New Zealand is situated on the Asia-Pacific Rim and, by drawing on it’s geographical and historical culinary influences, has adopted a unique style of fusion dining, fashionably known as ‘Asian Rimming’.
And by far and away the most popular of all the Asian Rim foods, since it’s introduction in the 80s, is Sushi.
Sushi arrived not long after a period of great upheaval and uncertainty over New Zealand’s place in the world. Trade regulations within the European Union tightened in the late 70s, such that our historical trading partner, Britain, decided she preferred the garlicky, arrogant taste of French butter to our humble, mild-mannered blend. Nervous, and facing a growing mountain of congealed, unsold dairy, New Zealand began establishing ties with new, geographically closer, trading partners.
The United States looked promising for a while, until, in 1985, David Lange told her she had uranium breath and to kindly f**k off. And while Australia remains a fair weather trading friend, the single largest commodity we export there (hard working, educated New Zealanders) is, like oil, a finite resource.
Which left us with Asia. And so, at some unspecified period during the 1980s (or specified, if you can be bothered doing the research.. which I can’t), in a bold attempt to appeal to a potentially massive new trading partner, New Zealand got a big-time case of yellow fever.
This manifested in a number of ways..
Japanese language studies quickly became more popular at secondary school than the traditional favorites of French or Spanish, as bookish middle-class kids were encouraged to learn a language that would further their business career, rather than just something to help them get laid while backpacking around Europe.
Government immigration policy shifted, from the historic approach of herding in an endless stream of land-grabbing, limey Anglo Saxons, to opening the gates, as it were, to families from Hong Kong, Korea and Taiwan, on condition that they a) build large houses and prosperous businesses, and b) have no idea how to drive a car between them.
But by far the most successful Oriental introduction, was the food. And of the many wonderful dishes to reach our shores – Pork Balls, Chicken Feet, Mystery Meat Salad, to name but a few – it was Sushi that we really took to our hearts. Raw fish, seaweed and sticky rice. It’s popularity can be explained for the same reasons it became such a hit in that other well known Pacific Rim location, California; proximity to fresh seafood, a background of exercise and healthy eating, and a middle class population desperate to appear worldly and cultured in spite of their obvious pastoral, frontier roots.
And for New Zealand, particularly, it at last provided an viable, alternative lunchtime snack to the staple ‘meat pie and chips’.
Not-History (aka, The Present)
Sushi remains as popular today as ever. For Kiwis living abroad (except those in Australia, California or, clearly, Japan), a trip to the local Sushi Bar sits high on their mental list of “shit I’m going to do as soon as I get home” (alongside ‘have fish & chips at the beach‘, ‘eat some Vogels toast‘ and, of course, ‘chill out to some homegrown dub‘).
And while you can now get Sushi in places such as London, as any Kiwi will proudly, and usually uninvited, tell you.. “It’s not as good“.
However, there is an unusual irony to all this sushi consumed, both here and in The States. For what is perceived as a ‘healthy option’, after 25 odd years of lunching on raw salmon every day, we have somehow eaten ourselves into the prized position of 3rd fattest nation in the OECD (as illustrated by this excellent graph).
Or, for that matter, a lump of raw fish.