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Spam Sushi? Yes, an upscale NY sushi restaurant is using spam in their sushi menu

spam musubi 300x226 Spam Sushi? Yes, an upscale NY sushi restaurant is using spam in their sushi menuI’m from the west coast of Canada in an area where hipsters abound, and the idea of an upscale sushi restaurant in New York called Sushi Ko serving up SPAM got my hipster sense tingling. Surely, an upscale trendy restaurant is using SPAM ironically? Perhaps my location has made me suspicious of hipsters trying hard to be counter-culture, but Sushi Ko’s head chef seems to genuinely love SPAM and working it into his cooking in an authentic and delicious way. The idea of Sushi Ko is Omakase style dining, meaning that the chef chooses the dishes of the day. And while I might be a little weirded out by spam sushi, it’s apparently not such a rare treat. To me, it seems incredibly bizarre, but after doing a little more research into SPAM sushi around the world I realized it’s not such a novel idea.

Spam is incredibly popular in Hawaii. So popular, in fact, that the official SPAM website has a section in their faq dedicated to answering why, exactly this is. The section reaches back into history, going back to World War II when the luncheon meat was served to GIs and was quickly and voraciously adopted into local culture. One take on the dish is SPAM Musubi. Spam is grilled, molded, and served nigiri style on rice and wrapped in nori. While you might gets some shocked looks in any other part of the world, Spam sushi wouldn’t turn a head in Hawaii.

And Spam sushi isn’t just limited to nigiri. You can find maki roll recipes on the net, where SPAM is paired with a limitless number of other ingredients, wrapped up in rice and nori and served up “fresh.” I tend to prefer more traditional sushi dishes, but I have to say if I was offered Spam sushi, I would find it tough to resist out of sheer curiosity. Who knows, maybe the saltiness of Spam combined with the sushi rice and nori could work? When I read about Sushi Ko’s tasting menu featuring that ubiquitous dish from a can, it seemed certain that Spam Sushi was a way for yuppies to go out to an upscale dinner and use Spam sushi as a talking point for one-upping their friends. After a little research, I’m not so sure!

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Sushi Mislabeling – A new bill proposes criminal sanctions

sushi mislabeling 300x167 Sushi Mislabeling   A new bill proposes criminal sanctionsIf you saw our previous article on sushi restaurants, grocery stores and venues mislabeling their seafood, you know that it is a rampant problem in the sushi industry. How bad is it? In restaurants tested, almost three quarters were selling mislabeled fish. If you are paying for premium quality fish, you need to know you are getting what you ask for. And it isn’t just about the money. Mislabeling poses even greater risks for pregnant women looking to avoid mercury. Cheaper fish such as Tilefish, often misleadingly labelled as Grouper and Halibut, has a mercury content high enough that the FDA warns small children, nursing mothers and pregnant women to stay away from it. Sushi is safe when you know exactly what you are getting and how it is prepared, but when high percentages of restaurants, stores and markets are selling mislabeled fish, it is difficult for consumers to trust retailers. How can you be certain your sushi has been prepared safely if you can’t even be certain it’s the right fish?

Finally, a lawmaker is paying attention to this. On Monday, April 7, California Senator Alex Padilla held a press conference in Sacramento on his new bill which will impose criminal penalties on those found guilty of mislabeling seafood. The bill, Bill SB 1138 is set for a hearing on April 9th by the Senate Health Committee and would “require any label of fresh, frozen, or processed fish or shellfish, wild or farm raised, offered for sale at wholesale or retail to clearly identify the species of fish or shellfish by its common name, as specified.”

What exactly is a common name? Common names vary from region to region. They are the names of fish which are regionally used to designate species, which means that while common names are sometimes inappropriate for interstate commerce, they are the best way for local consumers to know they are getting what they paid for. That is why SB 1138 will create and impose a state-mandated local program to enforce existing law, which is clarified in the text of the new bill.

Currently, while it is a crime to mislabel food, laws are ambiguous or murky in the area of seafood, allowing retailers to mislabel food with seeming impunity considering the rampant levels of mislabeling. The FDA attempts to regulate the seafood industry, but the task seems to be of a magnitude too great for them to stop the current surge of mislabeling, which is why state-mandated local programs could be the answer, backed by the authority to levy criminal penalties and fines. Before this bill, guidelines for labeling fish were generally under the FDA “fish list“, which supports the labeling of seafood by the common name but did not mandate it, saying only that “FDA generally regards common names as appropriate market names, provided they are not misleading or confusing”. It’s obvious by the current rate of mislabeling that it isn’t enough, and that the enforcement right now just isn’t there.

