During dinner at the local Okinawan joint, we ordered a new-to-us dish that came with a mystery seafood topping. We asked about it, and got an answer we didn't understand: shi-chikin
. While the owner's son disappeared into the back, we consulted the electronic dictionary, but couldn't find anything under a listing for shi-chikin
. It all became clear when he brought out a small can and pointed to the mermaid on the side. Sea chicken. Chicken of the Sea. Canned tuna.
Canned tuna has an odd place in Japanese cooking. We find it where we'd expect to: in sandwiches and salads. We also find it where we wouldn't
expect to: on pizza, in those prepackaged, unrefrigerated sandwiches with the edges pressed together and the crusts cut off, in onigiri
(rice balls). It reaches the pinnacle of awesomeness in onigiri
. There's no better convenience snack than a tuna-mayo onigiri
― the creamy, salty tuna, the sticky, slightly sweet rice, and the crisp, ocean-y nori are perfect together.
Additionally, tuna keeps company with an unlikely sidekick: yellow corn (corn in Japanese cooking is another subject entirely). They're a surprisingly tasty duo ― corn and tuna pizza is far from the worst thing I've ever eaten. Salads now seem to lack something if they come with one or the other, but not both. Which raises a question: does the normalization of the tuna/corn partnership mean we've been here too long
? It's likely that question will only linger until the next discovery of canned tuna in a completely unexpected place.