I previously wrote a blog about eating raw tuna in the Pacific Islands (the best in the world) which went like wildfire, so I have decided to redo the article! In this one I’ll be incorporating my love of uncooked tuna in the Pacific, but also looking at the wider raw tuna scene of the world.
When we think of raw tuna and raw fish in general the obvious go to is sushi and sashimi from Japan, but man has been eating raw foods since the neanderthal times. Raw fish is nothing new and many cultures around the world embrace it in some way shape, or form.
Here’s to my guide to the world of Raw Tuna.
Table of Contents
- The love of Raw Tuna
- The history of Raw Tuna
- History of ceviche
- Is it safe to eat raw tuna?
- The 6 BEST Raw Tuna dishes
- Raw Tuna in the Pacific Islands
- Why is Raw Tuna such a big deal in the Pacific Islands?
- Raw Fish in the Solomon Islands
- Marshallese Poke
- Raw Tuna in Nauru
- Tuna in Tarawa
- Eating raw Tuna in Tuvalu
- Raw Tuna in other parts of the world
- What about Raw Tuna in Japan?
- What was the most expensive tuna fish ever sold?
The love of Raw Tuna
Growing up in the UK I was hardly treated to a culinary adventure. As cuisine went it would largely consist of fried food, fish and chips, Chinese, or if we were really feeling funky a Curry.
At 21, I moved to the Cayman Islands was suddenly introduced to fine cuisine. It was at this time that I was introduced to rare (blue) steak and indeed the raw beef carpaccio.
It was therefore only natural that I would end up trying raw tuna. I tried it and fell in love. It has now been my favorite food for nigh on 20 years.
The history of Raw Tuna
Tuna, or as they call it the “chicken of the sea” is the most commonly eaten fish in the world. In the UK I had only ever eaten tinned tuna. I remember seeing my first tuna in the kitchen of Bacchus Wine Bar in the Cayman Islands and saying to the German chef “what the fuck is that”, to which he replied “in its old life a tuna”. Tuna is huge, almost like a shark.
Though the Chinese might claim it, raw fish as a delicacy was popularized by the Japanese as Sashimi (刺身). Many western people use the terms sushi and sashimi interchangeably. This is wrong! They are different. Period. Traditional raw tuna/tuna sashimi is served with soy and wasabi. This is the most famous and popular way to consume raw tuna, but is far from the only way to it.
To read about Chinese Shunde sashimi click here.
From here eating raw tuna spread throughout the Pacific and to parts of South East-Asia. This led to dishes such as poke and kinilaw.
And what about the history of ceviche?
The other most famous dish to feature raw fish and tuna in particular is ceviche. Allegedly ceviche is even older than sashimi. Some date its origins to 2000 years ago. Peru where ceviche originates from was an integral part of the Spanish Empire. The Spanish have a lot of fish. Ceviche thus spread throughout the Spanish Empire (hence why they eat a variation in the Philippines).
Ceviche is marinated in citrus fruits and other things, depending on the style. Much like sashimi it needs to be eaten fresh. Ceviche can be done with all manor of fish, but again nothing quite beats a tuna ceviche!
Is it safe to eat raw tuna?
Yes of course it is! Millions of people eat it everyday, but of course there are a few caveats. Raw fish may contain parasites, such as Opisthorchiidae and Anisakadie, that can cause diseases in humans. Therefore eat it in a restaurant prepared properly by a trained chef, ideally.
That being said I have had raw fish in North Korea that was still moving. I have also eaten fish directly in other countries that had literally just been caught. Everything comes with risks! For me at least the benefits verses risk reward is enough for me to eat raw fish. .
The 6 BEST Raw Tuna dishes
As I stated raw tuna is my favorite food, but aside from tuna sashimi there are a ton of great ways to consume raw tuna. Here are my favorite raw tuna dishes in order.;
- Tuna carpaccio – Similar enough to a beef carpaccio, but would you guess it with tuna! Add mozzarella salad, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil and his is a very classic Italian dish with a difference
- Kinilaw – Essentially a Filipino variation of ceviche. The tuna is cured in calamansi and served with onions, peppers and garlic. This dish is frankly amazing
- Marshalesse Poke – Like Hawaiian poke, but from the Marshall Islands A traditional dish from the region with raw tuna being mixed with spices and coconut milk
- Nauru coconut fish – In some ways similar to a poke you get a load of raw tuna and then mix it up with literally a glass of coconut milk but adding “Nauru salt” AKA an oxo cube. Probably the best food in Nauru. You literally drink the juice after.
- Tuna Tataki – Another Japanese dish and from the family of sashimi. Lightly seared so it is slightly cooked on the outside and coated in tea leaves. This is a very unique dish perfect with Wasabi
- Tuna steak (blue) – Another one I am simply n love with, particularly due to its simplicity. You take a tuna steak and cook it less than rare. Slightly cold in he middle and great with vinegar, or soy.
