Restaurant Review: Sushi – the fraud of the century?

Newsroom 14/12/2009 | 11:28

Eighteen years ago, the lazy restaurateurs of this town discovered pizza. When they worked out that the base was only flour and water and that the average profit on the ingredients was around 800 percent, the pizza boom started with literally hundreds of grubby joints making pizza from local ingredients.

But in their greed they missed the biggest money spinner of all time – sushi. The contents are nothing more than a tiny lump of rice, a splash of rice vinegar and a small slice of fish or vegetable. With prices in Bucharest averaging EUR 1 per slice, you could make the same dish at home for a few cents. That is what I call profit! I also call it a rip-off.

So just like the pizza boom, now sushi is swamping the town, with the wretched stuff on the menus of nearly 20 local restaurants. There is nothing either historic or culturally Japanese about it. It is a relatively modern 20th-century Japanese invention, unsophisticated, simple fast food.

If you like this stuff, I urge you to go to Mega Image and for a few euros buy a bamboo rolling mat, rice vinegar, Japanese sticky rice and some sheets of ‘nori’ (flat sheets of dry seaweed).So let me debunk the so-called mystique of sushi by telling you how to make it:

You put the nori on the mat, spread the rice evenly on top of the nori, roll the mat once and then un-roll it and you have sushi. It’s so simple and cheap to make.

By now you will have realized you do not have to be Japanese to perform this task. Sushi Ko worked this out for themselves and hired two Filipino sushi rollers to give you the impression of being from Japan. And there the impression ends, for when my dishes arrived I questioned the authenticity of the rice – which I discovered came from the USA and not from Japan.

Nor is there anything uniquely Japanese about the House’s outrageously overpriced, rip-off ‘tempura’ dishes. There was vegetable at RON 25 and shrimp at RON 42. Tempura is nothing more than a deep fried dish in batter (schnitzel) made from egg (not a Japanese egg), flour (not Japanese flour) and iced water.

The sushi choices were predictable and included the old favorites of salmon, avocado, prawns – and then to my horror I saw long, thin strips of so-called ‘crab sticks’. I avoid any restaurant which serves crabsticks. They contain no crab whatsoever; instead they are made by compressing all the waste from the fish factory. This means all the pieces you would never eat. Think of eyes, teeth, genitals… This junk is then sprayed with a red chemical and preposterously misnamed as ‘crab stick’.

We avoided the sushi dishes together with the ‘sashimi’ dishes. Sashimi is nothing more than sushi made by hand rather than with the rolling mat. I find the process of hand crushing and squeezing food to be disgusting. Although the chef’s hands are washed clean, there can still be an amount of sweat on them. The close contact of human hands directly on my food is abhorrent to me. All chefs in every reputable kitchen in the world use surgical gloves when preparing your food – except sushi chefs.

The offerings on the menu were pure tourist fare. We passed on a classic ‘misu’ soup. It was probably the only authentic Japanese item on the menu, but it came out of a packet. So we started with ‘tuna sticks’. These were breaded rolls deep fried, containing melted cheese and a tiny, almost invisible slice of tuna. It was unadventurous, uncreative and boring.

Away to a ‘beef teriyaki’. Although the cubes of beef were very good, the accompanying teriyaki sauce was almost flavorless. The House should make it from soy sauce, garlic, sugar, ginger and water. I don’t know how many of those items were missed out, but I can assure you the water was present!

Now to yet another tourist staple: ‘beef yakitori’. In Japanese, ‘yakitori’ simply means you get your meat or fish skewered on a stick like a kebab. There is no mystery about this. The yakitori sauce can be made in several fashions, but most people agree it should contain soy sauce, garlic, sugar and sake. It was OK rather than great.

Japanese cuisine (as made in Japan not Bucharest) is always evolving. Sushi was a convenient, passing invention and is nothing special. The latest reincarnation in Japan is the ‘bento lunchbox’ which we will doubtless be swamped with when the dull-witted Bucharest restaurateurs catch on 20 years after everybody else.

Sushi Ko is not cheap, but I cannot blame the House for this. Like all sushi joints they fool the public into thinking there is an Oriental mystique and special skill surrounding sushi that justifies the prices. By now you will have realized this is not the case.

Michael Barclay


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