How Raw Fish and Vinegared Rice Became a World Favourite

Bernice Chan and Alkira Reinfrank wrote . . . . . . . . .

The Japanese dish of sushi is pretty much ubiquitous around the world. From nigiri, with its slice of raw fish on a mound of rice, to the maki roll wrapped in nori, or seaweed, sushi looks deceptively simple to make.

But there is so much more to sushi than meets the eye: the quality rests on the cut of the fish, its freshness and provenance, the origin of the rice, how it was prepared and seasoned, and the kind of vinegar and sugar used.

However, the sushi we know today tastes and looks very different to how it did centuries ago. First of all, the rice in the original “sushi” was not intended to be eaten. Mixed with salt, it was used to preserve the fish and then thrown out.

And sushi’s origins aren’t even Japanese, says Nobu Hong Kong executive sushi chef Kazunari Araki, who has more than 20 years of sushi-making experience.

The combination of rice and fish, he explains, originated in the third century along the Mekong River in Southeast Asia, where countries such as Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia are now situated.

“The people who lived around the river would catch a lot of fish, and because the climate is so hot they had to find a way to keep the fish [from rotting]. People in the area were also making rice, so they found a way to keep the fish [fresh] by using a rice and salt [mixture],” Araki explains.

After the fish were cleaned and gutted, they were covered in the salt and rice mixture in buckets for several months, or much longer, to preserve the meat. Before they ate the fish, the rice was discarded because it was too salty to consume.

By the 12th century, this method of fermenting fish had travelled from the Mekong to China, and then on to Japan, where it was called narezushi. However, in the 16th century, in the Edo period, Araki says, vinegar replaced salt in the preservation process, which was a major step forward in the development of sushi. It also gave birth to the name sushi – which translates to “vinegared rice”.

“With vinegar, you only need to marinate the fish for a few hours or overnight, so that shortened the time to eat the fish compared to six months or a year,” Araki says.

That led to the fish portions becoming smaller in the 18th and 19th centuries, from a whole fish to slices as large as the circumference of the hand. Araki says the next major development came in the Meiji era, in the 1900s, when ice machines were developed.

“Ice means you can keep fish fresh. You don’t have to marinate it. You just cut it and keep it on the ice. Whenever you make the rice, you cut the fish, place it on top of the rice and then eat it. You don’t have to marinate with soy sauce because the fish is fresh. Just dip it into soy sauce. This is the modern way to eat nigiri.”

If you want to try narezushi, Shiga prefecture to the east of the ancient capital, Kyoto, is the place where it is still prepared. But Araki warns it’s not for everyone.

“When something is fermented it goes bad. So you can imagine the fermented fish smells. The fish tastes salty and smells, but you can still taste the fish. When you have it with sake, it’s really good.”

So how did sushi go from being a traditional Japanese food to one loved by diners in the West? To understand its globalisation, you need to look to how the cuisine made its way to the US.

American academic James Farrer has been studying the Japanese food phenomenon for 12 years and says there have been multiple “booms” in Japanese food in the West, all characterised by showmanship, performance and exoticism.

The first wave of globalisation struck in the 1930s with sukiyaki, the hotpot-style dish with sliced beef and vegetables. “The very first Japanese restaurants in the United States would have been sukiyaki … It was popular because it was so exotic. It was served by women in kimonos … and it was associated with the idea of the geisha,” says Farrer, an associate professor of sociology at Sophia University in Tokyo.

However, this craze faded in the post-World War II period.

The next boom to capture Americans’ imagination was teppanyaki in the 1970s. “It was easy for Western people to like, because it’s basically meat … served in an exotic way by a chef who’s cooking on a metal plate in front of you,” says Farrer, who has lived in Asia for 30 years.

It was a theatrical dining experience far removed from the traditional TV dinners most Americans were used to at the time.

