Meirav Crystal reports: While Japan continues to deal with the aftermath of last Friday’s devastating earthquake and tsunami, and has yet to recover from one of the greatest disasters in its history, Israelis fear a shortage in the ingredients of one of their favorite dishes: Sushi.
Many of sushi’s basic components come from Japan or are imported through the battered countries. Will Israelis soon suffer from a shortage of the beloved rolls’ necessary ingredients?
“There may be a shortage of sushi components, but we are still studying the situation,” says Dudi Afriat of the Rakuto Kasei company, which imports the Kikkoman soy sauce, as well as seaweeds, wasabi, rice and other necessary ingredients for sushi rolls.
Rakuto Kasei is the main supplier of raw materials for sushi to all restaurants in Israel, and markets products to supermarkets as well.
“We’ll be wiser once the situation in Japan stabilizes and the reconstruction begins,” he explains. “I assume we’ll know if there is going to be a shortage in the coming week. The main fear is of a shortage of the Kikkoman soy sauce. One Kikkoman factory in Japan was damaged and there have been delays in the supply, but we hope it won’t stop the regular chain of supply.”
Kikkoman has five factories around the world – in the United States, Hong Kong, Holland, Singapore and Japan. “Most of the containers arrive in Israel from the US, but the entire management is in Japan,” Afriat explains.
“At the moment, it’s very difficult communicating with them. There are a lot of disruptions. Yesterday I spoke with our contact in Japan, and he said it took him 10 hours to get to the office from home.
“So at the moment the situation is unclear, and it all depends on the Japanese. I trust them, because they love the soy sauce more than we do. My only fear is that they’ll have to import Kikkoman from the US, and that will affect the imports to Israel.”
Rice shortage not expected
A possible shortage of Kikkoman would be felt in Israel. “About 85% of the soy sauce used in Israel is Kikkoman. This is a very unusual figure in the world,” Afriat says. “Israeli chefs feel very connected to this product. After the tsunami I received phone calls from hysterical people fearing a shortage of Kikkoman.”
Other products which may be affected due to import problems or damaged factories are miso (traditional Japanese seasoning), pickled Japanese pumpkin and cabbage, and certain types of seaweed. A shortage may also be felt in wasabi – Japanese horseradish.
One thing is certain: A rice shortage is not anticipated, as most of the rice used to make sushi comes from California.
Fortunately, many Japanese products are produced in US factories and exported to Israel from there. Therefore, the supply of most types of seaweeds, ginger, Sake and rice vinegar is not expected to be affected.
Sushi rolling mats and other bamboo products, like chopsticks, come from China. The panko and tempura come from South Korea, and black sesame originates in Israel or Thailand.
Tel Aviv one of biggest sushi consumers
Israelis love sushi, and a shortage of some of its ingredients may have an effect on many restaurants. “The Japanese food unit in Israel has grown by some 800% in the past five or six years,” says Afriat. “Five years ago, there were up to 20 sushi restaurants in Tel Aviv. Today there are more than 130. A survey we conducted recently revealed that sushi is the No. 2 take away food in Israel.”
“Kikkoman, the world’s biggest commercial brand, has an amazing infiltration level. It can be found in one-third of Israeli households, and it’s clearly a Japanese product. Surprisingly, we bring real naturally fermented soy sauce, which costs much more than other types of soy available in stores, and Israelis still appreciate and purchase it.
“We import 900 kilograms (1,984pounds) of Kikkoman bottles a year, and 54 tons of rice for sushi a month. It’s an amazing amount. Tel Aviv is the fifth city in the world in the consumption of sushi per capita, and fourth in the world in the number of sushi restaurants per capita.
“Last year, Kikkoman’s senior management arrived in Israel to give us the award for the company’s best global marketer, because we reached a 66% rise in sales between 2008 and 2009.
“Business with Japan is very tight. I have been working with Japanese people for six years now and we feel very connected to them. We feel their pain.”