How often do you see an immense animal in its full form just before you eat it? Unless you are serious about fishing and hunting, live on a farm, or spend a lot of time at Lindy & Grundy, that experience is rare.
If the idea sounds intriguing, and you enjoy yellowfin tuna, the place to be is the Woori Market at the Little Tokyo Galleria. Every Saturday at 2 p.m., the seafood section presents a “tuna cutting performance,” combining a fish market, sashimi bar, and the showmanship of Benihana chefs.
The slicing takes place at tables crammed between the live crabs and kimchi aisle. Last week, our specimen was about four feet long and 200 pounds, a metallic blue-black color with a silver belly. And yes, the fins were yellow.
Surrounded by a crowd of mostly Asian and Asian American families, a serious guy with furrowed eyebrows and a big knife leaned in to make a precise cut detaching the fins and collar. The onlookers sucked in their collective breath. More carving. The serious guy, introduced as Mr. Kim, was joined by Mr. Lee, who brandished an equally impressive knife. Chunks of tuna were sliced and packaged. Mr. Lee offered bite-sized samples along with a choice of sauces: Korean chili or wasabi-infused soy. Eagerly but with great politeness, the audience lined up to spear chunks of raw tuna onto toothpicks and pop them into their mouths.
Meanwhile, general manager Sung Ho Choi wielded his microphone like a master of ceremonies (or maybe a stand-up comic). Alternating between English and Korean, he yelled, “Amazing fresh tuna! Just flown in last night from Hawaii! Absolutely fresh, never frozen!”
No one seemed fazed by the sight of an enormous gutted fish, blood still oozing out of its crevices. Teens clicked away with their camera-phones. “It's bigger than you,” a dad told his toddler as he hoisted her up for a better look. Curious kids peered. The braver ones tried to poke. A young woman stepped close, only to find a bit of flesh land on her bare toes. The slicing proceeded quickly, but it still took thirty minutes to reach the belly, home of the much-desired and more expensive toro.
Do you always want to see big seafood in its recently-killed state just before digging in? Maybe not. But watching a giant tuna get chopped into bit instilled respect, awe, and not a small amount of admiration.