The next wave – the biggest to date, Farrer says – was sushi in the 1970s and 1980s. “Sushi was much more radical because it involved teaching people in the West … to eat raw fish, which was not a standard part of the diet in almost any other place [in the world].”

The sushi boom occurred as Japan was becoming a global economic powerhouse. Unlike Chinese food, Japanese food was introduced to America by “rich migrants” and was eaten by wealthy Japanese businessmen, giving it an air of luxury.

Sushi first appeared in Los Angeles in the 1970s, “which was kind of the centre of global pop culture” at the time. “[From there] you had Hollywood stars, celebrity chefs and other opinion leaders … starting to embrace this new culture of sushi and popularising it,” Farrer says.

The raw fish phenomenon even made its way into films, including the 1985 John Hughes classic The Breakfast Club, in which bad-boy Bender rears in disgust when Molly Ringwald’s rich “princess” character pulls out a sushi lunch to eat during detention. “You won’t accept a guy’s tongue in your mouth and you’re gonna eat that?” he asks provocatively.

“If you were eating sushi [in the early days] you were doing something exotic. You were doing something sensual. There was a sort of sexual element to sushi and it really fed into the 1980s of self-indulgence,” Farrer says.

It was also a happy coincidence that sushi made a splash just as the US West Coast was in the midst of a fitness and weight-loss craze, and the macrobiotic diet was on everybody’s mind.

“In this period, you had this notion that Western cuisine was too fatty and oily and used too much butter and sauces … [whereas] Japanese food had the properties of being low fat. It was light and focused on the ingredients.”

Slowly the sushi craze migrated from the high-class fringes of the West Coast to the mainstream. To help ease diners into the idea of eating raw fish and seaweed, it started to take on more “American” characteristics, with sushi masters adding “substitute” ingredients such as “avocado and cream cheese”.

A by-product of this cultural collision is the California roll, with ingredients never used in sushi in Japan – cucumber, crab sticks and avocado. This invention also looked different to traditional maki, being turned “inside out”, with the nori hidden under a layer of rice.

“Most American didn’t like it … Seaweed, black in colour, [made people question] ‘Is it edible? It’s weird’,” Araki says. “[So in the California roll] they didn’t see the seaweed on the outside, so they could eat it.”

While there is much debate over who invented the California roll – some say it was Hidekazu Tojo in Vancouver; others insist it was Ken Seusa in Los Angeles – the roll is just one North American sushi adaptation that has gone on to influence the Japanese favourite’s global popularity.

“Japanese food in America had a huge impact on how Japanese food was popularised around the world,” Farrer says.

In 1996, Araki opened his own restaurant in Boston and for two years made what he describes as “crazy creative rolls”, adding ingredients such as avocado, wagyu, and colourful egg roe. He recalls he even made an Italian roll with meat, dried tomatoes, tomato sauce and mozzarella.

If you were eating sushi [in the early days] you were doing something exotic. You were doing something sensual. There was a sort of sexual element to sushi and it really fed into the 1980s of self-indulgence

“Basically you can put whatever you want [in the roll] as long as it doesn’t fall apart,” he explains.

From America, sushi eventually made its way around the world over the following four decades, but, Farrer says, “by far the most popular market for Japanese food now is Asia. Asia is surpassing Europe and the United States as the place where new Japanese restaurants are opening.”

Araki has since shunned his crazy rolls and returned to traditional Japanese sushi. Having worked for Nobu Matsuhisa for 12 years, he follows the celebrity chef’s philosophy of making food with kokoro (心), which in Japanese means “spirit”.

“When you use kokoro to make food, then the customers can feel it,” he says. “I’m 59 years old now and I try to understand how to use kokoro to serve people.”

