Sushi seems to be a hot topic right now for long, reporterly investigations. As the New York Times reports in this week’s Sunday Book Review, two new books—The Zen of Fish, by Trevor Corson, and The Sushi Economy, by Sasha Issenberg—look at the subject in terms of, respectively, its evolution as a culinary art form and its impact on world trade.
I get the impression from the Times review that while both books are engaging, neither is a must-read. But a third new report on sushi—this one in the form of a Vanity Fair article—should top the reading list of “anyone with even a passing interest” in sushi, as Grub Street puts it. Nick Tosches takes a break from writing about tortured rock musicians to examine “the wild, engulfing, blood-drenched madness” of Tokyo’s Tsukiji seafood market—and through it, the global sushi trade.
As soon as Tosches starts talking numbers, it becomes clear why Tsukiji is an appropriate starting point for understanding the history and economy of sushi: That market, which covers more than 2 million square feet and moves 4.5 million pounds (more than 2,000 tons) of fish every day, is thousands of times bigger than the second-largest fish market in the world, NYC’s Fulton Fish Market (which “moves only 115 tons a year, an average of less than half a ton each working day,” Tosches writes). And the variety of sea life sold at Tsukiji is staggering. In addition to all the breeds of fish, shrimp, and eel, there are:
All manner of squid—baby squid, big squid—and all manner of crabs—baby crabs, giant crabs; scallops and oysters and clams; periwinkles, cockles, and—what?—barnacles, yes, even barnacles, going for ¥1,600, or about 14 bucks, a kilo. I’d always thought these black footstalks were only an ugliness to be scraped from the hulls of old wooden ships.
Apparently some people make broth from barnacles, we learn. But enough from me—Tosches’s piece is 10 web-pages long, so get reading.