Apparently the sushi police are on their way. With the popularity of sushi spreading worldwide, it should be no surprise that everyone and their brother wants to jump on the bandwagon. The problem is that now, it is as easy to find horrible food that is supposed to pass for sushi, being served by people who barely know what sushi is. On top of that, we see combinations in rolls that would mystify the Japanese, but may not seem so unusual locally. After a number of supposedly high profile incidents round the world involving ranking Japanese politicians, Japan has recently decided to begin to develop a system whereby the Japanese government will issue seals of approval to certify that the sushi and sake being served in a restaurant meets with the stringent requirements of the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture.
This ‘authentication plan’ is not a new concept, France has for a long time protected the names of various wine appellations and designations to protect its industry, and even cheese manufacturers worldwide have similar protections in place. While some claim that this smacks of Japanese nationalism, it remains to be seen whether this will really make any difference. While a fizzy California wine cannot be called “champagne,” plenty of bad “sparkling wine” is purchased every year by people to whom the designation does not matter. And many folks will still go to their favorite sushi restaurant and get their “Philadelphia roll” even if it is in no way even remotely a Japanese product.
While some of the more traditional sushi-ya may opt for the new designation, and perhaps even revel in it, ultimately, the dish has been adopted by many different cultures and will forever reflect the tastes and desires of these non-Japanese influences. While I can appreciate the desire to protect something that was so uniquely Japanese (sort of), this seems to me full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. I know what I like and I know what is and is not truly Japanese, and the two do not always meet. For those who don’t know the difference, I’m sure that they are perfectly happy eating what they eat. So bring on the sushi police and feel free to crack down on the places that may have unsafe practices, but don’t try to take away my spicy scallop roll. But if they would like to sit down with me, I’ll gladly pour them a glass of sake.
The sushi guy.
N.B. For an update to this story, please see my entry “Restaurant Certification 1, Sushi Police 0”
I have always been fascinated by the creation and culture of different foods, particularly sushi and sashimi in the modern era of Japanese cuisine. I am a classically trained chef and sushi connoisseur, also having operated a food service company and enjoy investigating and experimenting with food around the world.