Hidden in a quiet corner at Toowong, Tokyo Express is a humble-looking Japanese restaurant almost buried in the suburb of Toowong, Brisbane; if you weren’t in the know or a regular at the gym above it, you would probably miss it.
But with stellar reviews online, I visited Tokyo Express expecting a fresh, innovative, and value-for-money interpretation of sushi, as described by their satisfied customers.
The interior of the restaurant is reminiscent of many other sushi establishments: a central conveyor belt sushi bar with no more than three private booths for the less social, pastel coloured plates indicating different sushi prices, and to their credit, an interesting looking spread of sushi moving along the bar.
And then I came to notice a common trend in the sushi, be it in temaki, makizushi or uramaki: Avocado. While one would come to expect some avocado-laced sushi at such places outside Japan, I found it difficult to find any sushi that is without avocado at Tokyo Express. Perhaps the innovation that the many e-reviewers mentioned was code for ‘they have innovated avocado into every possible sushi’.
While it may seem a novel fusion of cultures to have the ever-healthy ‘fruit’, it is important to highlight its place in sushi’s history. The creamy avocado flesh was used as a substitute for toro (fatty tuna belly) back in the 1960s in Los Angeles, where the former was hard to obtain to the quality it was in Japan. This inspired the creation of California rolls, winning the everlasting appreciation of many patrons over the globe, outside of Japan. Although widely popular to the Western palate, the notion of avocado in the sushi is rarely accepted as authentic to those seeking authenticity at their local sushi bars.
And with increasingly uncommon ingredients being rolled in with sushi rice (think fried chicken pieces drenched in Teriyaki sauce or lamb ala Tokyo Express), the initial step of fusion/substitution/Westernisation of sushi with avocado could possibly be the point where the taste of sushi became something different for the new clientele. As much as food was a window into a different culture, this subjugation of a centuries old tradition seems to be at the expense of homogenisation of our taste buds.
While I am all for pushing the boundaries of cuisine in our increasingly globalized society, Tokyo Express just seems like another non-Western enterprise trying to cater to a seemingly sustainable demand for ‘light’ versions of historical cuisines to survive. So while we become more knowledgeable gourmets through travel, the internet, and Anthony Bourdain; why do we still demand for food ‘suited’ to our palate? Are we to blame for still demanding such food or the restaurants for assuming the homogeneity of the Western appreciation for a different cuisine?
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