Posts Tagged ‘Sushiro’

Say goodbye to plentiful, affordable shrimp

Friday, October 25th, 2013

Squeezed out: Shrimp tempura in a supermarket

Squeezed out: Shrimp tempura in a supermarket

Last week the national fast food chain Tenya, which specializes in tempura dishes, announced that it was discontinuing two of its most popular menu items effective Oct. 20: jotendon (¥580) and ebiten soba or udon (¥790). Both dishes feature prawns deep fried in batter — the former offers two big prawns on top of a bowl of rice, and the latter one big prawn in a bowl of either soba or udon noodles. The reason for the move is the skyrocketing price of shrimp. As a concession, Tenya will continue serving tendon (¥500), which only features one fried prawn on a bowl of rice, and introduce ebi oika tendon (¥590) — one prawn and one slab of squid on rice.

Tenya’s parent company, Royal Holdings, said in a statement that the Southeast Asian shrimp farms from which it buys its prawns have been hit with a disease called early mortality syndrome (EMS) that has decimated stocks, the result being that prices have doubled. The EMS plague affects shrimp prices all over the world, especially in the U.S., which consumes more shrimp than any other country. Since most shrimp farms are, almost by definition, ecologically destructive, the spread of disease is hardly surprising, and it isn’t certain if the industry will be able to recover.

That’s a serious problem for Japan, where shrimp, or ebi, has a special place in the national cuisine. Before the 1980s, tendon using prawns was considered an extravagant dish for the average Japanese person, and it remains one of the most popular meals to this day, beloved by all classes of people. Tendon is by far the most popular item on Tenya’s menu, with the now discontinued jotendon in fourth place, according to a recent report on TV Asahi. Moreover, the kaiten sushi (conveyor belt sushi) chain Sushiro has also announced that it will be suspending sales of many dishes that use shrimp due to the “worldwide shortage.” Family restaurants and convenience stores will also cut back on the number of products they sell that feature ebi.

The shortage has given rise to rumors that some Japanese restaurants and food makers have been using crayfish (zarigani) as a substitute for shrimp without telling customers. There are sushi restaurants in the U.S. that serve crayfish openly, but most Japanese people find the fresh water crustacean unappetizing. The American species of crayfish was brought to Japan by the U.S. military during the postwar occupation as a protein supplement, and now can be commonly found in rivers and streams. Japanese tend to be streotyped as able to eat almost anything but they’ve never taken to crayfish, which in the U.S. is normally eaten in the South.

It’s the kind of rumor that some restaurants would take seriously. Coincidentally or not, the Hankyu Hanshin Hotel group recently announced that it would provide refunds to anyone who purchased any of 47 dishes in its restaurants between 2006 and February of this year.

Apparently, the ingredients in these dishes weren’t as expensive as the restaurants claimed they were. Among the mislabeled dishes was shiba ebi, a high quality breed of domestic shrimp that costs ¥2,500 per kg wholesale. The restaurants were actually using a much cheaper breed, which only costs ¥1,400 per kg. The hotel group calculates that 78,775 people purchased these dishes during the time period cited. It has put aside ¥110 million for refunds, which begs the question: Do all those people still have their receipts?

Kaiten-zushi chains gird for battle

Saturday, January 29th, 2011

In a recent article in a regional Australian newspaper, an expat Japanese sushi chef complained that sushi chefs Down Under were getting a bit carried away with the mayo, not to mention the avocado, claiming that overuse of these two non-Japanese ingredients spoiled the sushi-eating experience. He added that in Japan, they don’t use as much.

Don't hold the mayo: Kappa Sushi

Obviously, he hasn’t been to a kaiten-zushi restaurant in his native country lately. Kaiten sushi are the fast-food dispensers of Japan’s most distinctive cuisine, where sushi is churned out by human and/or automated means and placed on conveyor belts that pass in front of patrons who just pick them up. After they’re finished, an employee counts the dishes and adds up the bill. The incorporation of mass-production methods means kaiten-zushi establishments can cater to families with young children, a demographic that traditionally was not welcome at sushi bars, where the dynamic is more personal: You deal directly with a chef who stands in front of you and makes dishes to your order. As kaiten chains became more widespread and more cost efficient, the variety of dishes expanded to satisfy newer or younger tastes; which is why what they now serve will likely offend the finer sensibilities, not to mention the pride, of traditional sushi chefs. Not only are mayonnaise and avocado regular ingredients at kaiten chains (and, contrary to what the gentleman in Cairns claims, slathered on quite liberally), but they also offer salads, Western-style desserts, and, making the fast-food analogy complete, hamburger and hot dog sushi.

Continue reading about kaiten-zushi

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