El ronqueo: a ceremony to honor what nourishes us

Since the seventies, Japanese food has grown in popularity in Mexico, particularly sushi. Despite representing Japanese culture in various parts of the world, the best known version of sushi was actually created in the United States after the conflicts of World War II.

nigiri sishi ronqueo
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Fortunately, along with various elements of Japanese popular culture like music, animation, and graphic novels, Mexico has welcomed Japanese chefs with open arms and they have taken us by the hand through a complex tradition that ranges from dishes only intended for emperors and courtesans, to the street delicacies most loved by contemporary citizens of big cities and small towns.

atun gastronomía japonesa ronqueo
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The “pork” of the sea

So today, I want to tell you about a practice of Japanese gastronomic tradition that has fascinated me as well as lovers of Japanese cuisine in general: el ronqueo in Spanish, or the tuna cutting ceremony. If you have ever heard the expression that tuna is the “pig” of the sea, it is because a single specimen can be used 100% if it is cut correctly, in particular the Atlantic bluefin tuna.

atún ronqueo
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What is Ronqueo?

The ronqueo is a method of slicing up a bluefin tuna, which, if done with precision, care, and proper technique, will divide the fish into 24 parts. This can vary depending on the proximity to the spine, its fat content, and a few other characteristics that will determine its flavor and function, whether to make fresh sashimi or sushi (obeying the most orthodox Japanese method) or if it will be stored to make other products that can be sold in the restaurant where the ronqueo is being performed.

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The name ronqueo comes from the peculiar sound that the knife makes when passing evenly through the spine of the animal, with the sound resembling a kind of snoring. This ancient practice has a philosophical backstory that is very telling of Japanese idiosyncrasy and spirituality. The ronqueo is a ritual of respect for this great fish, a way of preserving its honor and thanking it for feeding and nourishing us. The proper technique of ronqueo is not just a skill acquired by a chef, it is a philosophical statement.

If you want to experience this ceremony for yourself, I can recommend Onomura Nigiri House, which holds a weekly ronqueo open to the public.

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