How Norway Contributed to Japan's Most Popular Sushi
Sushi is something that is thought of as being exclusively Japanese. This is no surprise, since it has been one of their main sources of food for over 100 years. What might surprise you is the fact that one of the most popular forms of sushi served in Japan nowadays was actually not created in Japan at all.
The salmon used in sushi dishes in Japan is actually a product of a massively successful Norwegian marketing campaign in the late 20th century. Here is the story of how Norway contributed to create Japan’s most popular sushi.
Norway Salmon Farming Begins
While sushi might not be something that people think of as being Norwegian food, fish certainly is. After all, Norwegians have been eating fish since some of the very first settlers. Despite fish being a major component of a Norwegian diet for centuries, Norway did not begin commercial salmon farming until the 1970s.
By this point, residents of Norway had slightly transitioned to a diet that consisted more of red meat and wheat products rather than traditional fish. Therefore, the new loads of salmon being brought in from the fishermen were not being eaten nearly as fast as they used to be—which meant that Norwegian fishermen had a surplus of salmon on their hands.
This created a dilemma where Norway was in urgent need of finding a new source of individuals who would gladly purchase their overwhelming supply of salmon. Luckily, this urgent situation happened to align with Japan's own, less fortunate, fishing situation.
Japan’s Lack of Fish
For many decades, Japan had been a self-sufficient country when it came to their food supply. However, their largely unregulated fishing policies had left them without proper sustainability, which had fully caught up with them by the 1990s.
At this point, Japan had gone from a self-sufficient country to one that was only able to supply 50 percent of its total demand for fish. Therefore, they found themselves in a situation where they had to look for outside sources to supply them with the remainder of the fish that they needed.
A visit to Tokyo in 1985 by Norwegian Fisheries Minister, Thor Listau, allowed him to see a Japanese market that was in need of a new source of fish. This led him to start a government initiative known as Project Japan. The goal of this campaign was to promote Norwegian fish in Japan to increase the amount and the price of the fish that they shipped overseas.
At the start of Project Japan, Norway was only exporting about NOK 500 million of fish to Japan every year. By 1991 that number had more than tripled thanks to the budding success of the government initiative.
Overcoming Japanese Predispositions Towards Salmon
Unfortunately, this introduction of Norwegian salmon to Japan was not a smooth transition. In fact, it took about 10 to 15 years before the demand for salmon really started to pick up throughout the country.
One of the main reasons for this was the fact that the only type of salmon that the Japanese people had consumed up until that point was cooked salmon. This is due to the fact that Pacific salmon, which is the only type that Japan had access to at that point, cannot be eaten raw. There are far too many parasites in Pacific salmon, which means that it needs to be cooked in order for the meat to be safe.
However, Atlantic salmon is much different, it does not contain any parasites and has much fattier meat. This makes it suitable for raw consumption, which was something that the Japanese first needed to become accustomed to before demand could take off.
One of the ways that the Japanese got around this issue was by giving the Atlantic salmon a new name, which was “sāmon.” From there, it took a few celebrity endorsements and a bit of luck in order to really ramp up demand for Norwegian salmon. Since then, salmon sushi has quickly become one of the most popular types of sushi in all of Japan and both the Norwegian salmon fishing market and Japanese fish supply have stabilized.
So while Sushi will always inherently be a Japanese dish, Norway has forever made its own mark on the sushi industry. To experience some Norwegian fish or some other fabulous Norwegian cuisine by yourself, check out one of our Norwegian Food Tours!