kurasaki restaurant in Nagasaki, you can get a giant whale nugget to go.
At the Kurasaki restaurant in Nagasaki, you can get a giant whale nugget to go.

Okay, first of all: Yes, I have, and no, it was awful. (Whale is not a taste I plan to acquire anytime soon – or even in this lifetime – even if tortured with red-hot pincers.) But regardless of whether you think people should eat whale, don’t you kind of wonder HOW they eat whale? I mean, a whale is BIG. So if you happen to catch one, you’ll be eating a LOT of whale. For a very long time. So long, that the kids will be saying, “Oh no, whale again?” when you’ve still got a freezer full. Or twenty freezers full. And there’s no Whale Helper to make it go down any easier.

So…how do you cook a whale?

Well, first of all, you eat the bits that are supposedly best left uncooked:

Your basic whale bacon. Yes, you eat it raw, according to my friend from Kyushu. And lest you be left wondering, the red bits are meat and the white bits are that favorite childhood treat, BLUBBER.
Your basic whale bacon. Yes, you eat it raw, according to my friend from Kyushu. And in case you’re wondering, the red bits are meat and the white bits are that favorite childhood treat, BLUBBER.
Whale sashimi. The other red meat.
Whale sashimi. The other red meat.

And then you get creative, making sure to eat every part of the whale, in the fine tradition of Don’t Waste Anything restaurants. For example:

Whale tongue, sliced and ready to grill at your local Korean Whale BBQ joint.
Whale tongue, for your barbequing pleasure, sliced and ready to grill.
Whale skin, with wasabi.
Whale skin, with wasabi.
Whale "teeth." With grated ginger.
Whale “teeth.” With grated ginger.
Whale intestine. Okay, sorry, even with those artful little garnishes, no. Just...no.
Whale intestine. Okay, sorry, even with those artful little garnishes, no. Just…no.

When they really start to rebel, you can employ these tricky disguises:

Whale steak, with Frenchified mushroom sauce or miso and onions.
“Hey kids! How about some steak? Would you like yours with mushroom sauce or miso and onions?”
Fried whale and cheese cutlets.
Putting the “mystery” in “mystery meat”: Fried whale and cheese cutlets.
Sneak some into a whale hotpot, disguised as beef.
Sneak some into a whale hotpot. What they don’t know can’t hurt them.
And when all else fails: whale curry. The spicier, the better.
And when all else fails: whale curry. The spicier, the better.

And in case you’re wondering why kids might be the teensiest bit reluctant to see whale on the dinner table in any form, it’s useful to know that the reason 96.2% of Japanese people say they’ve eaten whale meat is that it’s a staple in public school lunches. Yes, once or twice a week, the government thriftily presses this year’s catch of whale meat* into service to feed the nation’s youngsters. Waste not, want not.

* Apparently there’s quite a lot left over after “research” purposes have been satisfied).

Oh no, Whale Nuggets for lunch again?
Whale Nuggets for lunch again?

All photos from the August 2014 Dancyu magazine.

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Jonelle Patrick View All

Writing mystery books set in Tokyo is mostly what I do, but I also blog about the odd stuff I see every day in Japan. I'm a graduate of Stanford University and the Sendagaya Japanese Institute in Tokyo, and a member of the International Thriller Writers, the Mystery Writers of America, and Sisters In Crime. When I'm not in Tokyo, I live in San Francisco. I also host a travel site called The Tokyo Guide I Wish I'd Had, so if you're headed to Japan and want to check out the places I take my friends when they're in town, take a look!

5 thoughts on “How To Eat A Whale Leave a comment

    • I don’t think it’s gums. Maybe it’s more like baleen? You know, whatever the krill-eating kind of whales use to strain the goodies from big gulps of ocean water? (In any case, not something I’m super wanting on my plate, you know?) o_O

  1. Well done, Jonelle. You have not inspired me to eat whale in any of its myriad forms, but this post was inspired.

    I did have it yakitori style once. Never again.

    • Whale yakitori! That actually might be the least awful way to eat it, on account of pretty much anything is edible when covered in yakitori sauce (one of the pinnacles of human achievement, IMHO).

  2. Gives new meaning to my favorite exchange from the Simpsons, when Nelson takes Lisa into his room and she spies a poster on the wall:

    Lisa: “Nuke the whales?”
    Nelson: “Eh, gotta nuke something.”

    The only thing worse than eating whale would have to be the microwaved leftovers.

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