Having experienced the earthquake in Kobe, Japan in 1995—during which I was utterly convinced my life was about to end—and now seeing even worse devastation in Japan again, with the tsunami, I’m struck by this graphic from the GeoResources website illustrating the confluence of tectonic plates that causes these devastating tremors. Japan could not be more terribly situated for seismic destruction.
People have been asking me whether I think sushi is going to be safe to eat, with the threat of radiation from the stricken nuclear plant possibly affecting Japan’s food supply. While this might seem almost irrelevant considering the potential direct threat to the people of Japan at the moment, it’s a fair question. For starters, here are few thoughts I offered the New York Times in an article published today:
…Trevor Corson, a sushi expert and a former commercial fisherman who used to live in Japan, said seafood caught “in an ocean churning with movement and dispersal might turn out to be less of a concern than agricultural products that are exposed and stationary.”
But Mr. Corson also said the Japanese seafood industry could face a long and difficult struggle “to establish faith in the safety of their seafood—not unlike the challenges faced by gulf fishermen in the U.S. after the BP oil spill.”
The Tsukiji fish market in central Tokyo, the world’s largest clearinghouse for just about anything that fishermen pull from the sea, was not physically damaged by the earthquake. Its cobblestone aisles and alleyways were as loud, profane and hurly-burly as ever on Saturday. But something in Tsukiji’s soul seems to have been lost, or at least badly bruised, in the tsunami.
Before the disaster, the market drew 10 percent of its daily inventory of 2,400 tons of seafood from the waters off Tohoku, the coastal epicenter of the earthquake. The fishery there is renowned for its scallops, seaweed, bonito and shark’s fin. Tohoku, as a place and a brand in Japan, was formidable. …
“I have started to hear people in the West worrying about radioactive sushi and so on, but perception and reality are quite different,” said Mr. Corson, the author of The Story of Sushi. “Much of the seafood typically used in sushi doesn’t originate in Japan and never passes through the country.”
Check out the entire article, which discusses other Japanese food products as well, such as Kobe beef. I’ll try to post more on this question soon.
Update: My more detailed post on this topic at The Atlantic.
Photo of destroyed Japanese fishing boats: Itsuo Inouye/Associated Press, via NYT.com
I must compliment the Lotos Club for considering the wide range of potential interests among its members and last night providing, in addition to Don Rumsfeld’s book signing upstairs, at the same time a talk on the lovemaking techniques of lobsters by Trevor Corson in the library—preparations pictured above. While Henry Kissinger chose not to attend my lecture, I’m pleased to report that several world-famous chefs opted for the crustacean porn.
The delightful and indefatigable Dorothy Hamilton, founder of the International Culinary Center and the French Culinary Institute, among many, many other accomplishments, has posted further details on the evening, including photos of one of said world-famous chefs decorated with a lobster bib.
If you have never seen a gathering of Beltway insiders metamorphose into a room full of sushi chefs, it puts to shame the miraculous transformation of caterpillar to butterfly.
At this shindig I taught at CulinAerie in Washington D.C. for the alumni association of the Potomac School, I provided the merest of instruction and the team was knocking out restaurant-quality old-school maki in moments. More proof that D.C. foodies are on the rise. Check out the rest of the pics.
My theory for why these classes are so satisfying is that people assume basic sushi is difficult to make, when in fact, provided the proper tips on the fundamentals, old-school maki that look perfect aren’t that hard to produce. You just need to forget everything you’ve ever believed about rolls being rolled. Secret: they’re not!
Immediately after the class, the young lady in the middle of this photo posted on Facebook:
Well, guess I can cross “Have my sushi made fun of by Iron Chef judge” off my to-do list before I die. That was the most fun I’ve had in a long time.
Lest I have worried that the fun I’d made, meant lovingly of course, might have been too Gordon Ramsay-esque, the next day she sent the following note:
Dear Sushi Concierge, thank you for an insightful, witty, and ridiculously fun night. I will surely think of this night the next 200 or so times I have sushi.
