Economics

One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, $100,000 Bluefin

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tuna

Everyone knows sushi can be expensive, but this is something else:

Two sushi bar owners paid more than $100,000 for a Japanese bluefin tuna at a Tokyo fish auction Monday, several times the average price and the highest in nearly a decade, market officials said. The 282-pound premium tuna caught off the northern coast of Oma fetched $104,700, the highest since 2001.

You might think that the sale of this huge, delicious, scary-looking tuna is all part of the grand Tokyo tradition going back centuries. And it is, in a way. But a fusion of American and Japanese tastes, techniques, natural resources, and new refrigeration and travel technology made the tuna market what it is today. 

The taste for richer fish such as tuna arrived [in Japan] with American troops after World War II, who introduced enthusiastic red meat eating to a previously ascetic people. The most prized sushi today is fatty tuna from the belly of the fish, or toro. But before Americans started ordering nigiri—raw fish laid on balls of rice—most traditional sushi chefs looked down on tuna with the same disdain a French chef has for fat-free mayonnaise.

Likewise, the American concept of tuna—the white, flaky stuff in cans—had no place for the rich, red flesh of the 600-pound creatures being caught in the cold water of the Atlantic. The huge tuna that now spark intense bidding wars at Japan's Tsukiji seafood market were used primarily to make cat food.

An airline executive with empty cargo holds to fill got a worldwide market in tuna going, and the rest is history.

Read the rest of the article on sushi and globalization from me, here in "The Day of the Flying Fish."