The lunchtime line at Pokéworks in Midtown Manhattan has been constant since it opened three months ago. Every weekday, New Yorkers wearing puffy coats and woolen hats spill out of the tiny storefront, waiting for the chance to order a customized bowl of chopped raw fish atop a mound of sticky rice.
Poke, the Hawaiian invention ubiquitous on the islands, where it serves as the unofficial state snack, might seem like an odd meal to pair with a frigid East Coast winter. But over the last few years, the traditional dish — which tops fresh, lightly marinated seafood with condiments like limu and roasted kukui nuts — has transformed from pre-batched versions available by the pound at Hawaii’s beach-side liquor and grocery stores into the United States’ next build-your-own, meal-in-a-bowl movement.
“Enjoying something Hawaiian in New York helps transport the mind a bit, to a place more beachfront,” Pokéworks partner Kevin Hsu told NBC News. “The moment you sit in your office and you’re digging through a poke bowl, you feel like you’re on vacation.”
Nostalgia for Hawaiian vacations may be one reason why the hunger for poke has grown so great in such a short amount of time, but poke has been quietly mounting a mainstream takeover ever since its invention.
To ancient Hawaiians, cutting up the catch of the day and tossing it with salt and seaweed harvested from the ocean was an exercise in sustenance. Subsequent waves of contact and immigration — from Captain Cook to the sugar plantation era — influenced poke by infusing it with sauces, toppings, and flavors of Europe, Japan, and other Asian countries.
The dish was first introduced to many Americans via fine-dining chefs, who — following the Hawaiian-food-obsessed lead of Hawaii native son Sam Choy in the ’90s — found poke an approachable Asian-fusion appetizer, an alternative to crudo and ceviche. Sushi had already been introduced to American palates by then and many diners felt comfortable (and classy) eating Asian-style raw fish. Poke was a logical next step.
But it wasn’t until a few years ago that fast-casual spots dedicated to serving authentic Hawaiian-style poke first opened on the mainland. In Southern California, where many of these early businesses opened, bringing flavors from the Pacific to the masses was less about launching a trend and more of a natural outgrowth of the region’s historic population of Hawaiians and native Islanders.
Aside from a few dissenters, Hawaiians seem excited that the “surfer’s sashimi” is spreading to new audiences across the country, even if it’s at the hands of a non-traditional delivery method. As a cuisine that has itself evolved over centuries of shifting cultural influence, Hawaiian food seems ever-ripe for re-interpretations, which is good because the poke revolution shows no signs of slowing down.
Japanese food, called washoku in Japan, has just been registered as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage, but you didn’t need an official declaration to know that sushi and tempura are absolutely delicious. But while enjoying Japanese food, have you ever mixed wasabi and soy sauce as a dip for your sushi? Or how about using your bowl as a chopstick rest? If so, you’ve committed an etiquette faux pas. Take a look at our list of 10 little-known rules for eating Japanese food and save yourself some embarrassment while enjoying a traditional Japanese meal.
1) Never use your hand to catch falling food
Cupping your left hand under your food to catch any falling morsels or drippings is actually bad manners. Usingtezara (手皿), literally “hand plate,” may seem polite, eliminating any errant spills or stains on the table top or your clothing, but this common eating habit should be avoided when sitting down to a Japanese meal.
2) Avoid using your teeth to bite food in half
In general, you should always try to eat things in one bite and avoid using your teeth to tear food into smaller pieces. Since it’s impolite to place half-eaten food back on a plate, cover your mouth with your hand when chewing big pieces of food.
3) Never mix wasabi into your soy sauce
This improper eating method is seen in many restaurants all over the world, but should be avoided. Instead, place a small amount of wasabi directly on the piece of sashimi and then dip the fish into the soy sauce.
4) Don’t invert the lid of your bowl
Inverting the lid of your bowl is mistaken as a cue for being finished eating, however, the proper cue is to replace the lid on top of the bowl, just as it looked when brought to the table. This is because you could damage the lid by turning it upside down.
5) Don’t place clam shells in the bowl’s lid or on a separate plate
When served clams or other shellfish, many people tend to put the empty shell in the lid of a bowl or on a separate plate once they’ve finished the meat. This is actually impolite and should be avoided; diners should instead leave the shell inside the bowl it was served in.
6) Don’t hold your chopsticks before picking up your bowl
When eating a Japanese meal, you should first pick up the bowl or vessel you will eat from and then pick up your chopsticks. When changing bowls, first put down your chopsticks, then change bowls. Only after you have picked up the second bowl should you pick up your chopsticks again.
