Once a rare and exotic treat, seaweed rolls and bites of raw tuna on vinegared rice are now familiar to most food fans. So familiar, in fact, that many hobby cooks in Europe and the United States like to make them in their own kitchens.
But chefs and sushi experts at an international restaurant summit in Tokyo warned of a lack of awareness in handling raw fish among amateurs and some restaurateurs who enter the profitable industry without sufficient training.
"Everybody thinks: 'sushi is so expensive – I can buy cheap fish, fresh fish, I can make it at home.' It's not true. Not every fish is suitable to eat raw," said chef and restaurateur Yoshi Tome.
He sees himself as an educator as well as a chef.
He described a case in which an inexperienced restaurateur in the United States served raw baby crab. This lead to cases of food poisoning and prompted a recall of that type of crab. Tome serves the crab deep-fried at his restaurant and says it is perfectly safe if prepared the right way.
Japan's bureaucrats drew criticism and ridicule a year ago with a plan to create a global "sushi police" that would assess Japanese restaurants overseas. Since then, there has been a change of tactics, and the emphasis is now on education and advice rather than uninvited checks.
Ryuji Ishii, who runs the Advanced Fresh Concepts Franchise Corp, the largest supplier of fresh sushi to supermarkets in the United States, finds that education is important not just for food safety purposes.
"The challenge is, we have never dealt with that market. So far, we've been dealing with a very upscale market, high-end supermarkets," he said
He tries to tempt shoppers with samples of the most popular type of sushi in the United States: the California Roll, made with avocado. Purists might argue that the California Roll, a US invention, is not real sushi anyway, but Ishii says it allows customers to have a first taste of Japanese food and then get hooked on more exotic items – the ones that include raw fish.