A bill like this does so much more than protect consumers wallets. This bill could protect new mothers, pregnant women and small children from the dangers of mercury poisoning. It could protect those with allergies from serious reactions. And on the conservation front, this bill is one step forward for ecological sustainability efforts which are impeded by mislabeling of seafood. Consumers who are trying their best to eat only sustainable seafood may find themselves, through no fault of their own, eating at-risk species mislabeled as sustainably best choices. We will be following the course of this bill closely, and sushi lovers and consumer rights advocates should too. Consumers have the right to know exactly what they are putting in their bodies, especially when you are talking about raw fish.

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Seaweed Salad – My Favorite Quick Lunch

seaweed salad1 Seaweed Salad   My Favorite Quick LunchFor a quick snack, nothing beats a quick and easy meal of seaweed salad, AKA “chukka sarada” (right now from Beyond Sushi, off Union Square Park). Filling, healthful, and it offers ample opportunity to bone up on my flossing skills! Sweet, savory, and a touch of sesame make eating this a game of taste-bud boxing with the myriad flavors. Enough is never enough.

 

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Sushi on a single grain of rice

single grain of ruice sushi 300x246 Sushi on a single grain of rice
How many pieces of sushi can you eat? 10? 20? 100? If you find yourself struggling to get into the triple digits when you go to an all you can eat sushi special, read on. Hironori Ikeno, a sushi chef in Tokyo has a unique take on sushi, using only a single grain of rice for each piece. He skillfully balances tiny pieces of fish in place on their tiny bed of rice, wrapping them in place with a miniature strand of nori (seaweed). This sushi promises the ultimate test of chopstick skills as you carefully, carefully attempt to pick up the single piece and bring it to your mouth intact as the chef watches intently, judging your every move as you bring the delicate creation closer and closer to your mouth. Your hands wobble and shake with nervous stress, beads of cold sweat sliding down your face from your forehead in intense concentration until you are finally rewarded with a burst of flavor and a look of stern approval from the sushi chef. Don’t worry – if you aren’t an expert at chopsticks, I’m sure he will let you use your hands!

Check out the short video below for more!

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The global seafood trade is at a record breaking high


The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization Sub-Committee on Fish Trade will be meeting in Norway next week, and preliminary data released shows that exports are at an all time high. 2013 is set to make a new record in fish trade at 160 million tonnes, up 3 million from the previous year. That is a $136 billion industry in exports alone. While this is welcome news for the global economy, it raises worries for those concerned with overfishing and the sustainability of the industry on the whole.

Seafood is booming. High prices in species such as salmon and shrimp have maintained even with growth in aquaculture output, and the demand for fresh seafood keeps increasing. But not everyone is benefiting equally from the enormous profits of the global fishing industry. While developing countries are supplying 61 percent of fish by volume, they are only receiving 54 percent by value. This seems fairly neutral at first, with developing countries holding their own in global fish trade against the economic behemoths of the Western world, but the FAO warns that the benefits are not being seen by the small-scale fishing communities and farmers who represent 90 percent of the global seafood workforce. While neoliberal readers may be surprised to hear that trickledown economics seem to be failing for developing countries, it is a real issue when the bulk of the workforce is being left out of the economic development. Feminist scholars and activists will be interested in knowing that half of these seafood workers are female, and that helping small scale producers should be able to help women in developing countries.

It is the same story. Small scale workers simply do not have the capital and bargaining power to compete at the same level as the big players on a global scale. When you add in restrictions and catch certification that first world markets are moving towards in order to ensure an environmentally sustainable fishing industry, you have further problems for small-scale fishers who live in countries that simply do not have the infrastructure to meet the requirements for the most profitable markets. The FAO recommends to countries that they tailor national policies to not overlook small-scale sectors; however at this time they do not seem to be providing solutions for developing countries that have a more difficult time meeting market access regulations other than a plea to the countries to get with the times and provide programs to ensure compliance.

Developing countries need more focus. While it is not a happy truth, the fewer the regulations in place, the more opportunities for illegal and unregulated fishing there are. We will see if the FAO is able to offer concrete, valuable solutions for developing countries to meet growing restrictions to markets and to provide for their small scale workers and sectors in the future. Readers looking for more information can refer to the FAO website for further information.

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Finfish study warns of decreasing seafood supply


Your sushi is still in danger. A Finfish study, published by the EU Fish Processors and Traders Association in December of 2013 has the goal of providing the information needed to allow for a sustainable and consistent fishing industry for EU member states. It is a study published annually for over 20 years, and is a tool for creating legislation and regulations in the EU fishing industry. The study is a whopping 71 pages, chock full of scientific language which makes it lengthy to read through – so we’ve done the work for you, and here are the key points and conclusions of the study that may affect your sushi enjoyment.