Raw Tuna in the Pacific Islands
Knowing that the Young Pioneer Tours Least Visited Countries tour would be taking me to 4 Pacific Island nations and 6 islands in total, I was hopeful of a bit of raw tuna action along the way. I was not to be disappointed!
Why is Raw Tuna such a big deal in the Pacific Islands?
Most of the Pacific Island nations have extremely small land masses, but huge territorial waters. The best tuna in the world comes from the Pacific. Pacific countries can thus sell fishing rights and earn a lot of money, whilst still having an abundance of CHEAP tuna. For this reason some of the best, and cheapest raw tuna can be gotten in the Pacific Islands.
Raw Fish in the Solomon Islands
My personal first point of call was the Republic of the Solomon Islands. In which we explored the local market (a real highlight), with the fish and tuna, In particular, being abundant. It was a bit of shock that evening to find out the hotel did not have any tuna in stock specifically, the raw tuna…… The sashimi and ceviche they provided were still fresh and decent though, although using other fishes.
On the first night of the actual tour, we were in Majuro. The capital island/city of the Marshall Islands a pseudo-independent country that is heavily dominated by the USA We were staying in the Robert Reimers Hotel (whose menu was extremely diverse). But decided to head to the Marshall Islands Resort (MIR) whose sea-view and buffet came highly recommended.
The buffet cost $25 but was probably one of the best value meals I have ever had. With the cuts of extremely fresh raw tuna sashimi being some of the best I have ever tasted. I was also later to try a Marshalese Poke, similar to a Hawaiian Poke. A raw tuna dish marinated in coconut milk. As mentioedn one of my 6 top raw tuna dishes.
Raw Tuna in Nauru
Our next stop was Nauru which is an article in itself. Its food, it is extremely influenced by the refugees, migrants, and guest workers. With about 60% of the culinary options of Nauru being Chinese food. Many of these Chinese restaurants serve perfect raw tuna, but instead of wasabi, you get Chinese hot sauce.
There are two exceptions to the Chinese restaurant scene in Nauru, namely the hotel Menem and Jules on Deck. Both of these served perfectly good Tuna Sashimi. BUT the real treat in Nauru was when I finally got to try their only street food. Served on the side of the street as “coconut fish”. It was tuna, but resembled a poke. The secret ingredient though being “Nauru salt”, which was an Oxo cube. And they wonder why they are obese! Seriously though huge cubes of tuna thick coconut milk and a broken oxo cube. Sheer genius and amazingly the ONLY Nauru street food.
Tuna in Tarawa!
My last indulgence into tuna heaven was in a random restaurant in Tarawa. The capital city of the beautiful Republic of Kiribati. The menu said, “raw fish”, enough of a red rag to my menu bull.
I was happy to learn that said fish was tuna. I declined the rice it could have come with and was served with glistening red supremely fresh tuna, soy, and wasabi to be eaten with a cocktail sword. And it cost AUD $9.50, with the beers only costing $3.50. The friendly staff even letting me go behind the bar and get my serving jollies. Kiribati, great country, great scenery, and amazing raw tuna!
Sadly I’ve lost the photo, but they were also harvesting palm wine at the same hotel/restaurant. That day I did not get to try it, but a year later I was. Raw tun and palm wine would be a good mix.
To read more about palm stuff click here.
Eating raw Tuna in Tuvalu
Tuvalu is the third least visited country in the world. Fun fact it is my favourite country in the world too! At the Funafuti Island Cafe we got to try their take on raw tuna. Again similar in fashion to a poke, but more sweet than in Nauru, or the Marshall Islands.
Raw Tuna in other parts of the world???
OK, so I have explained in great detail how the Pacific Islands have the best raw tuna in the world. In case I seem a bit obsessed it is because I am. But of course there are lots of other countries in the world that eat uncooked tuna fish.
The aforementioned ceviche is HUGE in the Americas having originated in Peru. In Bogota there was w hole street hat served nothing but ceviche. Aside from Kinilaw this was the best raw tuna ceviche I have yet to try.
You can read about me in Bogota here
What about Raw Tuna in Japan?
OK, so I have ignored the elephant in the room. Nowhere in the world is raw tuna more popular, or worth as much as it is in Japan. To say the Japanese have an obsession here would not be doing things justice.
In Japan raw fish and tuna in particular is street food, regular food, super high end and EVERYTHING in between. Once a year there is an auction at Tokyo’s new fish market where records are broken regularly for most expensive tuna fish sold.
What was the most expensive tuna fish ever sold?
Kiyoshi Kimur a Japanese fish tycoon spent $3.1 million dollars on a 278kg (612lbs) bluefin tuna. The bluefin tuna is an endangered species, but hey I refer to South Park “dolphin and whale” episode.
And that is my rather large article on my love of raw tuna! Not to much left to say after that really.