May 3, 2007

News & Opinion: Sushi with an approval stamp.

By: 800-CEO-READ @ 4:26 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

Japan's Ministry of Agriculture is seeking to create a create a recommendation program for Japanese restaurants operating outside of Japan; according to The American, that's more than 20,000 restaurants -- 9,000 of which reside in the U.S. The Ministry's goal is to educate the world about Japanese cuisine -- the preparation, the history, and the ingredients.
To give you a bit of history, this is from The Sushi Economy (released today):
What the world now knows as sushi began as a street snack in Edo-era Toyko, fast food well over a century before that term was ever applied to hamburgers, fries and shakes. In the place of its birth, sushi has changed since then -- flitting between high and low, the elite and pop spheres, one-time trophy fish blue marlin displaced by tuna -- as food entrepreneurs have been pushed to respond to adjustments in Japanese lifestyles and tastes.

And, on what the Ministry is up against -- how certain types of sushi came to be:
The most famous non-Japanese contribution to the sushi repertoire was the California roll of avocado and crab, invented in Los Angeles in the 1960s by Japanese chefs adapting to American tastes and available ingredients. In Brazil -- whose first city, Sao Paolo, has the world's largest Japanese population outside Japan and where in 2003 the number of sushi bars exceeded that of Brazilian barbecues -- the avocado in California rolls is replaced by mango, in deference to local produce and the national sweet tooth. A small Singapore chain serves a roll that features both avocado and mango. Elsewhere in that country, diners can feast on curry rolls and Hainanese chicken-rice rolls, often in halal sushi bars catering to the small nation's increasingly wealthy Malaysian Muslim population. Hawaiians make sushi with SPAM, a vestige of contingency measures adopted by island residents during World War II rationing...

In 2001, after studying a broad in Chicago, a young Japanese woman named Yoko Shibata returned to Toyko and opened an American-inspired join called Rainbox Roll Sushi. Its menu is filled with all the newfangled preparations that scandalize traditionalists: the namesake concoction of salmon, squid, shrimp and flying-fish roe; a "Nixon roll" of grilled eel, cucumber and cream cheese; and a "sushi sandwich" on a croissant. Now "New York-style sushi" is seen by Tokyoites as an established restaurant genre. One of its signature dishes is the spicy-tuna roll, which American chefs developed to unload odd scraps of fish past their prime, assuming that slathering them in mayonnaise and chili would help mask dubious taste and texture.

When it comes to their food culture, the Japanese have always been borrowers (ramen has origins in China and tempura in Portugal) and fusionists (in the late nineteenth century, Westernized dishes like English-style curry and omelettes filled with ketchup-sauced rice were the rage). Around 1900, the Japanese were already making the sushi rolls with ham and Western-style black pepper. What most Americans (and Japanese, too) would think of as the Platonic ideal of the "authentic" and the "traditional" sushi experience -- a fatty, pink slice of toro nigiri [if you need a reference picture, click here] served by a chef to a customer seated before him -- is in fact no older than the California roll.

I wonder how strict the guidelines for a Japanese restaurant will be.