Prepare your chopsticks: Tel Aviv's 100th sushi restaurant opened this week, making the city the world's 3rd largest sushi market in per capita terms, behind Tokyo and New York.
At this time, Tel Aviv is home to 62 Japanese restaurants and eateries that specialize in sushi only, 25 that specialize in take-away sushi, and another 13 restaurants where sushi constitutes a large part of the menu.
Israel is apparently also the only place in the world to feature kosher sushi restaurants: About 20% of Tel Aviv's sushi eateries are kosher. The data was provided by restaurant review website 2EAT. According to site director Noam Shaked, one out of every 10 Tel Avivians eats sushi at least once a month.
Will foreign sushi chefs be sent packing? (Photo: Ron Cohen)
At this time, Tel Aviv is home to about 1,100 restaurants, with sushi eateries constituting the fastest growing specialized cuisine sector. However, this was not always the case.
One of Israel's sushi pioneers, Eli Grossman, says that when he established his restaurant in 1990 he encountered shocked responses from Israelis unfamiliar with Japanese food.
"When I opened the restaurant it was really popular. People wanted to be seen sitting there, but they didn't really know how to eat the sushi they were served," he says. "There were all kinds of famous people sitting there and I could seem them struggling with the chopsticks…some customers asked that we serve bread with the sushi."
"Many people said it was truly disgusting food," Grossman recounts. "Someone told me that sushi is in fact merely expensive rice. There were plenty of amusing responses. I admit that when I ate sushi for the first time, I too was disgusted."
However, sushi eateries and other Asian restaurants in Israel are currently facing a threat: By next January, the government intends to expel all Asian employees at ethnic restaurants in order to make room for Israeli workers.
"We didn't invent the method of Asian chefs at ethnic restaurants," says renowned Israeli restaurateur Israel Aharoni. "It's common all over the world, but only here we see such sweeping limitations being imposed."
Industry experts fear that the expulsion of foreign restaurant workers would lead to the closure of many restaurants. At this time, the High Court of Justice is dealing with a petition on the matter filed by Israel's ethnic restaurant association.
Ofer Petersbrug contributed to the story