7) Don’t hover or touch food without taking it, and always pause to eat your rice
Not sure which food to eat first? Hovering your chopsticks back and forth over the side dishes before finally choosing is a breach of etiquette. It’s such bad manners that the practice has an official name, mayoibashi (迷い箸), literally “hesitating chopsticks.” Touching a food with your own chopsticks and then pulling them away without taking anything is called sorabashi (空箸), or “empty chopsticks,” and should also be avoided. You better pause to eat some rice between those side dishes, if you don’t you are committing utsuribashi (移り箸), literally “transition chopsticks.”
8) Never rest your chopsticks across the top of your bowl
You’ve probably seen this done so many times it seems like the correct thing to do, but using your bowl as a chopstick rest is a breach of etiquette. If you want to put down your chopsticks, you should do so on a chopstick rest, or hashioki (箸置き). If none are available, use the wrapper the chopsticks came in to make your own. If a wrapper isn’t available, you should rest your chopsticks on the side of a tray or other similar item on the table.
9) Don’t use the opposite end of your chopsticks to take food from a communal plate
Since the backsides of the chopsticks are where your hands rest, it’s actually not a very clean area and shouldn’t be used to pick up food. Asking the waitstaff for an extra pair of chopsticks or politely saying, jika bashi de shitsurei shimasu (excuse me for using my own chopsticks), and taking food using your chopsticks is actually the proper thing to do.
10) Never raise your food above your mouth
Many people raise their food to about eye level while saying,itadakimasubefore eating. However, proper etiquette states that you should never raise your food above your mouth, the highest level your chopsticks ever reach.
Many people already know this, but you should never raise chopsticks to your mouth that are dripping with soup or liquid and never stab food with your chopsticks. You should also never leave your chopsticks standing straight out of your rice or pass food between chopsticks as these are reminiscent of funeral customs and seen as a bad omen if performed anywhere else.
Many of us dream of eating authentic sushi in Japan. But do you know the proper decorum for ordering? How about paying the bill? And what’s the difference between nigiri and narezushi, anyway?
The folks over at Swissotel Nakai Osaka have kindly shared with us a set of stylishly designed infographics designed to teach sushi newcomers everything they need to know about ordering, eating, and paying for Japan’s most well-known dish while in its homeland. Eating at a sushi restaurant isn’t nearly as complex as it may seem at first, but there are a number of dos and donts to be aware of, so it’s a good idea to study up before ducking beneath that noren curtain and stepping into a restaurant.
But before we order our first few morsels, let’s learn a little about the skills a sushi chef—or itamae—possesses and why they deserve our respect when we take a seat in front of them.
Okay, so we know that the person behind the counter is not to be trifled with, but what to order when they ask what you’d like? The itamae will often recommend cuts of fish, or very often take the entire decision-making process out of your hands by serving up an omakase (lit. “leave it to you”) course, but you’ll still want to know what you’re dealing with. These are the main types of sushi you’ll encounter in Japan:
So, you know what you’ll be eating, but you don’t want to unknowingly commit some sushi faux pas before you’ve so much as taken a seat. Here a few tips for entering and taking a seat at a sushi restaurant:
Especially in pricier establishments, diners should also be aware that wearing strong-smelling perfume or cologne is a big no-no. People in Japan usually wear much less perfume than in the west anyway, but sushi is all about delicate flavours and balance—no one wants to have their unagi upset by the dude who doused himself in Nightswept, so think twice about going for sushi if you gave yourself a generous spritz before leaving the hotel.
Now for the fun part! Your sushi is right in front of you and you’re mouth is watering at the mere sight of it. But before you grab your chopsticks, take a moment to think about what you’re eating—if it’s sashimi chopsticks are of course required, but for most sushi it’s actually considered perfectly normal—and in some cases expected—to at with one’s fingers. Oh, and go easy on that soy sauce…
Takashi Shibayama’s typical day starts at 1 a.m. He wakes up, hurriedly throws on some clothes and sits down to eat the simple breakfast his wife prepares for him — a bowl of rice, miso soup and pickled Kishu ume.
His older brother, Shinichi, picks him up at 2 a.m. and, together, they travel to Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market to work in Shibasen, a family-owned intermediate wholesaler that was founded by Shibayama’s grandfather and has been in operation for about 90 years.
The market is already in full swing when the brothers arrive, with traders unloading fish from vehicles by the dozen and turret trucks zipping between stores carrying piles of boxes full of seafood. While much of Japan is in a deep slumber, Tsukiji fish market is full of activity.
“This is Tsukiji,” says Shibayama, 62. “I dream about fish. I start thinking about fish as soon as I get up. I look forward to thinking about what sort of fish I can find for my clients.”
