Monday, June 22, 2009

Read: The Sushi Economy by Sasha Issenberg

Sushi as we know it is very much an invention of the late twentieth century, in particular the flows of money, power, people, and culture that define the era's interconnectedness.

Nearly every business across the world has been in some way affected by the currents of global capitalism, but in few places are the complex dynamics of globalization revealed as visibly as in the tuna's journey from the sea to the sushi bar.

In The Sushi Economy: Globalization and the Making of a Modern Delicacy, Sasha Issenberg traces the evolution of sushi. Before the 16th century, the rice used to ferment fish was usually scraped off and thrown away. But what we know as sushi today has its origins in 19th century Edo. Sushi was then produced by having cooked rice topped with a piece of fish sitfor 2 to 3 hours. An impatient hawker didn't want to wait and invented the process of molding the pieces on the spot and serving immediately. That became the trend in Edo and sushi was prepared with ingredients such as whitebait, tuna and eel. Wasabi was first used when serving fish heavy in toxins.

In the second section, Issenberg investigates the sushi economy, or more specifically, the tuna sushi economy. He profiles fishermen on the hunt for Boston bluefin; 'tuna cowboys', ranching the fish in Port Lincoln, Australia (and making millions). And then there's "The Raw and the Crooked", where Issenberg hits the trail looking for pirates, launderers and tuna's black market (which was rather boring). I was more interested in the stories of two restaurateurs, one famous (Nobu Matsuhisa), and the other not (Tyson Cole who owns a sushi restaurant in Austin, Texas).

The Sushi Economy is a decent enough read. As someone who adores sushi, I loved learning about the history of sushi. But I had to wonder about a book about the globalisation of sushi that writes about Singaporean diners feasting on "curry rolls and Hainanese chicken-rice rolls, often in halal sushi bars catering to the small nation's increasingly wealthy Malaysian Muslim population". Erm, what? No I don't think so. I only moved to the US from Singapore in January, but never have I come across a curry sushi roll or a Hainanese chicken rice roll. Further, Issenberg doesn't quite analyze globalization or economics as focus on character profiles, so the title is rather misleading.


Howard said...

You just missed those chicken rice rolls then!

iSushi in Bedok has nasi lemak, chicken rice, and a few other "local" style sushi.

dimsumdolly said...

That's a very strange thing he wrote about Singapore...makes me doubt the credibility of the rest of the writing now! I've seen the book in the library but have never picked it up.

olduvai said...

Howard - thanks! Good to know (although I think I would just stick to chicken rice not in a roll).

DSD - I think the first part of the book about the evolution of history is quite worth reading, and so was the profile of Nobu. But yeah, apparently he has foresight, as that link above is for March 2009