Honestly, I had a ridiculously fun time too. Although I’m also curious how long it’s going to take her to eat sushi 200 times. What’s your sushi-200-times timeline?
I’m very tempted to buy this. Only thing that gives me pause is “Pants not included.” Wondering if that’s what makes it “Adult.”
Members of the foodiesphere are calling for a guest judge appearance on Top Chef for the Swedish chef from the Muppets. I am 100% on board with this, and would in addition like to see a return of the Lobster Bandidos.
When I was a lobsterman in Maine I prided myself on my ability to navigate across the sea through the dense fog using a compass and my wristwatch. Just now I used my iPhone to search for a store in Manhattan that I didn’t realize I was already standing in front of.
Here’s a picture I snapped of the late Warren Fernald in his boat Mother Ann—if you’ve read The Secret Life of Lobsters you know the man well. He spent most of his days finding buoys and traps across miles of ocean, in all forms of weather, without the assistance of a single electronic device.
I wonder what we all might find if we pulled our heads out of our smartphones for a second and looked around.
Photo © Trevor Corson, all rights reserved.
What’s with the $400,000 bluefin tuna that just sold at a new year’s auction in Tokyo? Nothing. This recurring headline of extravagantly priced tuna is one of those news items that leaves you with less knowledge than you had before you heard about it. That’s because the only reason any bidder at the Tokyo auction ever pays that much for a fish is to deliberately spend way more than any sane person should. Blowing that much on a tuna is either a celebration of recent profits, or a bid for publicity to boost a restaurant or distributor’s profile. In short, it’s money spent on advertising, not on fish. And clearly, while very expensive, it’s a technique that works.
Which is not to dismiss the larger, very real, and very sad trend of generally increasing prices for bluefin tuna due to their growing scarcity. At this rate, it’s only a matter of time before the global sushi industry wipes these majestic fish off the face of the earth.
Which is doubly sad, because it’s completely unnecessary. As I’ve written in The New York Times, The Atlantic, on Yahoo/CSM, and elsewhere, bluefin tuna aren’t even a traditional Japanese sushi fish.
Photo: Kyodo via AP Images
photo: Sarah Corson
In case you sushi lovers haven’t had enough of my posts on nigiri topped with flounder testicle, here’s the latest high-end food fad in that category: sipping cod semen.
Apparently no one has told these people that we’re trying to bring back the cod population. I don’t think slurping down all the spermatozoa is going to help. Where is our faith in the future of the seas?
I know, if the fish has already been caught, there’s no point in letting the semen go to waste. So, for those who imbibe it, please do your part to replenish the ocean by finding a coddish mermaid to mate with. “Splash” for the twenty-first century.
Photo: Cod milt, from Serious Eats.
Most of us are probably overpaying for good sushi. Last night at my Sushi Concierge dinner lecture in New York, one guest declared our simple but elegant menu of traditional sushi better than meals he’d eaten at the much pricier sushi bars Masa and Yasuda. It’s all about knowledge. I’ll be sharing more insider tips at my next dinner lecture in New York on Tuesday, December 7. I’d love to see you there. Bring friends, you will all be surprised at what sushi experts you become.
Photo by Kirsten Luce for the New York Times.
It’s the 180th anniversary of the founding of the tiny fishing community on the Cranberry Isles in Maine, where the 5th-generation lobstermen depicted in The Secret Life of Lobsters live and work. Here’s the commemorative postmark, showing the small boat that still ferries passengers and brings the islanders their daily mail. Hard to believe I have been riding that same boat since I was a child.
If there’s one thing I learned while researching and writing The Story of Sushi, it’s that the history of sushi has been one of surprisingly constant change and evolution, both in Japan and internationally. The book’s subtitle isn’t “An Unlikely Saga of Raw Fish and Rice” for nothing.
