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Egypt's sushi obsession: History and health implications

Ahram Online looks at the Japanese delicacy's brief sojourn in Egypt and allays local fears about eating raw fish

Ingy deif, Thursday 22 Sep 2011
sushi in Egypt
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When did the word “sushi” become a household name in Egypt? The savory bundles were originally confined to Cairo’s expatriate Japanese community. Now, however, they can be found everywhere, with numerous food chains offering the once-prohibitively-expensive treats at prices most restaurant-goers can afford.

"Sushi was initially introduced to Egypt in the early ‘80s, when Japanese and other expats began coming to Cairo in greater numbers,” recalls Egyptian chef Ahmed Kamal, who has since mastered the craft of sushi preparation. “Some of these expats, taking pride in their national cuisines, brought native cooks and chefs with them, the most famous of whom was Japanese Chef Kanisaua.”

Sushi soon began appearing in small local restaurants in upper-class districts of the capital and on menus at major hotels. “At first there was a dependence on foreign chefs,” said Kamal, “but Egyptian chefs quickly learned how to prepare sushi and began doing the job at more reasonable rates. I was one of the first ones to do so.”

Kamal, who is now a restaurant owner himself, remembers when Egypt’s first sushi restaurant opened its doors back in 1995. It charged LE10 per piece - quite expensive back then, especially given that individual pieces never weighed more than 25 grams.

But as demand grew and the number of restaurants serving sushi increased - and as the delicacy become popular with more social segments and not just the rich and well-travelled - prices inevitably came down.

While some Egyptians express fear of potential health hazards associated with eating raw seafood, Kamal says there is no need for worry.

"By freezing tuna and salmon at 23 degrees below zero, we can avoid any risk of contamination,” he said. “What’s more, the wasabi that is generally served alongside sushi in the form of green paste - which is imported from Japan and grows exclusively in volcanic soil - helps protect the body from any bacteria that might be found in raw fish."

According to Dr. Sahar Fahmi Mhanna, professor of fish dynamics at Egypt’s National Institute for Sea Science and Fishing, tuna and salmon are both high in Omega-3, which benefits the heart by lowering cholesterol levels and blood pressure.

“However, due to increased industrial activity over the years that has polluted oceans and seas, harmful residue - including lead and mercury - often accumulates in the bodies of tuna fish,” she noted. “Therefore, consumption of these creatures must be done with caution. Restaurants serving sushi should abide by general rules of safety and hygiene when freezing, preparing and serving the dish."

Dr. Mhanna went on to point out that sushi, like most seafood, is quite low in fat, and is also considered an excellent source of calcium, carbohydrates, iodine and vitamin D.

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