The key findings of 2013 are generally negative. The total market supply has dropped by 13.7 million tons, quota utilization has deteriorated, and the EU is facing increased international competition which makes environmental regulations increasingly unpopular. This is the first time since the EU27 (which saw the addition of Bulgaria and Romania and spanned 2007-2013) that the available supply of fish has declined. However, the study is not overtly negative, and remains confident that the EU fish and seafood market can continue to support itself without recession.

The EU has found out just how complex the fishing industry is. This study follows a trend in having trouble with the sheer scope and complexity of the industry, with large variations in prices both international and nationally as well as the convoluted path that seafood takes from the sea to your dinner plate. Gone are the days, unless you are lucky enough to live in a fishing community, of fresh fish being brought in for dinner. Nowadays, fish passes through a complex web of suppliers, pounds (especially for shellfish) and international distributors before it reaches the consumer. This makes it difficult to regulate and trace whether or not seafood is sourced sustainably. One of the positives that this study sees is the effectiveness of EU-IUU regulations which were made to deal with this very problem.

EU-IUU regulations were created to ensure that fish being imported into the EU (and caught by EU member states) are sourced in a way that is environmentally sustainable as well as legal. IUU fishing, or illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, is the biggest threat to fish stocks globally. Started in 2008, this regulation has now become “a firmly established feature of the international trading environment,” and has served to label countries not willing to cooperate as “non-cooperating third world countries in fighting illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing”. The EU, a multinational body which serves the interests of all member states does not suffer from the same limitations of a one-state approach to regulations. When you are talking about a global commodity which requires everyone in the world to fish sustainably, the EU is a key part of the sustainability effort, and its decisions will have a direct effect on the availability of particular fish that is commonly eaten as sushi.

If you would like to read more about the study, you can see it straight from the source. The study findings are published for free at The European Fish Processors Association.

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Changes in California Retail Food Code impact sushi chefs

salmon Changes in California Retail Food Code impact sushi chefsIn order to provide a more sanitary environment, California has passed new legislation to require that all culinary workers wear gloves while handling food. Among the most vocal critics of the law are bartenders, who find gloves to be inconveniencing especially during peak hours, and sushi chefs who find that the quality of their sushi declines with the barrier between their hands and the ingredients.

Sushi is unlike other foods in the way that making expert level sushi is an extremely and directly tactile process. Expert sushi chefs need to have direct contact with the sushi, feeling with their hands the exact properties of rice, nori (seaweed) and seafood. While to the vast majority of sushi consumers there will be no noticeable difference between sushi made by bare hands and those by chefs with gloves, the sushi chefs themselves and true lovers of sushi can tell that they are not quite reaching the perfection that they need to take sushi from food to art form. If you know any serious sushi chefs, you know that they seek to perfect their craft, and gloves are one more obstacle preventing them from creating the dishes they envision.

The mentality of a sushi chef is one of exacting standards, and loose fitting gloves impede them from reaching their potential. Some sushi chefs have over 30 years perfecting their art, and their hands have decades of experience knowing the perfect, exact movements to turn sushi into art. While it might not seem like a big deal to the average person, the pursuit of perfection inherent to any serious sushi chef brings understandable criticism of the law.

For the first six months of the new law, offenders will only be given a verbal warning. But after that, they could be found in violation of health code laws, which has huge ramifications for restaurant owners. There is a possibility for exemption to the laws, which restaurants can apply for. For fine dining restaurants, it would be more feasible to be granted an exception, and California sushi lovers can only hope that their favorite restaurant is able to be exempt from the laws.

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Low Calorie Sushi Options

cucumber roll 300x199 Low Calorie Sushi OptionsSushi is a godsend for anyone trying to keep within calorie budgets and may be tired of eating boring, unsatisfying foods. While processed foods tend to sacrifice flavor in their low-calorie versions, low calorie sushi options are just as delicious (and some would argue even more delicious) than high calorie options. If you have read “The Difference between authentic Japanese sushi and sushi around the world” you will notice a trend towards simplicity in Japanese sushi, and a good rule of thumb is this: the simpler the sushi roll, the lower the calorie count. Please note that calorie counts will depend on the restaurant and size of the roll.

The sushi experience is great for anyone on a diet. The ambiance of a restaurant, the slow savoring of flavors and the use of chopsticks forces you to enjoy your food, letting your body realize when it is satisfied and helping to prevent overeating. Instead of having your food come out all at once, you can order as you finish rolls and sushi items, leaving with the perfect level of satisfaction without being stuffed.

