How did sushi become popular outside Japan?

“There is no doubt that the positive images of Japan’s cars and electronic appliances as high-quality and advanced have been helpful in spreading similar images about Japanese cultural commodities. If sushi were a delicacy of a country without industial might or sashimi a health food of a remote village in a technologically disadvantaged region, it is doubtful if the cultural diffusion of these foodstuffs around the world would have been possible”

This (from the otherwise very interesting Cambridge Companion to Modern Japanese Culture), sounds like complete crap to me. How do you  explain the spread of Thai food, then, just to give one example? And why sushi and sashimi rather than takoyaki and soba? Unfortunately, though, I don’t have a better answer to the question. The first thing that sprung to mind is the lucky chance of first becoming famous in the always influential area of California, but Korean food certainly hasn’t spread from there in the same way…

Why is seafood so important to the Japanese? Second attempt

As someone from an island nation with a much stronger seafaring tradition but where meat is much more important to the culture than fish, I remain fascinated by this question.

No doubt the biggest reason was that most meat was forbidden, but as reliance on seafood goes back to pre-historic times that can’t be the only thing. Something I hadn’t considered until reading a book on Tsukiji fish market is simply how close to the sea most Japanese people are, with many mountains and those mountains being avoided pushing them towards the coast.

This post of course poses the questions why meat was banned and why they avoided the mountains, which I will deal with in the next couple of posts.

Why is cone-shaped sushi more popular outside Japan?

“in large part because they had the architecture to hold just about any filling”

The Sushi Economy

Why do most sushi restaurants have a counter with a glass case for the fish?

This is a great example of where you could probably come up with a cultural or other logical explanation, but it is actually just a random event that set the whole thing off:

“It was a postwar restaurant-supply salesman who helped to integrate the canonical design elements of the modern sushi bar: long boards of pine as counter surfaces, and the glass case in which fish could be placed on display over ice. He sought out promising young chefs and helped them set up their own restaurants in return for a cut of their revenue, and his look spread widely and quickly” The Sushi Economy pg 71

Why the plastic leafs in Japanese food?

“Tsuma, made from daikon radish, is typically separated from the fish by a leaf known as ooba (now often plastic). Each has a meaning: The tsuma represents Mount Fuji, the leaf represents land, and the fish the ocean.”

The Sushi Economy pg 136

Sounds very unlikely to me. To start with, is it only sushi that has plastic leafs?

Why avocado in American sushi?

“In California in the 1960s, tuna was available only during the summer months… When American diners, who had taken to the fatty appeal of tuna, complained that their favourite fish wasn’t available most of the year, Mashita set out to find an appropriate substitute… It was in the vegetable aisle that he finally found the perfect ingredient: Mexican avocado trees had been transplanted to California a century earlier , and become one of the state’s cash crops”

The Sushi Economy pg 90

Why did two pieces of edo-mae sushi become standard?

“In the late 1940s, Japan faced severe food shortages caused by both wartime devastation and restrictions during the American occupation, including a 1947 law that banned restaurants from operating in public. Members of the Tokyo Sushi Association negotiated a compromise with the municipal government that allowed restaurants to open if they relied on a barter system that reflected the spirit of austerity… Customers would bring in a cup of uncooked rice (and pay a very small sum in cash, described as an “ingredient fee”) in exchange for ten pieces of takeout nigiri. Due to regulations on the Japanese ocean fleet, chefs had to rely on a limited selection of river fish and shellfish, and often did not have enough variety to serve ten different toppings. Instead, they doubled up on what was available and gave diners two pieces of each fish. Sushi associations outside Tokyo… usually turned to Edo-style nigiri in place of other sushi forms that could not be proportioned as easily, helping to spread it as Japan’s prevailing sushi form and its serving sizes”

The Sushi Economy pg 70

Why is mackerel sushi usually pickled rather than raw?

According to Sushi and Beyond, it was originally because mackerel spoils much quicker than other fish. Nowadays it is probably just because it tastes pretty damn good.

Why did sushi become so popular in Japan?

Similar foods exist in parts of China and SE Asia, but it only really took off in Japan.

“By the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries Tokyo, then called Edo, had usurped Kyoto as the capital of Japan, becoming the largest, most populous city on earth in the process. A series of fires, however, threatened the future of the world’s first conurbation, and so open flames were banned in restaurants and the city’s burgeoning fast food industry was virtually wiped out overnight. To the rescue came sushi, which could be assembled without the need of a flame” Sushi and Beyond page 172

Sounds too convenient an explanation to really be true. Any other ideas?

Why wasabi with sushi?

As with many things associated with sushi, it was originally there to tame the germs associated with pre-refrigeration eating of raw fish. The same is true of soy sauce and pickled ginger, and the vinegar in the rice is supposed to reproduce the taste of the fermentation process that preserved the raw fish.

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