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Ahi Tuna Neko Matagi

How Did Ahi Tuna Turn from Cat Food to High-End Sushi?

Sushi offers a unique and flavorful eating experience, unlike any other dish. Legitimate Japanese cuisine is usually made from premium tuna, amberjack, snapper, or mackerel. But did you know that tuna wasn’t initially used for sushi?

In the earlier twentieth century, tuna was caught as a sport. Once caught, it is turned into cat food that cats don’t even like. Nowadays, tuna can cost as much as $2 million and is used to create high-end sushi.

The History of Sushi

The origin of sushi is surrounded by a variety of legends and folklore. One famous tale is that of an elderly woman who began hiding her pots of rice in osprey eggs so that no one would steal them. When she collected the pots of rice, she found that the rice began to ferment, and there were fish scraps from the osprey’s meal. The elderly woman discovered that the mixture was tasty, and it also helped preserve the shelf life of seafood.

While this is just a legend, no one can pinpoint the origin of the famous Japanese dish. Some historians claim that a fourth-century Chinese dictionary documented a dish where salted fish is placed in cooked rice, causing it to ferment. While it is not the modern sushi we know of today, it was the first time the concept of sushi appeared in written history.

Other historians claim that the concept of sushi was introduced in Japan around the time Buddhism spread. Since Buddhists abstain from meat, many use fish to replace meat in their diets. The dish was first known as funa-zushi and was common in the areas near Lake Biwa. Golden carp, known as funa, was the fish usually used for the dish, and the dish was only served to the wealthy upper-class Japanese.

Eventually, the dish found its way to ordinary people. And in 1820, Hanaya Yohei discovered this dish when he visited Edo. Eventually, he was credited as the creator of the modern nigiri sushi, opening the first sushi stall in the Ryogoku district of Edo. Sushi became very popular, eventually finding its way to Los Angeles in 1966. Today, sushi is one of the most popular Japanese dishes, with many chefs constantly reinventing it. (Source: PBS)

How was Tuna Used in Sushi?

In the 1940s, many people fished tuna for sport. However, people didn’t really like tuna. They didn’t eat it nor let it go. People only wanted to weigh it and have a photograph with it. After that, they discard it. The dead tuna finds its way to landfills. Most of these bluefin tuna weigh at least 400 pounds, and some of them are dumped back into the sea to serve as food for other sea creatures.

People then started to mash them up and turn the fish to dog food. Because of the tuna’s beef-red flesh, its smell, and pungent taste, many people didn’t want to eat it: even the Japanese preferred milder species, usually white-fleshed fishes and, at times, shellfish. Tuna was even referred to as Neko-matagi, which means fish that even a cat would disdain.

People began liking tuna sushi when one sidewalk sushi vendor experimented on the cheap fish, slicing it thin and dousing it with soy sauce. The style caught on. Eventually, chefs demanded tuna, preferring large bluefins, aging in the underground for several days. (Source: Smithsonian Magazine)

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