Salmon sashimi is an international favourite, a staple of Japanese cuisine adored by all. However, you would be surprised to find out- salmon sushi is not actually Japanese.
It’s actually Norwegian.
Sushi has been around for hundreds of years, but until about 1995, raw salmon was not consumed at all in Japan. This was because Pacific salmon was exposed to parasites and considered unsafe for raw consumption.
In the 1980s, Norway had a problem: it had too much salmon. Japan also had a problem: it had dwindling fish stocks due to overfishing and a few other factors. Norway decided that the natural solution was to export its excess supply to Japan.
They wanted to target the raw consumption market, as while fish meant for grilling was cheap and in steady supply, sashimi-grade fish could be sold for much higher.
“Everybody said ‘we do not eat raw salmon’,” said
Bjorn Eirik Olsen, who was responsible for market research for Project Japan. “We had to really fight to introduce salmon into the market…It took 15 years from when the first salmon went to Japan (in 1980) to the breakthrough for raw consumption in 1995.”
Arne Hjeltnes, chief executive at digital advertising agency Creuna in Oslo, says getting the Japanese to put salmon on a clump of rice is probably one of Norway’s greatest export successes in the last twenty years. The more popular fish for sashimi was tuna and sea bream. Initially, many people were hesitant to eat raw salmon because of its reputation for being unsafe when eaten raw. Chefs would also complain that the meat was the wrong colour, or that the fish had a ‘river-like’ quality that was not well-suited to sushi.
It took over ten years for the Japanese to catch up, requiring major marketing such as chefs endorsing raw salmon on national TV, changing the name for salmon from “sake” (like the alcohol) to the katakana “sāmon“.
Eventually, salmon sushi became a huge hit and it is enjoyed by millions in Japan and worldwide. And who do we have to thank? Not the Japanese, but the Norwegians.