The lowest calorie sushi rolls are vegetarian. A 6 piece cucumber roll weighs in at a measly 136 calories, and an avocado roll isn’t much more with 140 calories while serving as a great source of healthy fats. While delicious, vegetarian rolls may be less satisfying than their protein heavy fish counterparts. A simple tuna roll comes in at 184 calories, and a salmon roll contains approximately 168.

The simplest sushi is sashimi, or raw fish without any rice. You would think that because sashimi skips the rice, you would end up with fewer calories per piece. However, this is untrue because rice is lower in calories than some kinds of fresh fish, so you are a getting a higher calorie count but also a more filling meal. Sake (salmon) and Maguro (Tuna) sashimi will be from 40-50 calories per piece, and an order of sashimi may include 3 pieces, with some restaurants serving giant pieces that end up well above those calorie estimates. Sashimi tends to be denser in calories, as it is protein heavy fish, but also much more filling than rolls. This means that it is a good choice for a filling addition to a low-calorie meal, but it may not necessarily the best low calorie option in itself.

If you are like me, you aren’t going to be ordering only simple rolls when you go out to sushi. Readers will be pleased to know that the most popular sushi roll, the California roll, contains 255 calories. Not bad! The biggest pitfall of those who view sushi as healthy is tempura. It is easy to think you are eating healthy when in fact tempura is deep fried batter. A shrimp tempura roll comes in at 508 calories – almost as much as a Big Mac! Another western take on sushi is the Philadelphia roll, which includes smoked salmon, cucumber, and, you guessed it, cream cheese. This is another example of taking what was traditionally a healthy, simple fare and turning it into a tasty but high calorie treat. Depending on the amount of cream cheese used, a Philly roll can be anywhere from 400-500 calories.

Calorie conscious sushi eaters don’t need to avoid all of the more complex western rolls. However, like anything, moderation is the key. The 508 calories in a shrimp tempura roll is approximately equivalent to 3 and a half cucumber rolls! When I go for sushi, I aim for a healthy balance of simplicity and flavor. A cucumber roll, Sake roll, California roll and a few pieces of sashimi is enough to satisfy me, meaning I get a full meal that is less than 700 calories. Those with smaller appetites can, if they chose low calorie sushi items, enjoy a full dinner well within the 500 calorie range. If you are active like me, the high protein, low calorie nature of sushi is a great way to keep fit!

If you want more information on calories and sushi to help you plan out your meal, please feel free to view our “calories in sushi” page

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New Awareness Campaign INSEPARABLE is announced by the European Union

Seafood stocks 281x300 New Awareness Campaign INSEPARABLE is announced by the European UnionEU Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Maria Damanaki has introduced a new, EU wide sustainable fishing campaign and program called INSEPARABLE. The campaign was created as a measure to change fish consumption to sustainable seafood in order to improve the health of Europeans and to protect the jobs of Europeans and maritime economic prosperity. At its heart, INSEPARABLE is an awareness campaign.

The European Union has a huge effect on patterns of seafood consumption. As the leading importers of fish products, the European Union has taken measures to protect global oceans and fisheries. Recently, in 2013, the European Commission agreed to implement the CFP, or Common Fisheries Policy. The fact is that fisheries and sustainable fisheries practices affect everyone. This is not a resource that stays put within state boundaries, as marine life is constantly migrating and moving in the global oceans. The European Union uses the European Commission to implement and improve policy in a way which transcends physical state boundaries.

Fisheries are a renewable resource, but the renewability relies on measures to prevent overfishing which can wipe out fish stocks, degrading marine environments and sending marine based economies into a recession. The INSEPARABLE project is an attempt to bring awareness to the difference that each consumer can make it choosing sustainable harvested seafood in order to ensure that the oceans remain prosperous and bountiful. The website, http://ec.europa.eu/fisheries/inseparable/en, features a campaign of pairing together consumers, workers, and fishers with the seafood that allows them to sustain their way of life. Whatever you have to say about INSEPARABLE, you have to admit that their logos are compelling!

INSEPARABLE is not a hard, scientific website with dry statistics preaching doom and gloom on the state of the marine ecosystems of our world. Instead, it features inspirational stories which showcase the need for sustainability and how our lives can be lived in a sustainable way. Even the resource section is filled with banners, posters and a FAQ which reads as a fluff piece highlighting the need to be a part of the sustainability movement. If you dig deeper to the “Resources by Country Section”, you can find country specific information, but prepare to be able to speak the regional languages in order to understand most of the information provided. The website and project seems to be a way to showcase the changes to the Common Fisheries Policy in a positive way, to inspire consumers and business to switch to sustainable seafood, and to paint the European Union as a pro-sustainability organization.

