Oshi Zushi: Wisconsin Smoked Trout and Nova Salmon
How do you make a distinctive dish without its most distinctive ingredient?
This is a challenge that every cook has or will face in the kitchen at some point, particularly with regard to global cuisines that call for a certain element which may not be readily available. I recently found myself in this predicament when I decided to make atchara, the popular Filipino condiment/side dish of pickled green papaya, despite the glaring fact that a long search for said unripe fruit proved to be, well, fruitless. Fortunately, I found a vegetable substitute in locally-grown kohlrabi, whose mildly sweet and slightly crunchy texture made it a satisfactory stand-in.
I solved my atchara dilemma by using a local ingredient to replace a more exotic one, but this simple exchange had me asking a broader question: how do we reconcile the widespread popularity of global cuisines and their variety of uncommon ingredients, with the rise of the local/seasonal food movement?
The G-Word: Globalization
One of the most controversial aspects of modern society is globalization, the process by which goods, services and information are exchanged through a free-flowing, worldwide network. On a positive note with regard to food, it allows us to experience the flavors of other cuisines in our own homes by making once-uncommon ingredients more accessible, not only in ethnic markets but also at local groceries. On the other hand, the globalization of food is viewed by many as a contemporary form of cultural imperialism, specifically the Western (read: American) homogenization of other countries' foodways.
McDonald's Hong Kong: Beef Fan-tastic
Sliced teriyaki beef in rice patty 'buns'
(Photo by selva/flickr)
This criticism is most often leveled at U.S. Big Food behemoths such as McDonald's and Coca-Cola, who have responded with a marketing strategy that 'localizes' their product offerings by incorporating regional tastes and customs (e.g McD's vegetarian McAloo Tikki Burger in India). However, transforming foreign food into local eats is primarily initiated as a sales strategy by these outside firms and not as an adaptation by the local residents who will be consuming it. So, what happens when this is turned around?
Glocalism: Fusion Food
Enter glocalization. In the past, the exchange of material goods, like food, and of cultural knowledge, such as recipes, were often carried by people in migration and required long distances and lots of time. Today, modern technology has made such exchanges more efficient, relatively effortless, and in the case of the Internet, nearly instantaneous:
"[P]ersonal mobility has vastly accelerated the migration of people between their original home places and external locations . . . Increasingly, the population within any area becomes mixed, while those who leave retain memories and contacts that lead them to protect various kinds of links with the area from which they moved. Thus, the local contains much that is global, while the global in increasingly penetrated and re-shaped by many locals. The word glocalization usefully captures this apparent contradiction."
(Riggs, n.p.)Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman was one of the first to explain this love child of the global and the local in his book The Lexus and the Olive Tree:
"[H]ealthy glocalization [is] the ability of a culture, when it encounters other strong cultures, to absorb influences that naturally fit into and can enrich that culture . . . The whole purpose of glocalizing is to be able to assimilate aspects of globalization into your country and culture in a way that adds to your growth and diversity, without overwhelming it."
(Friedman, 282-3)But he frames glocalization as a strategy to preserve culture (e.g. traditional Malaysian street food stalls) against powerful foreign forces (e.g. American fast food restaurants). What does it mean on a smaller scale - when someone like me, steeped in Western culture, takes a traditional recipe from another society and changes important elements of it to assert my locality?
Glocavorism: 'Think Global, Eat Local'
We might call the growing awareness of eating locally paired with the popularity of ethnic foods as glocavorism* - the flavors of global cuisines achieved with community-sourced ingredients. The principles of local and seasonal eating address economic, environmental, social and health concerns: supporting local farmers and businesses; reducing ecological costs of long transportation and industrialized farming; encouraging the personal interaction of producers and consumers as community members; and providing unprocessed, nutritious fare. But I would love to hear more discussion about their impact on the cultural importance of food as a group symbol and as part of personal ethnic identity.
(Image from Wikipedia.com)
Food as an emblem of a culture is powerful: certain foods or cooking styles are a source of pride and jealously guarded as examples of cultural heritage. In Italy, for example, the organization Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana has established a strict protocol to preserve the tradition and authenticity of Neapolitan pizza. Within its 11-page set of rules, the AVPN dictates the use of specific Italian ingredients, such as doppio zero (very finely-ground flour), San Marzano tomatoes and Mozzarella di Bufala Campana (AVPN 'Disciplinare' 2, 5).
Basically, the use of locally sourced ingredients outside of Italy would disqualify a pizza from being considered truly Neapolitan. Many other regional cuisines call for ingredients that also must be imported (say, green papaya for atchara made in Minnesota). So then, what should take precedence: the authenticity of a culturally symbolic dish or the principles of local eating?
