Earlier postings on this blog have talking about intellectual property protections for products from a specific region, such as Parma ham, Champagne, etc – called geographical indicators. Now, the Japanese are taking it one step further, according to a story in this morning’s Washington Post – Putting the Bite On Pseudo Sushi And Other Insults:
With restaurants around the globe describing themselves as Japanese while actually serving food that is Asian fusion, or just plain bad, the government here announced a plan this month to offer official seals of approval to overseas eateries deemed to be “pure Japanese.”
Apparently, they are not the only ones:
the mentality in Japan also echoes a similar movement by several nations — including Italy and Thailand — now offering guidelines and reward programs to restaurants abroad to regain a measure of control over their increasingly internationalized cuisines.
The target of these campaigns is the already-established, not-so-cutting-edge-anymore trend toward fusion. Fusion is the long standing practice of combining foods from different places, raised to the level of haute-cuisine. Not everyone is crazy about these combination. Thus, the Japanese government’s attempt to protect the purity of the Japanese cuisine from such barbarities as serving sushi and Korean bulgogi (barbequed beef) on the same menu.
However, the story points out that Japanese cuisine may not be so pure:
But some here have expressed caution about the launch of the government approval system, arguing that Japan is a country also notorious for adapting foreign foods to local tastes. Indeed, that rare talent gave birth to Japanese seafood and mayonnaise pizza.
In addition, many so-called Japanese foods have foreign influences or roots. Batter-coated and fried food known as tempura, for instance, was introduced to the Japanese by Portuguese missionaries during the 16th century.
“The question is, what can we really call ‘Japanese food’?” said Masuhiro Yamamoto, the Tokyo-based food guru. “Here in Japan, we believe that tonkatsu [fried pork cutlet] is essentially Japanese, but try and tell the French that isn’t porc paner.”
For now, the tools being used in this quest for purity are guideline and seals-of-approval. That is fine and probably useful to anyone who wants a “pure” experience. However, I think they would do us all a favor if they stuck to “good” rather than “pure.” There is enough bad sushi out there to police without worrying about whether it is correct or not.
And “correct” is in the eye of the beholder. After, all if we attempt to enforce strict tradition in all our intangibles, such as cuisine, there would be no innovation what so ever. So, for me, fusion beats purity – at least when it come to sushi.