Tsukiji fish market is one of 11 wholesale markets in operation in Tokyo. Built in 1935, it is the oldest market in the city.
About 480 different varieties of fish and 270 varieties of fruit and vegetables are handled at the market on a daily basis. The market’s vendors distribute produce that is sourced from not only all over Japan but also from other countries. The market never sleeps — it is open 24/7, with about 42,000 people and 19,000 vehicles going in and out everyday. On average, the market logs total daily sales of about ¥1.8 billion, with around 1,800 tons of fish and 1,160 tons of fruit and vegetables sold daily.
Tsukiji fish market has over the years become more than just a market — it has become a cultural landmark. Around a year from now, on Nov. 2, 2016, the market will close the doors on its 80-year history as it prepares to move to a new site in the Toyosu district of Tokyo’s Koto Ward.
In announcing the Nov. 7, 2016, opening date of the new market, Tokyo Gov. Yoichi Masuzoe said the cultural legacy of Tsukiji must be continued. “The Tsukiji brand has become extremely well-established,” Masuzoe told reporters during a July news conference. “I want to create a new market that is just as good.”
Shibayama has worked at Tsukiji fish market for 40 years. He left Shibasen after being embroiled in some family squabbles and spent 30 years with another vendor in the market. He rejoined his family’s business in 2009.
Every morning, without fail, he scours wholesalers in the market in search of different varieties of fish. He makes his purchases based on quality and cost.
Shibayama is one of four traders at Shibasen, which also include his brother and his brother’s eldest son. They all buy and sell their produce independently of each other, servicing their own portfolio of clients. On the morning of my visit, Shibayama had assembled an eye-popping selection of conger eel, bonito, flounder, red snapper, mackerel and blue crab, among other things.
The seafood is packed in styrofoam boxes filled with ice and displayed to customers under bare incandescent bulbs that hang from the ceiling. Customers drop by one after another, and Shibayama isn’t slow to offer his recommendations. If the customer is interested in purchasing an item, they negotiate a price. Trust is obviously an important part of their relationship.
“What I love about Tsukiji is the one-to-one relationships,” Shibayama says. “It’s not just about profit, we help each other out. One day I might ask a client to buy any fish that are left over but I’ll be sure to return the favor another day. That’s how it works here.”
Like many other Tsukiji veterans, Shibayama was originally against moving the market to Toyosu but since the decision has been finalized, he wants to maintain a positive outlook.
In August, Shibayama published a book titled “Arigato-yo Tsukiji” (“Thanks Tsukiji”) by Kosaido Publishing, an autobiography about his experiences in the market over the past 40 years.
“I wanted to stay in Tsukiji but it’s also true that the market has aged significantly after 80 years,” he says. “We all carry some hope, anxiety and anticipation, but at the end of the day, we won’t know what lies ahead until we go there. We are lucky that we are able to relocate … so we now need to make sure we don’t regret this decision.”
“Time to move on”
The Tokyo Metropolitan Government, which oversees all markets in the capital, including Tsukiji, cites various reasons why a new location is necessary. The facilities at Tsukiji fish market are too old, it says, while also highlighting a lack of space and sanitation issues.
Eisuke Urawa, director of the Tokyo Metropolitan Fisheries Wholesale Association, says as much as he loves Tsukiji, he realizes the time has come to move on.
“Buyers have to come to Tsukiji even if they don’t want to because that is where all of the products are,” Urawa says. “It has been working until now because of the Tsukiji brand. However, everyone knows the existing sanitation levels are poor and relocating the market to a new site will help improve this to industry-standard levels.”
The existing 23-hectare Tsukiji market is going to be reborn in Toyosu on a multiple-floored 40-hectare site. The area will be divided into three separate buildings and, unlike the existing market, the auctioning space will be housed in one facility and intermediate wholesalers will be located in another. Construction on the new site is expected to be complete next spring.
The market will become completely closed off from outside, with temperature-controlled buildings to keep the produce in a cool, hygienic environment. The closed structure will also regulate public access, says Urawa, as people can wander about freely in the existing market space at Tsukiji.
“It’s going to be completely different,” Urawa says. “We still need to conduct simulations on the logistics and distribution. Markets are usually designed on a flat space on a ground floor; a multi-story market is unprecedented.”
Coordinating a move that involves hundreds of companies, however, is far from straight-forward. Urawa is responsible for coordinating discussions between the existing vendors at Tsukiji and the metropolitan government.
Urawa says plans have been drawn up to conduct a series of logistical simulations on the new site in the first six months after construction is complete. Once finished, the market’s entire sales network would be moved over the course of a few days in the beginning of November 2016.
