Beijing love affair with Japanese seafood, chefs persists

Anti-Japanese sentiment and a government-inspired frugality campaign haven’t dented the appeal of Japanese style sashimi and sushi restaurants in Beijing. Visits to a dozen Japanese-style restaurants in Beijing suggest strong growth for sashimi style restaurants, many of which are marketing themselves on the basis of serving imported Japanese seafood and having Japanese chefs.

The extent of Chinese animosity towards neighboring states was highlighted this month when the Bainian Luzhu, a well-known Beijing pork restaurant, posted a window advert warning it would not serve customers from Japan, the Philippines or Vietnam (‘or dogs’) — all countries with whom Beijing has maritime territorial disputes.

Yet wealthy Chinese appear drawn to the luster of Japanese-style restaurants that boast seafood — and chefs imported from Japan. The appeal of a Japanese chef is clear in marketing by Gozou Roppu, a Japanese restaurant in Beijing’s Liangmaqiao embassy district with a VIP sashimi combination serving four people costs CNY 1200. The restaurant serves seafood imported from Japan, including blue tuna at CNY 480 and flatfish at CNY 198 per slice, as well as Japanese urchin (CNY 108 per serving). Business has been brisk in 2013, according to the manager, who emphasizes Japanese chefs and seafood used in his restaurant.

Standing by the counter and chatting with customers — a good portion of them from Beijing’s large Japanese expatriate community — restaurant owner/manager Koyabashi Jin told Seafoodsource customers are particularly keen on roasted crab leg (imported from Japan) priced CNY 135 and roasted eel (CNY 128). Customers also like to try pacific saury (CNY 48) and squid sashimi CNY 32, explained Koyabashi.

A ten-minute walk from Koyabashi’s eatery, locally owned Edomae Sushi is busy with shoppers from the nearby Solana mall who pour in to eat sashimi combinations for four at CNY 400 and ‘imported Japanese braised fish’ at CNY 800. Staff explained how the restaurant owner learned how to cook and manage Japan-style during eight years spent in Tokyo learning the trade. “We import seafood from Japan,” said a manager, highlighting menu items like “superior tuna,” as well as green garoupa, marlin and snapper.

Sashimi and sushi chains have been expanding in China’s capital, which by plane is nearer Tokyo than many south coast cities like Guangzhou and Xiamen, traditional seafood supply hubs. Speaking to Seafoodsource, several customers at Edomae said they were drawn by the restaurant’s advertising its “Japanese trained” staff.

Also imported from Japan, Edomae serves whole halibut and “greater amber jack.” Edomae also sells abalone, clams and scallops sourced domestically from a supplier in the northeastern coastal city of Dalian.

China’s imports of Japanese seafood remain considerable, even though Chinese media reports have in the past two years made much of possible contamination of Japanese food after the Fukushima nuclear accident. Japan ranks first in imports of mollusks into China, according to USDA data, with 3,100 metric tons (MT) imported in the first ten months of 2012. In the same time frame Japan ranked fourth as a source of frozen fish imports, at 55,961 MT. Imports of salmon from Japan remain significant at 6,648 MT in the first ten months of last year — down from 44,200 MT in 2009.

Beijing has disputed Japan’s claim to the Senkaku (Diaoyu to Chinese mappers) islands, and tensions have risen after the recent election of a nationalist minded Japanese prime minister. While the unelected Chinese government regularly stokes anti-Japanese moods to divert public discontent on domestic matters, it remains keen to preserve the enormous Sino-Japan trade relationship and Japanese investment into China. 


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