Ever since the 80s (the best decade ever), the popularity and accessibility of sushi exploded around the world from London to Lagos. Largely as a result of restauranteurs seeking higher margins but also clientele seeking something more exotic. Sushi can now be eaten on any budget, anywhere.
In London there are many affordable places like Yo Sushi!, YouMeSushi, Wasabi or Itsu, as well as the higher-end Nobu, Roka, Yashin Ocean House, or Dinings. However, in Japan, eating sushi is still considered a luxury. It’s a common misconception that the Japanese eat sushi every day. Instead, it is mostly reserved for special occasions and celebrations.
A fun sushi fact is that salmon was not eaten in Japanese sushi until 1995, after it was introduced under Project Japan by the Norwegians looking to secure a market for their salmon. This was because Pacific salmon native to Japan is considered too dangerous to eat raw, due to the potential for parasites. Although it took some years to catch on, salmon is one of the most commonly eaten fish in Japan today, alongside tuna and sea bream.
Brazil has the largest Japanese population outside of Japan, thanks to a 1907 agreement that sent Japanese workers there looking for job opportunities. The cultural exchange between Brazil and Japan gave rise to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, sakerinhas, and some of the most creative fusion sushi. Brazilian sushi chefs incorporate a lot of tropical fruits such as mangoes, strawberries and fried banana into their maki rolls.
Close links between Portugal and Brazil (as well as historical links between Portugal and Japan as the first Europeans to arrive in Japan in 1543), also make Portugal a natural destination for some of the best fusion sushi. Coming to London from Portugal, I was surprised to find only avocado and cucumbers in the makis of most sushi restaurants.
If you’d like to try a place that combines all three Japanese, Brazilian and Peruvian cuisines, head to Sushi Samba in London.
In Japan, sushi continues to be much more purist. Instead of exotic fruits and mayonnaise, rice and seaweed are topped or rolled with a greater variety of fish and seafood, such as squid, abalone, and sea urchin. But the key difference between authentic Japanese sushi and the fusion variety has more to do with the skill level of preparation than the ingredients.
To say that an Itamae (head sushi chef) just slices fish is like saying a footballer just kicks a ball. I use the sports analogy because that’s exactly what football is to me. Sure, I watch football sometimes, but I really don’t know much about the sport nor does it interest me. I know of Ronaldo and Messi like most people know salmon and tuna. A lot of people enjoy eating sushi but aren’t particularly interested to know more about it. To know the names of the world’s best sushi chef’s like they do the top footballers. To understand the terminology or etiquette.
Like its western counterpart, Japanese sushi ranges from high-end to casual. But the price is important because in this world, you get what you pay for. A sushi meal that is $250 and not $25 is not because some people are fools willing to pay an incredible markup. In addition to the steep price of the world’s most coveted fish, it takes about as long to become a master sushi chef in Japan as it does to become a qualified surgeon in the UK.
The world’s best 3-star Michelin sushi master Jiro Ono became a qualified sushi chef in 1951 at 26 years old. But it wasn’t until he was 40 that he was able to open his own sushi restaurant. Today he is 92 and still performs his daily routine of buying the fish he will serve on the day from the market. The role of the Itamae is not only full responsibility for the market to mouth production of sushi, but also to entertain his guests.