Why all Toro is Tuna but not all Tuna is Toro

Why all Toro is Tuna but not all Tuna is Toro

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  1. Photo by Burrard-Lucas Wildlife Photography

    While enjoying a peaceful dinner of superb raw fish at my favorite sushi bar in Marina del Rey many years ago, the proprietor took a break from busily preparing eye- and taste bud-pleasing delicacies to look across the counter at me and, in his usual thickly-accented voice coming from a mouth that had considerable trouble forming certain consonants to which I have become accustomed during my years of speaking English, said, “Toro?”

    My first thought was that the chef had picked up a few Spanish words during his time in Southern California. Had he said this word with the slightest inflection of fear and or panic, I might have shot up from my chair and searched the restaurant frantically for some escaped crazed bull from a Schlitz Malt Liquor commercial. But as the word had come with an inquisitive intonation—that and I didn’t hear any sounds of shattering furniture behind me—I quickly realized that I had misinterpreted his meaning. So, knowing that saying “I beg your pardon” would be wasted on a man with an English vocabulary of exactly four words (“hi”, though that might have had a Japanese meaning as well, in fact I’m sure it did; “bye”, which I never misinterpreted as he only said it when I was leaving; and “thank you”, which could be mistaken for nothing else), I smiled, held my hands up with the palms facing the ceiling and shrugged.


     I soon discovered that toro was a Japanese word as well, and had a completely different meaning from the Spanish word, though I found both absolutely delicious. Of course, while I realized that the Japanese version of toro was some kind of fish, I had to do some research upon getting home to discover exactly what it was that had so pleased my mouth at the sushi bar.

     It turns out that toro is simply tuna; though it bore little resemblance to the maguro I also had with dinner, other than a few streaks of red. And while maguro has a delicate flavor, toro nearly erupts in the mouth with fabulously rich flavor that goes better with soy sauce and wasabi than any other fish I had ever tried before.

     Toro is the fatty belly of the blue fin tuna, the most highly prized part of the fish in Japan, and therefore the most expensive flesh of the great fish. I’m the first to admit that toro is truly as fatty as fish gets; fortunately, every medical report out there (that I place absolutely no trust in; I have my reasons) states that fish oils and fats are actually healthy and don’t make us fat, so chow down on the toro, people!

    Unfortunately, toro is notoriously hard to find in your average sushi bar. You have to show up when the fresh shipment comes in, because when sushi aficionados know that it’s available, it goes very fast. I usually call ahead to my local sushi restaurant and ask them what days they have toro, then I show up as close to opening time as possible and eat all the toro I can, if only to torture the other patrons who, in the past, had stuffed themselves on toro, thus denying me my share.

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