How Japanese is the California Roll? And are sushi safety standards abroad adequate? Japan plans a forum to answer these questions.
As raw fish fans from Berlin to Beijing feed the boom in Japanese restaurants, sushi chefs and restaurateurs are set to tackle various problems facing the industry at a global summit in Tokyo later this month.
Japan’s bureaucrats made headlines a year ago with a plan to dispatch “sushi police” to check the culinary credentials of Japanese restaurants overseas.
That triggered a wave of negative publicity, and now restaurateurs are trying a more diplomatic approach.
“I have to say that the fact that the word ‘sushi police’ came about is something very unfortunate,” said Yuzaburo Mogi, chief executive of soy sauce maker Kikkoman as well as chairman of JRO, the Organisation to Promote Japanese Restaurants Abroad, which is organising the summit.
The organisation decided to try and improve standards at sushi bars around the world after hearing of cases of food poisoning linked to restaurants abroad that employ inexperienced or unskilled chefs.
JRO has set up offices in various cities, including London, Los Angeles and Shanghai, to offer training opportunities for chefs, and is working on other ideas to support the sushi scene.
CALIFORNIA ROLL ROCKS
“The objective of our organisation is to try to upgrade the hygienic level of Japanese restaurants overseas and promote Japanese food culture overseas,” Mogi said.
“We don’t intend whatsoever to send out sushi police or to monitor Japanese restaurants.”
Sushi bars have become hugely popular in Europe and the United States, not least because of the image of Japanese food as fresh and healthy.
As incomes rise in countries such as China and Russia, fashionable diners there are also discovering the joys of raw fish, vinegared rice and seaweed.
Some of those restaurants are in fact Chinese, Thai, or Vietnamese eateries that put up a “sushi” sign to cash in on the lucrative trend – diners tend to be willing to pay higher prices for Japanese food.
Other sushi bars offer concoctions such as the “California Roll”, made of rice, avocado, and imitation crab meat, that have purists shuddering.
Japan’s Agriculture Ministry has proposed in the past that a panel of food experts check overseas restaurants for authenticity and issue a certificate for those that meet certain standards.
But Mogi advocated a more generous approach.
“I personally feel the California Roll can be acknowledged as part of Japanese cuisine,” he said, adding that some traditional Japanese food, such as deep-fried “tempura” seafood, was in fact inspired by European dishes.
“We should not have a narrow way of thinking, but a broader, deeper way of thinking,” he said.
The Japanese Restaurant International Forum will be held on March 27 and 28 in Tokyo.