The other day I had the honor of hosting a sold-out panel discussion at the Museum of the City of New York on the evolution of sushi with two talked-about young sushi chefs in the region: Bun Lai of Miya’s Sushi in New Haven (above right) and Hiroji Sawatari, an alumnus of the legendary New York sushi house Yasuda and future chef at the anticipated new SoHo eatery Niko, slated to open this fall (left). These two sushi chefs couldn’t have been more different.
Though relatively young, Hiroji is of the seriously old-school variety of sushi slinger. He began his apprenticeship in Japan at age 16 and brought his sushi-making skills to the U.S. at 21, where he spent four years at the highly-regarded Hatsuhana before returning to the very heart of the Japanese sushi world — the enormous Tsukiji Fish market in Tokyo — to hone his skills further for a year at Sushi-Iwa, a half-century-old shop located just steps away from the world’s clearinghouse for the freshest fish. Back in New York he worked his way up through chef positions at Sharaku and Megu in TriBeCa to a four-year stint at Sushi Yasuda. Last year he joined Food Network star Iron Chef Morimoto at his flagship Japanese eatery in Philadelphia.
Bun, meanwhile, is altogether different. The son of a Chinese father and Japanese mother, he lived in Japan as a boy, watching his Japanese grandmother pickle plums and cucumbers and prepare traditional Japanese fare including fresh fish. But the family moved to Connecticut, where Bun’s mother opened Miya’s in 1982, the first sushi bar in the area, and Bun grew up mostly Americanized. Bun’s mother still oversees the restaurant, but today Bun is the mastermind of its new incarnation, and his charismatic and unconventional approach to sushi, its ingredients, and its presentation has quickly transformed Miya’s into one of the most talked-about sushi restaurants around.
Bun conceives of his work at Miya’s as the logical progression of sushi as it inevitably evolves into food that is cross-cultural, and while his menu is unconventional, his lively interactions with customers also revive the traditional relationship between a sushi chef and his clientele. Bun considers himself both a social and environmental activist, and has transformed Miya’s into the first sushi restaurant on the East Coast to integrate sustainability criteria for the seafood it serves. (Bun is also the 2010 recipient of Key to the City of New Haven for his contributions to the community.)
A few days later I had the chance to visit Bun at Miya’s for dinner. Here we are, pictured above, as he studiously reads what he claims is one of his favorite books, The Secret Life of Lobsters — which was sitting on the sushi bar, with many other books, when I arrived. An example of Bun’s activist menu: we ate these tiny fried crabs, which he features because they are not just yummy, but a pesky invasive species. Now there’s a meal you can feel good about.
In case you missed the Japanese gadget geek who decided his new iPad could serve as the perfect interchangeable serving platter for sushi and sashimi, here you go.
His iPhone makes a delightful appearance as well.
(This has been featured on a number of blogs already, but few of them highlighted the English translation provided on the original Japanese page I’ve linked to, which adds its own charm.)
My exceptionally embarrassing interview with WNYC’s RadioLab has just been beamed around the world. The topic? The mysterious phenomenon of large lobster rescues. Here’s a sample from the conversation:
Robert Krulwich: “Was it its beauty?”
Trevor Corson: “I actually think that lobsters are very attractive.”
Robert Krulwich: “Do you always think that?”
Trevor Corson: “I have always thought a lobster is, ah, how can I say this appropriately for radio? They’re muscular and curvaceous, at the same time.”
Robert Kurlwich: [giggles]
Trevor Corson: “They’re like Popeye arms, those claws! And then there’s that nice curving tail.”
Robert Krulwich: “Do you like have a hunky lobster calendar? ‘Lobsters of 2008’?”
Trevor Corson: “I’m not talking about that on the radio.”
Jad Abumrad: “That’s just weird.”
I go on to wax somewhat more philosophical; the story also includes testimonials from lobster rescuers. Listen.