On a more personal note, I have found that consuming Filipino food is one way to reassert my ethnic identity. For many immigrants, native dishes represent deeply emotional ties to homes left behind and help ease the stresses of transitioning into a new, unfamiliar culture. While many fruits and vegetables originating in other lands are now cultivated in the United States, others might only be available during certain seasons or are not grown at all due to incompatible environmental conditions or, perhaps, low demand. Is substituting ingredients, as I did, sufficient to recreate a dish that holds such personal connotations or does such an exchange fundamentally change the food and therefore its meaning? Is it possible to eat locally/seasonally and still eat 'culturally'?
Unfortunately, I have yet to find definitive answers to any of these questions. Both the issues of environmental and social responsibility, as represented by the local food movement, and the concerns of authenticity and cultural connections are equally important to me. I certainly hope that it is possible to find a balance between them.
Care to share your thoughts on these questions?
*Glocavorism combines the concepts of glocalization and locavorism.
Friedman, Thomas L. The Lexus and the Olive Tree. New York: Farrar, 2000.
"Il Disciplinare (Method of Production)." Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana. Naples: (n.d.)
Riggs, Fred W. Glocalization, Diasporas and Area Studies. University of Hawai'i: (Draft, n.d.)
Wikipedia.com: Globalization, McDonald's products
Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (English-language site)
Rising Sun over 10,000 Lakes: Making Sushi in MN
I am far from alone in declaring a love of Japanese cuisine, especially sushi. Unlike other favorite dishes such as those from Thai, Indian or Italian cookery, I have never considered making sushi myself, given the difficulty (and cost) of procuring super-fresh seafood in Minnesota. Besides, why try to compete with an itamae (sushi chef) who has undergone years-long apprenticeship to master the technique? But then, I came across the book Sushi: Taste and Technique by Kimiko Barber and Hiroki Takemura.
(Image from Amazon.com)
One look at the monochromatic cover photograph of battera, or mackerel pressed sushi, and I was enamored. I was intrigued to learn that oshi zushi is the oldest form of sushi-making, predating nigiri zushi (hand-formed sushi, which was invented in the 18th century) by several hundred years and based on a traditional method of preserving fish in rice and packed in wooden boxes for inland transport (Barber, 168). Its long existence nearly came to an end during the post-WWII Allied occupation of Japan:
"[S]ushi chefs still made traditional pressed sushi, which took some time to make. . . When the Allied Occupation authorities issued a directive allowing the exchange of one cup of rice for 10 pieces of nigiri zushi and a sushi roll, they did not include any other type of sushi. To keep his shop open, the sushi chef was forced to make hand-formed [nigiri] sushi."
(Barber, 8)Thankfully, pressed sushi is still very much alive and well. Although Barber states that oshi zushi was considered more time-consuming, I thought it was the perfect method for me. It requires only a wooden mold, called an oshibako, prepared sushi rice, and toppings that may include fresh vegetables, tamago (Japanese omelette) and, of course, fish. While fresh raw fish may be used, smoked or cooked seafood is well-suited to this form. Last week, I gave it a go and, in keeping with the spirit of glocavorism, I made this traditional Japanese food with a local ingredient.
(from Sushi: Taste and Technique)
When I read that smoked fish was particularly good for pressed sushi, the first thing that came to mind was Wisconsin's Star Prairie Trout, available at the Minneapolis Farmer's Market. Their fresh fish was delicious steamed and served with Bacon-Cranberry Wild Rice but I had my eye on their smoked trout. I wasn't disappointed - the subtle sweetness in both the fish and the sushi rice was heightened by the smokiness of the former and the vinegary tang of the latter. To round out the platter, I also made pressed sushi with Nova Salmon from Trader Joe's and added a small serving of atcharang kohlrabi in place of pickled ginger.
Yield: 6 pieces per pressing
Pressed sushi mold (oshibako)
Very sharp chef's knife
Prepared sushi rice (Try these recipes from FoodCreate.com and About.com)
Suggested toppings: smoked fish such as salmon or trout; marinated fish such as mackerel; cooked seafood such as shrimp or eel; tamago (omelette); fresh vegetables such as cucumbers
1. Prepare the oshibako by soaking in cold water for approximately 15 minutes. This will help keep the sushi rice from sticking to the box. Alternately, you may line the inside of the box with plastic wrap;
2. Slice your topping ingredients lengthwise so that they are flat (and to your preferred thickness), then place them on the bottom of the mold (skin side down, if applicable), covering any gaps;
3. Add sushi rice until mold is two-thirds full. Using your fingers, spread the rice evenly and firmly throughout the container;
4. Put the lid on the mold and press firmly, compressing the rice and toppings. Leaving the lid on, carefully pull up the sides of the box;
5. Remove the lid and gently flip it over so that the topping side is on top. If needed, carefully run your knife between the sushi and the mold to help release it.
6. Dip a very sharp knife in water and slice the pressed sushi in half, then slice again in three equal pieces.
7. Serve with pickled ginger (or atchara!)