This year, Mutual Trading will celebrate 90 years of importing and distributing Japanese foods into the US. Behind the scenes of Mutual Trading’s introduction of Edomae Sushi to America in 1963, and the formative years of Jizake development during the 1990’s, were many creative endeavors aimed to challenge Americans’ cultural tolerance and dining habits. Today, Japanese food businesses continue their robust growth, crossing international borders
Upon the designation of Washoku under UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage in December 2013, the world took on a renewed interest in Japanese cuisine. However despite its popularity, “Washoku” remains an esoteric word, uttered only by a few.
To aid in the proper dissemination of Washoku fundamentals and in deeper understanding, Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) has sponsored Taste of Japan, a series of educational programs specifically for non-Japanese in the Japanese food businesses. The Toronto, Canada event was on February 26th, followed by Mexico City, Mexico on March 4th. Their 3-part agenda touched upon (1) the technical training and food safety of handling Sushi, (2) genuine Wagyu Japanese beef, and (3) Sake.
Chef Hirotoshi Ogawa, director of All Japan Sushi Association (AJSA) Sushi Skills Institute directed his concerns of food safety issues surrounding raw fish, especially in countries that have no basis of a raw-food culture. He strongly urged for establishing satellite culinary schools to train the next generation chefs on how to safely handle sushi and on proper technical training, starting with the bare basics of properly washing rice.
Mr. Yosuke Yamaguchi of Zenoh America presented Wagyu, Japan’s premium-grown beef. While beef is a familiar commodity in the western world, WAGYU proved to be confusing to the Canadian and Mexican audiences, staring with its definition. Today, Wagyu no longer refers to beef grown exclusively in Japan. Due in part to savvy marketing, beef grown in the US, Canada and Australia under certain environment and processing, can also be branded “WAGYU”. The demonstration clarified the difference, with undisputable quality upsides for Japan-grown Wagyu.
Mutual Trading and Sake School of America completed the program with a Jizake seminar. In Mexico, where over 50% of diners are still familiar only to hot sake, premium cold sake is quickly taking a strong fan base. The presentation encompassed food pairing based on Umami compatibility, where guests learned what Ginjo and Kimoto brews were, why they’re different, ending in a virtual experience with tastings.
As WASHOKU continues its popularity into foreign lands, education and training will become pivotal to maintain the integrity of what makes Japanese cuisine unique.
For the latest on the Taste of Japan program, visit the MAFF website.