Red snapper may not be as delicious (or as imaginary) as the Yum Yum Fish, but it is becoming as scarce as the Yum Yum. That has led to some, um, creative strategies on the part of fishmongers—like substituting tilapia.
The Chicago Sun-Times goes all Woodward and Bernstein on area sushi restaurants in an article titled (natch) “Fish Fraud: The Menus Said Snapper, but It Wasn’t!” Reporter Janet Rausa Fuller collected samples of what the menu described as red snapper from 14 Chicago restaurants, then had the DNA analyzed (!). Not one of the samples turned out to be actual red snapper. Most were tilapia, some were sea bream.
The restaurant owners were shocked (shocked!) to find out the pricey fillets they were selling as red snapper were actually the cheaper tilapia:
Hur San, owner of Sushi Mura, 3647 N. Southport … seemed surprised.
‘We just order [from] the fish company, and they deliver red snapper,’ said San.
Then, at a reporter’s request, he examined the box [the fish had come in]. He saw these words: ‘Izumidai. Tilapia. From Taiwan.’
Izumidai is the Japanese term for tilapia.
Although this evidence may be damning, since the article reveals that most sushi fish in the United States comes from just a handful of suppliers, it would seem that the restaurant owners may be telling the truth when they say that they ordered red snapper in good faith and were sent the substitute fish without their knowledge.
A sidebar that explains some sushi terms provides the ultimate note of irony to the feature:
[S]ome sushi chefs said red snapper isn’t even suited well for sushi or sashimi because its flesh is too soft.