Source: SCMP

Fish and Vegetables Kebobs


2 lb white fish fillet or steaks, skinned
4 cherry tomatoes
4 pearl onions
1 zucchini, cut into chunks
salt and freshly ground black pepper
juice and zest of 1 medium lime
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
1 Tbsp garlic wine vinegar
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp prepared Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp fresh dill, chopped
3/4 cup fish stock
lime wedges to garnish
green salad, to serve


  1. Wash the fish under running water and pat dry. Cut into cubes, removing any bones if using steaks.
  2. Put fish and vegetables in a shallow glass dish. Season well.
  3. Mix the lime juice and zest, garlic, vinegar, olive oil, mustard and dill. Pour into the glass dish to coat the ingredients well. Cover and marinate for 2 hours, turning occasionally.
  4. Cut four wooden kebob skewers in half. Thread on the fish and vegetables, alternating ingredients. Reserve marinade.
  5. Bring the water in the base of the steamer to a boil. Lay a sheet of foil in the base of the top of the steamer and arrange kebobs inside. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and reduce heat slightly. Cook for 15 minutes.
  6. bring the marinade and stock to a boil in a saucepan until reduced by half. Arrange kebobs on a serving plate and pour the hot marinade over top. Garnish with lime wedges and serve.

Makes 4 servings.

Source: Steam Cuisine

What’s for Lunch?

Ramen and Sushi at a Restaurant (真鯛らぁめん まちかど) in Ebisu, Japan

The Menu

  • Red Sea Bream Ramen
  • Mackerel Pressed Sushi

The price of the lunch is 1,250 yen (tax included).

Most College Students Are Not Aware of Mercury Exposure Risk of Eating Large Amounts of Tuna

Tim Stephens wrote . . . . . . . . .

A surprising number of students eating in university dining halls have been helping themselves to servings of tuna well beyond the amounts recommended to avoid consuming too much mercury, a toxic heavy metal.

Researchers at UC Santa Cruz surveyed students outside of campus dining halls on their tuna consumption habits and knowledge of mercury exposure risks, and also measured the mercury levels in hair samples from the students. They found that hair mercury levels were closely correlated with how much tuna the students said they ate. And for some students, their hair mercury measurements were above what is considered a “level of concern.”

“It doesn’t necessarily mean that they would be experiencing toxic effects, but it’s a level at which it’s recommended to try to lower your mercury exposure,” said Myra Finkelstein, an associate adjunct professor of environmental toxicology at UC Santa Cruz. “Our results were consistent with other studies of mercury levels in hair from people who eat a lot of fish.”

Neurological effects

Tuna and other large fish contain significant amounts of mercury in its most toxic form (methylmercury), and exposure to high levels of methylmercury can cause neurological damage. Because of its effects on neurological development and reproductive health, concerns about mercury exposure are greatest for pregnant women and children. Finkelstein said college students should also limit their exposure to mercury because their nervous systems are still developing and they are of reproductive age.

She said the study was prompted by her experiences teaching students about mercury in the environment and hearing about how much tuna some students eat. “I’ve been dumbfounded when students have told me they eat tuna every day,” Finkelstein said. “Their lack of knowledge about the risk of exposure to mercury is surprising.”

Graduate student Yasuhiko Murata led the study and is first author of a paper on their findings, which has been accepted for publication in Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry and is available online. In the surveys, about a third of students reported weekly tuna consumption, and 80 percent of their tuna meals were at the campus dining halls, where tuna is regularly available from the salad bar. Half of the tuna eaters reported eating three or more tuna meals per week, potentially exceeding the “reference dose” established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), considered a maximum safe level (0.1 micrograms of methylmercury per kilogram of body weight per day).

Before the results were published, Finkelstein discussed her team’s findings with UCSC administrators who oversee the dining halls. New signs in the campus dining halls will now give students information about mercury in tuna and guidelines for fish consumption. Other changes may be made after a more thorough assessment, said William Prime, executive director of dining services.

Finkelstein said this issue could be a concern for all kinds of institutions with dining halls, especially those serving children, such as boarding schools. “Any time you have a dining hall situation where people are helping themselves, some residents may be eating way too much tuna,” she said.