The European Union has been a force towards sustainability. Initiatives such as the 2010 IUU (Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated) fishing program to document where fish are sourced and how they are caught in a sustainable manner is just one example of the programs that the EU uses in order to maintain a sustainable marine ecology. How does the EU implement and enforce this policy? Any seafood product entering the EU borders must be certified by the exporting country to comply with fishing regulations. The EU’s goals would appear to be largely economically related, as their fishing industry is one of the most highly regulated in the world, and, as such, they would wish to globalize their regulations in order to protect marine sustainability as well as put their producers on an equal playing field with the rest of the world. The fact is that sustainability movements cannot rely in the short term on ethical, moral, or way of life movements in order to make changes that respond to pressing matters and crises. While sustainability as a movement has made long term gains in shifting the attitudes of people, it is the economic situation of countries faced with losing their fish stocks that will cause the largest policy shifts.

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The Difference between authentic Japanese sushi and sushi around the world


A question that many sushi lovers find themselves wondering is whether there are differences between how sushi is prepared and served in its homeland of Japan compared to the sushi available in the western world. Some long for a more traditional sushi experience, while some are merely curious as to whether they are really eating “Japanese food” when they go out for sushi.

Japanese cuisine is far more broad than what we find in restaurants in the western world, but one of the major differences in the style of sushi is the scarceness of rolls in comparison to other ways of eating sushi. When you think of American sushi, the quintessential roll is the avocado roll. This is actually a recent creation (when you consider the vast history of sushi) which came to be in the 1960s in California when a sushi chef realized he could substitute expensive tuna with the fatty taste and texture of avocado. When you realize just how widespread a roll such as this is in America, you start to understand the huge differences in Japanese sushi as opposed to the spread of sushi globally.

When rolls are created in Japan, they are most commonly done in the traditional manner which is to serve them with the nori wrapped on the outside of the role. The idea of putting the rice on the outside was tailored to Western aesthetics, which did not enjoy the sight or texture of seaweed on the outside of the roll. In Japan, you will be much more likely to find sashimi than rolls. Unbelievably fresh fish will be enhanced with a slight dab of wasabi and served on rice, allowing the natural flavors of the fish to be enjoyed. Fancier sushi restaurants will serve only what is freshest at the market, choosing their menu based on the days catch, and those with access to the Tsukiji Market are particularly fortunate. While it is possible to find fresh sushi in America, Canada, and Europe, you are more likely to find flash frozen fare (which is still delicious, but not quite the same). When you are in Japan, fresh fish is the norm and it makes sense why they prefer not to hide the flavors in rolls dripping with condiments and mixed vegetables. This is a style of sushi which has its roots in a history which came before the advent of refrigeration and freezing techniques. If you eat sushi rolLs in Japan, they are simpler, with a circle of white rice encompassing a raw fish and wrapped tightly with nori.

American sushi is almost a different food group than traditional sushi. So what accounts for the huge differences? Regional tastes and cultural differences are largely the source. Where Japanese sushi is a delicate balance of flavors, western diners prefer bold flavors and strong colors, which explains the popularity of a roll like the “Philadelphia Roll”, which includes Salmon, avocado, and cream cheese. This is the type of fare that you would never find at a traditional Japanese sushi restaurant! Local cuisine will invariably have rolls formed with local tastes and ingredients.

hotategai scallop The Difference between authentic Japanese sushi and sushi around the world

Etiquette is another aspect in which the experience of eating sushi differs. In Japan, sushi is seen very much as an artas much as a food, and the chef is the artist. Adding wasabi to a perfectly prepared and balanced roll would be akin to buying a painting and then adding a few “finishing touches” of your own in front of the artist. While the western world loves its condiments, you would not see authentic sushi served with wasabi on the side, only pickled ginger which is used to cleanse the palate between different food items, and soy sauce (shoyu). Sashimi would be served with soy sauce, however, one would not use the common western practice of stirring wasabi and soy sauce together. Just a heads up when enjoying nigiri in a traditional environment, make sure to flip the sushi over before dipping it in soya sauce. Let only the fish touch the soy sauce, as the sauce will degrade the flavor and texture of the rice.

This article is not trying to proclaim the superiority of traditional sushi. Different cultures have different tastes in sushi, and I personally love California roles as well as BC rolls, which have barbecued salmon skin in sweet sauce and would never be found in Japan. It is simply to show that western sushi is not as much Japanese food as it is inspired by Japanese cuisine, and that there are major differences between the sushi you would get in Western countries and the sushi you would be served in Japan. Bon appetit!

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