Enterprising Philadelphia Magazine contributor Issenberg pursues the blue-fin tuna around the world—from sea to ship to freezer to airplane to restaurant to plate to palate—and returns with a superb fish story.
In that pursuit, the author ate sushi in 14 countries on five different continents over the course of two years. His principal interests were the trade’s financial workings and the remarkable people who inhabit Sushi World. In scenes that prove him a worthy successor to John McPhee, Issenberg has revelatory chats with a wide range of people: Canadian fishermen, Japanese entrepreneurs, Los Angeles restaurateurs, Australian tuna-tossers (there’s actually an annual contest) and Spanish pirate-chasers—yes, piracy is a problem in the sushi industry. The words and experiences of these diverse folks animate nearly every page. The author begins his journey on Prince Edward Island, where initial problems of long-range fish transport (blue-fin do not breed well in captivity) were solved in the 1970s. He then traverses the sushi-eating world looking at various facets of the business. Each visit occasions ruminations on history, culture and fundamental economics. The journey of that piece of tuna on your tongue turns out to be incredibly complex and expensive. Before the sushi boom, blue-fin sometimes went for as little as 11 cents a pound; now a prime specimen can bring as much as $150 per pound, which means a good-sized fish costs $100,000. Issenberg charts the at-first gradual, then rapid growth of an industry that once provided street food to middle-class Japan and now purveys an international delicacy to those who can afford it. He wonders what will happen to supply and demand—and price—when a billion or so Chinese acquire the craving. Sushi bars are already opening there.
Superior literary journalism.