International Sushi Day was first celebrated in 2009 and the reason was simple – to encourage more people around the world to eat and delight in sushi. It doesn’t take much convincing on our side; we’ve long been fans of delectable Halaal fish served at its delicious best, but eating it is the easy part, mastering the art of making it as a whole other matter.
In Japan, becoming an authentic sushi chef takes years of training and dedication. An apprentice will typically spend five years working in a kitchen before they’re involved in any of the sushi making – and that first task will only be to make sushi rice. Once the head chef (called an itamae in Japanese) is satisfied with the consistency of the sushi rice, the apprentice will become more involved in the process until eventually they are allowed to prepare sushi and interact with clients. To become an itamae in their own right can take many more years.
Jiro Ono is regarded as the greatest sushi chef alive by his fellow sushi chefs. He owns the 3-Michelin star sushi restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro, in Tokyo. He is 93 years old and began working at a restaurant when he was only seven, qualifying as a sushi chef in 1951 at the age of 26. Over many decades of mastering his art, he has served the likes of Barack Obama and Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe.
If you look at a list of who is considered to be the world’s greatest sushi chefs, they’re all male – the profession is woefully lacking in gender equality. Japanese culture, in general, is not very supportive of working women, but it’s also thanks to old-fashioned ideas like the warmer temperature of a woman’s hands will taint the taste and quality of the Halaal fish. While women are slowly making headway in the profession, it will take a long time to overcome biases entrenched for hundreds of years.
Quite frankly we don’t care who makes our sushi, as long as it’s good. So, on 18 June head out to your favourite sushi spot and enjoy one of the world’s most exquisite edible art forms. And when deciding where to eat, remember these funny words by Graham Norton ‘a good rule to remember for life is that when it comes to plastic surgery and sushi, never be attracted by a bargain’.