90% of all sushi bars are run by people who have absolutely no clue about the craft. There is no passion, no concern for delivering a true intimate representation of decades of culture and romance. No discipline, and no regard for the quality or the origins of their proteins. In fact quite the opposite. Most sushi bars are bastardized fast food set ups, that rely on you, the valued customer, to remain completely ignorant of what sushi actually is, so they can sell you trash, and laugh all the way to the bank.
Lets start with the all time worst offense, Blue Fin Tuna Belly.
If you dare to crack open a book, or even google the origins of sushi, you’ll soon read that the original fish used for sushi hundreds of years ago was actually a carp, and from there with the evolution of Nigiri sushi (finger pressed fish over rice) in the mid 1700’s the most prized and revered fish, actually deified in the Japanese culture as symbol of good fortune, is the Tai Snapper. This red sea bream, often called “Cherry blossom Tai”, due to its beautiful color and the time of year it is at its most pristine, was cherished for its delicate white flesh and its lightly sweet flavor profile. To this day many purists will carry around a bone from the Tai in their wallet or purse to bring them good fortune, like a blend of the thanksgiving wishbone and the rabbit foot in western culture.
Originally the Japanese hated the Blue fin and rendered it too greasy for human consumption, using it as dog and cat food, or just straight burying them in the ground as fertilizer. They had no value.
Enter the U.S. and world war II, we occupy Japan, and bring with us our fatty, sugar, and salt rich western way of eating….and we disrupt everything. We bring over the butter, steak and potato mentality, and literally change the palette of an entire Island and Nation.
Fishermen started realizing that they could sell this trash fish to this new hybrid consumer that wanted tuna fish sandwiches, and fat and salt. eventually it made its way into the sushi bars, and now a premium price could be added, and behold, the spawning of a whole new way to make money off of a product considered to be trash, and not only that, people would wait in line for hours and pay any price for it, now that it was marketed as the “ultimate” sushi experience.
Its the same logic as the Chilean Sea bass, which is also facing alarmingly low population numbers, the real name of the fish is a Patagonian Tooth fish, which sounds completely unappetizing, change it to Chilean Sea bass and tack on a few extra bucks and now you can’t catch enough of it to meet demand.
Now the North Atlantic Bluefin, and the South Atlantic Bluefin populations are Extremely threatened, bordering on the collapse of the fishery. I have also sat down with the IATTC , the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission, based here in San Diego, with over 250 scientists, who monitor the Health of 7 different Tuna species globally. If we do not change how we fish and manage the Pacific Bluefin Tuna stock, in the next 10 years the Pacific Blue Fin will follow the same tragic fate. Local fisherman will testify to this fact when examining the average catch sizes over the last decade, they used to pull in cows, and now 30-60lb pacific bluefin are the norm, because we are harvesting them faster than they can handle.
The worst part is that the bluefin has become so tragically valuable that when one is caught, they immediately cryogenically freeze the fish so it can be sold in tiny slivers for $40-$60 dollars a pound. That means that all your “delicious” toro that you are ordering has been sitting in a freezer for months, and sometimes years, until it gets ordered and thawed out for you to eat as “fresh” at your local sushi spot. Painfully hilarious.
Which saddens me even further, besides people being served unmarked and intentionally mislabeled frozen fish, besides viciously overfishing species to near extinction with complete disregard, besides intentionally misinforming your customer for profit, is that the Tuna industry intentionally glamorizes and the fish, so no one will notice the dangerous undertow of extermination, and completely irresponsible practices.
Please realize the power you have when you put something in your mouth.