Monthly Archives: May 2008

The Sushi Economy (cont’d)

I saw a TV show yesterday about cultivated tunas whose entire bodies were “toro.” A marine biologist from Kinki University who was introduced in the Sasha Issenberg’s book was on the show and confidently talked about his “perfectly cultivated” bluefin tuna. The tunas were from his university-incubated business, A-marine Kindai, and ready to be marketed. “Toro” is the fatty part of tuna. Wild tunas are less fatty than cultivated ones because they have to survive in the open oceans that require strong muscles, which is called “akami”, the red lean part of tuna. “Toro” usually makes up 20 to 30 percent of tuna. On the contrary, the cultivated tunas are pampered in a fish farm and become too “fatty.”

Each “Kindai” tuna is shipped to retailers with a “graduation diploma” from Kinki University. They have designed their own safety certificate program responding to the recent concern over food safety. Do you love tunas with a track record? They are controlled fed from hatchlings to adulthood. Celebrities on the show were very happy with tasting the cultivated tuna toro over the wild one’s. After watching it, I felt like eating sushi and going jogging at the same time…

A-marine Kindai website

The Sushi Economy

I bought the Japanese version of this book which was published in April. I was astonished by the Sasha Issenberg’s research work. I’ve been recommending to everyone to read the book. I think it’s a real contribution to the area after Theodore Bestor’s Tsukiji(This book was also translated into Japanese last year.)

Tuna wasn’t served as sushi so often at the beginning of Edomae(Tokyo)-style sushi era. Most of fish were from Tokyo Bay and they were marinated for sushi. As frozen technology advanced, people started delivering tuna from remote areas. Then, tuna sushi became very popular in the country. Now, everybody associates good sushi with good tuna.

The book told us that JAL(Japan Airlines) first started air-shipping tuna to Japan in 1972 because JAL cargos had a one-way traffic problem caused by Japan’s exportation of goods such as cameras and small electronics. This event was the inception of the forming of a global supply chain of tuna to Tokyo Tsukiji market. The author mentioned about Thomas Friedman’s a Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention, two countries with Macdonald’s would never go to war with each other. As Sasha implied, eating a sushi meal leads you to the global food supply chain. You may verify the sushi version of it among countries where sushi is revolving on a conveyer belt.
Was tuna a profitable business? Actually, sushi chefs in Japan hate customers who eat Toro(fatty tuna) sushi a lot. The price of tuna fluctuates throughout the year. Also, the margin is so thin because nobody pays $50 just for one or two pieces of tuna sushi. Sushi chefs see the profit through the whole sushi meal. If customers ask for sake or beer, chefs are very happy. Furthermore, chefs have to keep tuna in their limited stock space for their loyal customers. Nobu Matsuhisa said in the book that his business hit a break even point even after his restaurant became reputable and many of its customers ordered the chef’s choice menu known as omakase. Please don’t be selfish for tuna tonight.

Tempura Hayashi

I went to Hayashi, a traditional, family-owned, tempura restaurant in the Nihonbashi district of Tokyo. Hayashi has been well-renowned as the best tempura in the nation, with the patronage of a famous historical novel writer and gourmand, Shotaro Ikenami. The letters of the sign in front of the restaurant were written by Ikenami long ago. I had booked this restaurant a half year ago. But, I couldn’t make it to the reservation, ending up with ruining the freshest seafood from Tsukiji Market. As I felt terribly sorry for the restaurant and the fish, I booked again to make up for the last time.

I invited my younger brother and his girlfriend for the meal. They had long wanted to meet me in person somewhere in Tokyo because they were getting married soon and I had never met her. Tempura was a good idea to avoid the silence. Tempura comes one after another directly from a chef behind the counter, so we just have to pay attention to his beautiful motions when we have nothing to talk about. The staff remembered me and gave us a warm welcome. Also, they liked the purpose for our visit.  

The seafood for the meal was incredible. The freshest ingredients in season took my breath away. They were served as light fluffy crisp tempura and, sometimes, “medium rare” tempura was the chef’s recommendation. Furthermore, the plates served were beautiful traditional Japanese pottery which the restaurant has had for generations. I thoroughly enjoyed the history underlying the restaurant.

The pleasant hours and conversations with my brother reminded me of our days like “A River Runs Through it.” I wanted to talk with my brother more, but I didn’t say so. We each had other fish to fry. I just said good-bye to them and paid the bill…