Holly Wales


Raw and Uncut

The standard sushi assortment is really a case study in the complexities of globalized world commerce.

Whether we do it in English or Japanese, sushi may be the last food we order by species alone. Despite the hunter-gatherer vocabulary, the familiar pieces on a standard sushi assortment are really a case study in the complexities of globalized world commerce.


The Japanese author Takeaki Hori has called tuna “the diamond of the ocean.” It is the trophy fish of the sushi bar—every morning, $5 million worth of fresh tuna is sold by auction at the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, and furious dockside bidding wars have known to break out in harbors around the world among brokers looking to satisfy their Japanese customers. There are three major species of tuna for the sushi market, in descending order of value: bluefin, bigeye, and yellowfin. “Sushi-grade” doesn’t mean a thing.


A generation ago, cuts of the meat from the tuna belly known as toro were worth pennies per pound in most parts of the world; it was often canned for pet food. But a revolution in air cargo transportation connected global supply with Japanese demand, and now Tokyo chefs regularly pay up to $100 per pound. The most prized tuna are bluefin that have fattened up in cold, northern waters—around Japan and in the Atlantic off Canada and New England. Thanks to a nimble supply chain of fishermen, dealers, and brokers, these can be rushed to market and served fresh just a few days after being caught (see sidebar).

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