“The people in the market love to do things their own way,” Urawa says. “However, we need to establish a set of fundamental rules. Without rules, there is no order. My focus right now is on establishing an infrastructure.”
The metropolitan government drafted a plan as early as 1985 to renovate Tsukiji, constructing a two-story building that would house seafood products on the ground floor, fruit and vegetables on the second floor, and a parking lot on the roof.
However, projected costs soon swelled from the initial forecast of ¥238 billion to around ¥340 billion by 1996, while the estimated period for construction was extended from 14 years to more than 20.
In the end, then-Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara decided to abandon plans to renovate the existing site and, instead, build a new market in another location.
“(Tsukiji’s) too old, small and dangerous to be used as Tokyo’s kitchen,” Ishihara noted when he visited the market in September 1999, the year he was first elected as Tokyo’s leader. Later, the outspoken governor added “dirty” to his list of adjectives. The municipal government officially dropped the renovation plan in 2001 and decided to move the market to Toyosu.
That was, however, easier said than done because the soil at the relocation site, formerly owned by Tokyo Gas Co., has been found to be contaminated.
The gas company revealed that the area contains a high level of chemicals, including benzene (which was 43,000 times above environmental safety standards) and cyanogens (860 times above environmental safety standards). Other toxins that were detected on the site include arsenic, mercury and cadmium.
The cost of cleaning up the contamination is now expected to be more than ¥84.9 billion, of which Tokyo Gas has contributed ¥7.8 billion. The total project cost swelled from what was estimated to be ¥392.6 billion in 2011 to the most recent figure of ¥588.4 billion.
Naturally, existing operators in the market have expressed concern over the move.
Makoto Nakazawa, secretary-general of the Tokyo Central Market labor union, is one of them. Nakazawa has worked inside Tsukiji fish market for about 30 years as a turret truck driver for an intermediate wholesaler. He claims there are a number of unresolved problems regarding Toyosu and believes the government should abandon its plan. “We have come this far because of this wonderful market and the system that our predecessors established,” Nakazawa says. “However, I don’t think the new facility is something that we can proudly hand over to the next generation. It’s like one big warehouse.”
The metropolitan government insists the contamination is contained, arguing that only 15 out of 4,122 areas in the soil and groundwater it checked were highly contaminated. Its website, however, also adds that areas where the level of contamination is 10 times higher than environmental safety standards or more actually makes up 36 percent of the whole area.
“I think the degree of contamination is very serious,” Nakazawa says.
Tokyo has already spent several years cleaning up the contaminated soil in Toyosu, announcing that decontamination work had been finished in October 2014.
A metropolitan government official says Tokyo is currently monitoring the groundwater at the Toyosu market to ease residents’ concern over the contamination. When the market opens on Nov. 7, 2016, the official says, a new monitoring system will commence operation.
According to Nakazawa and others who are against the move, however, the cleanup is far from done. Through their own research, they claim to have found that the metropolitan government failed to conduct tests that are necessary by law in 333 areas at the bottom of the aquifer. While Tokyo admits it didn’t check some of the aforementioned areas, it has no plans for further testing, arguing that it conducted all of the necessary tests that were recommended by Tokyo’s special panel in charge of the contamination.
“We can’t trust the government,” Nakazawa asks. “Who’s going to take responsibility if toxins are now found in Toyosu?”
Nakazawa has been organizing demonstrations with such organizations as the Consumers Union of Japan, opposing the relocation and calling on the municipal government to focus on renovating Tsukiji fish market instead.
As time ticks away, however, Nakazawa admits that most of the people openly opposing the relocation aren’t directly involved in the running of the market.
In February this year, Nakazawa surveyed 650 intermediate wholesalers regarding their views on the relocation. Out of the 254 respondents, 70 percent, or 179 shops, said construction for the new facility should be suspended until the area is completely toxin-free.
A further 55 percent said that the Tokyo Municipal Government gave little or no explanation on the details of the relocation to Toyosu. Their main concerns centered on the running costs of the new facility — the details of which, including the monthly expenses, have not been disclosed — and the contamination of the area.
“In truth, most people don’t want to move,” Nakazawa says. “I can, however, understand why many have given up. They may be experts on fish but fighting against the government is tough.”
Urawa, of the wholesale market association, says he understands why people don’t want to move because he himself has worked inside Tsukiji for 23 years. “For many, the existing Tsukiji facilities work just fine and they don’t see why we have to move,” he says. “I also understand because I am fond of this place as well. Now, however, we need to make sure that Toyosu becomes a market we can all be proud of.”