Servings per week

Nearly all fish contain some mercury, but tuna, especially the larger species, are known to accumulate relatively high levels of the toxic metal. Consumers are advised to eat no more than two to three servings per week of low-mercury fish (including skipjack and tongol tuna, often labeled “chunk light”) or one serving per week of fish with higher levels of mercury (including albacore and yellow fin tuna).

Some of the students surveyed at UC Santa Cruz reported having more than 20 servings of tuna per week. The researchers analyzed the mercury content of the tuna being served in the dining halls, collecting samples periodically over several months, and found that the mercury content was variable, with some samples having five times as much mercury as others.

“Some chunk light tuna was actually quite high in mercury, although typically it has only half or one-third as much as albacore,” Finkelstein said.

The researchers calculated that, to stay below the EPA reference dose, a 140-pound person could consume up to two meals per week of the lower-mercury tuna but less than one meal per week of the higher-mercury tuna.

After conducting an initial survey and hair analysis, the researchers conducted a second survey with more detailed questions designed to probe students’ knowledge about mercury in tuna and recommended consumption rates. Whether they were tuna eaters or not, most students had very little knowledge about this issue, Finkelstein said. A majority of students answered that it is safe to eat two to three times as much tuna per week as is recommended.

“It was not a large sample size, but only one out of 107 students surveyed had a high level of knowledge as well as confidence in that knowledge, so I think it’s important to provide students with more information about safe levels of tuna consumption,” she said.

Recommendations regarding consumption of tuna and other fish are complicated by the fact that fish is highly nutritious and contains beneficial omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients. In addition, mercury concentrations vary widely among different types of fish. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and EPA have issued advice on eating fish for pregnant women, parents, and caregivers of young children.

Source: University of California Santa Cruz

Interim Scan during Prostate Cancer Therapy Helps Guide Treatment

New prostate cancer research shows that adding an interim scan during therapy can help guide a patient’s treatment. Prostate-specific membrane antigen (PSMA) positron emission tomography (PET) imaging of patients with metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer after two cycles of lutetium-177 (177Lu)-PSMA radioligand therapy has shown a significant predictive value for patient survival. The research was presented at the 2019 Annual Meeting of the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging (SNMMI).

According to the National Cancer Institute, currently the five-year survival rate for men with metastatic prostate cancer is 30.5 percent. Early assessment of treatment effectiveness is essential to providing optimal care.

In phase 2 trials, 177Lu-PSMA therapy has shown promising results in treating patients with metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer. The therapy typically involves a preliminary PSMA PET scan to identify patients who are eligible for the treatment. While interim PET scans have shown high predictive value for lymphoma patients, this concept has not been previously explored in prostate cancer patients undergoing 177Lu-PSMA therapy.

The retrospective analysis was conducted at Klinikum rechts der Isar hospital, Technical University Munich, Germany including patients who underwent gallium-68 (68Ga)-PSMA11 PET/CT at baseline and after two cycles of 177Lu-PSMA RLT under a compassionate use program.

Instead of standardized uptake value, which is the parameter generally used in such analyses, researchers used qPSMA, an in-house developed software, to evaluate the whole-body tumor burden. “Tumor response was assessed by the changes in PSMA-avid tumor volume from baseline to the second PSMA PET using three classification methods,” explained Andrei Gafita, MD. “Subsequently, we found that tumor response assessed on interim PSMA PET after two RLT cycles was associated with overall survival.”

Gafita stated, “Our results therefore show that interim PSMA PET can be used for therapeutic response assessment in patients undergoing 177Lu-PSMA RLT. Furthermore, occurrence of new lesions in PSMA PET is a prognostic factor for disease progression and could be included in defining tumor response based on PSMA PET imaging.”

“While further analyses involving clinical parameters are warranted,” Gafita adds, “this analysis paves the way for use of interim PSMA PET in a prospective setting during 177Lu-PSMA radioligand therapy.”

Source: Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging

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