Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Is It Quality Control or the "Sushi Police"?

I'll let you decide. Here's the wire story that ran on Tuesday:

Japan launched a campaign Tuesday to certify authentic Japanese food overseas, but insisted it was only promoting its cuisine rather than setting up a "sushi police."

. . . The campaign when first announced was mocked by some Western media as a futile effort at a time when Japanese food is growing in popularity across the world.

To qualify for certification, applicants are required to use Japanese rice and seasoning along with traditional ingredients. Restaurants must also show knowledge of Japanese recipes and proper hygiene. Restaurants must also clear at least two of five criteria such as originality, dish arrangement and customer service.

. . . The organisation will hold a conference on March 27 and 28 in Tokyo to explain the system, inviting restaurant owners and others from around the world.

Japanese officials and tourists have voiced growing alarm at what they see as vile imitations of their cuisine overseas, fearing that Japanese food will go the way of Chinese cuisine in North America and Europe.
This is a strange analogy, given that my friends who have traveled to China say they have been very disappointed in the quality of "Chinese" restaurants over there. Anyway, the story continues:
The ubiquitous California roll is a case in point. The vegetarian sushi dish, which replaces sushi with avocado or cucumbers and may include cream cheese, is unrecognisable to most Japanese.
I'm sorry if Japanese visitors to the states are confused by what we call a "California roll" and I see nothing wrong with allowing some restaurants to be certified as authentically Japanese. But I'm worried that this may be the culinary version of France's Académie Francaise. A nation that eats sea urchin and nattō is in no position to instruct the rest of the world how we should eat our sushi.

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