In July, the labor union for the fish market’s intermediate wholesalers revealed that 69 known companies have decided to end their businesses in Tsukiji. It is still unclear just how many companies will move to Toyosu out of the current 609, but the number of intermediate wholesalers is rapidly decreasing due to a lack of heirs who can continue their legacy.
Shibayama’s brother, Shinichi, had also considered closing Shibasen. The younger brother was going to respect whatever decision Shinichi made, because he comes from a very traditional family whose oldest son always inherits the shop and is the decision maker. When asked for his opinion, however, Shibayama expressed an eagerness to continue.
Shibasen is expected to continue, with Shinichi’s oldest son looking to eventually run operations. “I hope I can help my brother pass the baton of Shibasen on to his son,” Shibayama says.
At 7:30 a.m., most Styrofoam boxes at Shibasen have gone. Shibayama, however, still does not stop moving. He begins to mop the floors, washes the buckets and scrubs the walls clean. He may be the younger brother of the president but, at Shibasen, he’s still a newbie. Together with his nephew, they clean the shop in preparation for the next day.
“Cleaning is an important part of the job, regardless of one’s position,” Shibayama says. “I scrub everything clean so that the customers can feel good about buying fish from me when they come again tomorrow.”
By 8 a.m., the market has calmed down as an increasing number of people begin to scrub their stalls as well.
It is another beautiful fall day in Tokyo and shafts of sunlight begin to make their presence felt in the building. For the rest of Japan, the day has just begun.
Osaka is known throughout Japan for being a foodie’s paradise. The area has such a focus on food and dining and has given birth to so many well-known dishes that there’s even a famous saying: Kyo no kidaore, Osaka no kuidaore, meaning “Dress up till you drop in Kyoto, eat till you drop in Osaka”.
This October, the city will be showing us just how much their food culture means to them, with a giant floating sushi traincarrying plates of gigantic sushi up and down the river, and we’re taking a sneak peek at video and photos of the trial run!
“Rolling Sushii” is one of a number of works that will be on display as part of the Osaka Canvas Project, where artists and performers transform the vibrant city with outdoor performances and interactive installations.
In the Edo era, which lasted from the 17th to 19th century, Osaka was referred to as Tenka no Daidokoro, “The Nation’s Kitchen”, as it was the main centre for rice trading. In 1958, the world’s first conveyor belt sushi restaurant appeared here, so it’s only fitting that the world’s first giant floating sushi train should debut in the area.
The unusual sushi train can be found at the Tombori Riverwalk on Saturday, October 3 from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. and 10 p.m.–11 p.m., Sunday, October 4 from 9:00 a.m.- 10:30 a.m., and Saturday, October 17 from 9 a.m.–10:30 a.m. and 10 p.m.–11 p.m.
While the huge plates of sushi look impressive on land, once they’re in the water, they really get everyone’s attention.
When was the last time you saw a woman behind a sushi counter? Many people have never encountered such a sight in all their years of sushi eating. It may come as a surprise to those who are realizing this now, but there is a strongly held Japanese belief that sushi chefs must possess a macho “Edo-style” swagger.
The cultural norm in Japan dictates that the sushi made by men taste better and are of higher quality than sushi made by women. The son of famous master sushi chef Jiro once said women can’t be sushi chefs because their menstrual cycle interferes with their sense of taste. This stereotype that women’s warmer body temperatures contributes to their inferiority in making sushi has also played a key role in making the realm of sushi cuisine a predominantly male tradition in Japan.
According to the Dallas Morning News, 28-year-old Yuki Chidui is now fighting for the inclusion of women in the art of sushi preparation. The sushi chef and manager at the all-women Nadeshico sushi restaurant in Tokyo is challenging age-old tradition and gender stereotypes. She said of female sushi chefs’ strengths:
“I think women are better at communicating with customers, and they’re kind and gentle.”
Chidui is soft-spoken and unlike other itamae, or sushi chefs, in dress and demeanor. Fliers portray her as a doe-eyed manga character to promote her store’s motto of “fresh and kawaii,” or “cute.”
She has intentionally strived to move away from the traditional look of sushi chefs who sport closely cropped hair as a statement to challenging tradition. Chidui can be found dressed in a white summer kimono decorated with pink blossoms.
Since opening Nadeshico in 2010, the pioneering restaurant owner says she has encountered rude remarks from male customers who question her capabilities and ask:
“Can you really do it?”
Although there are no official statistics on female sushi chefs in Japan, the All Japan Sushi Association, which groups 5,000 sushi restaurant owners nationwide, says they are rare.