The freshness and tenderness of the seafood, the way it is cut, the way the rice is boiled, the vinegar – it’s all in the bite.
– Jas Kahlon
When Jas Kahlon opened the restaurant Nama Sushi & Noodles in Bergen in 2001, people thought he had gone mad. Norwegians would never get accustomed to eating raw fish, and sushi was a trend that would soon to fade, critics warned. Eleven years and thousands of bites later, he is glad he didn’t listen.
"Taste this,” he says, and cuts a slice of bluefin tuna tenderloin, known as toro. The fatty belly loin of the tuna is the most treasured sushi ingredient in the world. “It’s the best there is. It’s so tender it melts in your mouth. And the taste is sweet and fruity, almost like melon.”
Sushi seems to be on everybody’s minds these days. According to a survey carried out by Norstat for the Norwegian Seafood Council, the sale of sushi in kiosks and supermarkets increased by 60 per cent last year. One in four Norwegians have made sushi at home. And it’s not just locally that sushi is on the rise. According to a 2011 UN report, the global consumption of fish is higher than ever, reaching an average of 17 kg per person each year. In Paris, more sushi than pizza is sold on the take-away market. So why is this?
“First of all, it’s delicious,” says Jas. “Eating raw fish takes a little getting used to, but once you are hooked, addiction is right around the corner. Also, sushi fits well with the lifestyle of modern people. It’s fresh, fast, simple and very healthy.”
In the early 1970s, Jas’s parents emigrated from India to Lier outside Drammen, where Jas grew up. As soon as he completed secondary school he got a job cleaning dishes in Gandhi, an Indian restaurant at Majorstua in Oslo. He really liked the place, and when it came on the market just one month later, Jas and his two brothers decided to buy it. He didn’t know how to cook, but decided to start learning. And so he did. After running Gandhi for eight years, Jas and his brothers decided to expand. Today, their family business, Dilla Holding, runs 16 restaurants in Oslo, Bergen, Lillestrøm and Fredrikstad, with a total annual turnover of more than NOK 300 million.
In 2000, they were given the opportunity to open a Big Horn Steak House in Bergen (today, they own it). But there was a catch: they had to take over the premises next door, on the corner of Lodin Lepps gate and Rosenkrantzgaten. “Well, we can always start an Indian restaurant there,” Jas thought, and accepted. Then the idea of sushi came to him. But again, there was another catch: he knew nothing about sushi. He hired in an excellent sushi chef from the restaurant east in Oslo to teach him everything he knew. After six months of doing nothing else, Jas mastered the art himself.
At first, people came to eat noodles. They wrinkled their noses in disapproval over the sushi. But Jas encouraged them to taste, and taught them how to eat with chopsticks without spilling rice and fish everywhere. People who found it difficult got a rubber band around the sticks until they got the hang of it. Little by little, customers returned for more raw bites. And more. And more.
Nama Sushi & Noodles was the only sushi restaurant in Bergen until the market exploded a few years ago. Jas welcomes the competition. The more people eating sushi the better, he says. But he certainly can tell a great piece of sushi from an average or a bad one. “The freshness and tenderness of the seafood, the way it is cut, the way the rice is boiled, the vinegar – it’s all in the bite,” he says.
As sushi continues to swim its way into family kitchens, supermarkets and restaurants all over the world, there are growing concerns over a sharp decline in the number of bluefin tuna left in the sea due to overfishing. This is causing prices to soar. In February this year, a Japanese restaurant owner paid a record GBP 473,000 for a 269-kilo tuna on the Tokyo fish market. But then again, the giant provided enough flesh for an estimated 10,000 pieces of sushi.
Sources: Sushi-master.com, fish.no, Wikipedia, Daily Mail
1. Jun. 2012