Last week, a story presented itself on the local social networks about the lack of sushi in Buenos Aires. Surely the government hadn’t sneakily passed in some new ruling about short-grain rice imports without anyone noticing?
No, the crux of the story was based around salmon from neighbouring Chile, and as Mun Kim, chef of his eponymous closed-door restaurant Casa Mun, knows, it has becoming increasingly tricky to buy the fish he requires for his Korean and Japanese menus, and for sushi.
He says: “I usually buy my salmon from an importer in Mar del Plata who gets it from Chile. I heard from my sous chef that people were getting worried because of the import restrictions, so three weeks ago I called my supplier. He had some, but he said it wasn’t good quality.
“Salmon tastes good if it’s a big fish — a smaller one may not have eaten as well and be lacking in nutrients — and I like mine to weigh seven kilos and have a lot of fat, plus the good Omega-3 oils give it a lot of flavour.
“My supplier only had little ones, so I asked him to send two salmon to me, and whether he’d be getting some more the following day. He replied: ‘I don’t know. I haven’t had any for the past 10 days, and I only just got some.’
“I got a bit nervous and called all the suppliers I knew, and everyone said the same thing — that the government is restricting salmon importation from Chile. Of course, all the sushi restaurants are worried as Argentines only tend to eat salmon, despite Argentina producing incredibly good fish. You can go to a sushi restaurant and eat 30 different dishes, but they will all be salmon.
“I was told 98 percent of fish is exported, and I know several Korean fishing boats are out in Mar del Plata, plus the Taiwanese and Japanese come here to fish. It’s a really abundant and productive ocean, but people aren’t used to eating fish other than salmon.
“So I called all my suppliers every day for a week, and I found someone and asked for three salmon. He said: ‘I’m rationings salmon to two per restaurant.’
“Although I am making rainbow rolls at the moment, which don’t use a lot of salmon, one fish may last a month. But because of the salmon shortage, I’ve had to change my menu. I was going to make salmon nigiri, but if I do that I’ll be using a lot of fish.
“I’m a sushi chef, and salmon will always be on my menu, but I’ve had to accommodate for the shortage. In the end, I begged, and my supplier gave me three large fish. But prices went up by about 30 percent in one day.”
Photo courtesy of Casa Mun