July 20, 2003

The Sushi Wars are heating up. If one can say that about raw fish.

The D.C. Sushi Society, which the Washington Post reports is “a small, all-Japanese club of restaurant owners and chefs,” is determined to save sushi from the unartful and unseemly encroachment of Chinese and Korean restaurateurs:

“Chinese or Korean restaurants, they know sushi is very popular in this country now,” said Kunio Yasutake, chairman of the society. “Some of them are not making it in the Japanese traditional way . . . so we try to educate people who don’t know [the customs behind] sushi.”[…]

Sushi-making is more than just a business, they say. It is a matter of tradition and honor.

“It’s not to say that the Koreans and Chinese can’t do sushi, but it’s kind of lost its authenticity, its authentic Japanese flavor,” said Kurt Kumagai, a Japanese American who used to own several sushi bars in the area and now distributes Japanese newspapers in the United States. “Basically, you are seeing the mass production of sushi.”

But Sue Kwun, a Korean who makes and serves sushi at her Italian deli -- Prego Again -- near Dupont Circle in the District, doesn’t understand why the Japanese chefs are so critical. She noted that she gets her fish from the same markets as Sushi Taro, which is down the block.

On several occasions, she said, Japanese men have come in and scolded her for selling sushi out of a refrigerator.[...]

Other non-Japanese restaurant owners said there’s more than a friendly competition between Asian ethnic groups when it comes to serving Japanese food. Some say they deeply resent what D.C. Sushi Society members have said about their establishments.

Obligatory geopolitical note:

Steve Yoon, a Korean who owns Yamazato Japanese Restaurant in Annandale, said the tension has its roots in the Japanese occupation of their countries in the last century. It was then that the rest of Asia was forcibly introduced to Japanese cuisine.

“Sleep with our soldiers! Buy our exports! Eat our sushi!”

Gee whiz.

And from the same article come two alarming reports. First, “Starbucks Corp. says it tested selling California rolls this year in dozens of stores in the Washington region,” and second, “some stores and restaurants sell seaweed rolls stuffed with lox and a dollop of cream cheese on top.” I’ll pass, thanks.


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