Waiter, What's That Horse Doing in my Sushi?


In Japan the sushi-grade tuna shortage has gotten so bad, sushi chefs are being forced to think about using alternatives like raw venison, and eek!, raw horse. While horsemeat is frowned upon here, it is thought to be a delicacy in places like Italy and Japan. The tuna shortage is making many Japanese sushi chefs very unhappy:

"It's like America running out of steak," said Tadashi Yamagata, vice chairman of Japan's national union of sushi chefs. "Sushi without tuna just would not be sushi."

The good news about horse: "We tasted it, and horse sushi was pretty good," a sushi restaurant owner recalled, referring to 1973, when the tuna mercury poisoning scare had sushi eaters all over the world swearing off tuna. "It was soft, easy to bite off, had no smell." Contrary to urban legend, serving and eating horse in America is legal.

I asked David Pasternack, chef-owner of Esca and my co-author on The Young Man and the Sea, whether the tuna shortage is being felt in this country. "Tuna is tight right now, no doubt about it, so the price is really high. All tuna is graded, and there's enough #2 grade tuna around, but it's the #1 grade tuna that the Japanese love. Things might loosen up now that that they're starting to catch tuna up and down the east coast." I also asked him about the possibility of serving raw horse. "If I could get the horse they serve in Japan I would. I cooked a meal in Japan a few months ago, and I served three kinds of crudo, whale, tuna, and horse. The horse in Japan is raised Kobe-style. It's incredibly delicious, sweet and tender."