Have you ever found yourself intrigued by that enigmatic tag on your Uni? If you've scrolled through some elite Japanese restaurants's social media feeds, you might have come across to see the tags attached on the top of Uni tray numerous times.
In this blog post, we'll unravel the meaning behind "the tag" and shine a light on its significance in the Uni world.
Before we dive into the details, let's take a closer look at how Uni is handled before it graces your plate.
In the fish markets of Japan, there are five major Uni sellers, known as Ni-Uke (荷受け), responsible for receiving Uni from various regions across the country, particularly from Hokkaido. These distinguished entities: 中央 (Chuo), 大都 (Daito), 東一 (Toichi), 東水 (Tosui), and 第一 (Daiichi), play a pivotal role in assessing the quality of Uni as it arrives fresh each morning.
For instance, the Kanetatsu カネタツ brand is sent to Daito 大東, where it undergoes meticulous assessment and receives its grade. Remarkably, this particular brand has earned the impressive rank of #4 among all the Uni received.
Following the initial grading, they attach the all-important tag and proceed to auction it exclusively to select Uni buyers within an exclusive Uni club at the market.
At the Uni auction room, as evidenced in the accompanying photos, each major Uni buyer showcases the brand and quantity they've received on whiteboards each morning.
The available quantity of Uni can fluctuate significantly, spanning from 10,000 to 3,000 units, contingent on the season. These five major Uni sellers rotate in presenting their prized Uni for auction. Buyers like us engage in fierce competition to secure the finest quality Uni at our proposed prices.
Upon the conclusion of the auctions, each Uni buyer (Otsunaka) affixes their winning tag (落札札), as depicted above, before transporting the Uni to their respective stalls within the market.
From these stalls, the Uni is resold to external buyers who may subsequently distribute it to restaurants or, on rare occasions, to individuals. Typically, Uni isn't sold directly to individuals at this stage.
This is where the importance of experience and networking becomes abundantly clear. Many Uni brokers are often unaware of the intricacies inherent in these auctions, which can potentially lead to the acquisition of lower-quality Uni at unmatched prices. Even some of the most esteemed Japanese restaurants might lack insights into this complex Uni selection process. This underscores the tremendous value of possessing comprehensive knowledge and well-established connections within the Uni industry.
In essence, that inconspicuous tag carries a wealth of information, representing a Uni's brand, grade, and the intricate journey it embarks on before gracing your table. It serves as a testament to the meticulous selection process that ensures you savor only the finest Uni.
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