Why do Asians eat more fish than white people?

why don't white people eat fish like this?

why don't white people eat fish like this?

I’m Japanese American, and my wife is Japanese.  We cook fish all the time.  Tonight we had wild salmon, we have mackerel in the fridge, and there are some dried fish snacks in my pantry.  While I was eating recently, I think I finally understood why Americans don’t eat much fish.

I used to think that the reason Asians eat more fish than Americans was geography.  America is a big country with a vast inland.  People living in places like Kansas are less likely to have access to fish, especially from the sea.  With their large pastures, Americans have learned to raise livestock like cows, pigs, and chickens.  On the other hand, Japan is a large island surrounded by an ocean full of fish.  Not having the vast lands the US has, they rely much more on fish than livestock.  And the bountiful seas there provide all sorts of fish: mackerel, halibut, tuna, snapper, cod, bonito, and more.

But, even those Americans living on the coastline tend to eat more meat than they do seafood.  I’m pretty sure of this.  I live in Seattle, where salmon and other fish can be found on any restaurant menu.  Many people will eat fish, but I estimate they only eat it once or twice a week.  The rest of the time, they are hoggin’ down on steaks, ribs, and fried chicken.

You could argue it’s a matter of taste.  Americans say they don’t like that ‘fishy’ smell, but usually fishy means it’s spoiled.  Fresh fish is almost odorless.  In this sense, Americans aren’t well versed in the preparation of fish.  They don’t know how to fillet a whole fish, and they freak out when they see fish heads or tentacles, and make a yuck face.  It seems only those who have a culinary background know how to prepare a wide variety of seafood.  So could this be the main reason for white fish phobia?

Naw.  I think the main reason white people don’t eat as much fish as Asians is because they can’t use chopsticks.  Seriously!   This is HUGE.  This explains why Americans almost exclusively feed on a select variety of fish; they eat cod, salmon, halibut, and tuna.  Why only these fish?

sanma fish with rice and miso soup

Typical Japanese meal: sanma fish with rice and miso soup

If you watch a Japanese person eat sanma (pacific saury), you will probably be amazed.  The pacific saury is a small yet long fish that has a lot of tiny bones.  I’ve never seen white people eat it.  It’s because when you eat them, you have to constantly be picking out the needle-like bones from the flesh with surgical precision.  You can do this if you have solid chopstick skills, but if you don’t, forget about it.  No fork will do the job, nor a spoon.  If you try to swallow the bones, you’ll gag as the needly bones get stuck in your throat.  You absolutely need to have solid chopstick skills or you can’t eat it.  There are lots of other small fish that require this sort of precision, like flounder and mackerel.  So, my point is that Americans are unable to eat most fish because they don’t have the ‘chops’ to do so. Total culinary clutzes. Americans will only eat very large fish that are easy to fillet, such as tuna or halibut.  A halibut is the size of a large human, fyi, and you can fillet it with a machete.  And,  even with these fish, white people tend to fry the shit out of them to a point where they taste like french fries.  No culinary finesse.

Americans do eat more varieties of fish these days, but it’s usually at places where there are Asians preparing it.  They are too clumsy to prepare it themselves.  Raised on Chef Boyardi, they can’t taste the delicate flavors of fish anyway.  Will white people change?  I doubt it.  White culture is moving more and more towards fast, processed shit foods that are easy to prepare.  Cooking fish takes skill and patience.  It takes Japanese chefs 10 years before they can make great sushi!  Why bother when you can eat Chef Boyardi out of the microwave in 90 seconds?

25 thoughts on “Why do Asians eat more fish than white people?

  1. The other big reason why Americans don’t eat as much fish is because of economy, socio-economic class, and industry. Yes, I know Japan is an advanced nation like USA. But it’s long been known that the more advanced the nation is, the more red meat they eat. Or just more prevalent in their regular daily diets. Steak. Ribs. etc. Americans love red meat. And the proliferation of fast food restaurants contribute to the proliferation of red meat in the typical American’s diet intake. Americans love meat. But most of the American women just don’t love oriental sausages.

  2. The funny thing is that white girls who eat a lot of meat often start looking like whales! So much for Lisa’s idea that eating meat is a sign of advancement. Advanced heart disease and obesity.

  3. “And, even with these fish, white people tend to fry the shit out of them to a point where they taste like french fries. No culinary finesse.”
    “Americans do eat more varieties of fish these days, but it’s usually at places where there are Asians preparing it. They are too clumsy to prepare it themselves.”
    “Total culinary clutzes.”

    Wow….words fail me.

  4. Ok, I have words now.

    I was with you until halfway through your post. Observation is one thing and insult is another. It’s fine to say that you’ve observed that Asian people eat more fish than white people. But when you start with the stereotyping insults that aren’t necessarily true (total culinary clutzes), you lost me. You don’t have to tear other people down to build yourself up.

    I’m a white female (living in Asia now), and yes, I didn’t eat fish very often. But when my family did eat fish, they were really good! We almost never fry food, just zucchini once every couple of years, so we usually use lemon juice and herbs and sauces when we cook. Saying that all white people fry the shit out of their fish is like saying all Asian people eat kimchi at every meal.

    On this site you’ve talked about the importance of breaking stereotypes as well as interracial/cultural dating. I think an attitude like this might be part of your problem. I like Asian guys, but I wouldn’t date one that liked to insult my race to make himself look better. Constructive criticism is one thing but simplistic put-downs is another.

  5. Welcome, HK. I guess you can get a little glimpse of how it feels like to be ridiculed and criticized for no apparent reason. That’s the sort of crap Asians in white countries deal with all the time. Doesn’t feel good, does it?

    We write with very strong opinions. Very black and white. Some of them ring truer than others.

  6. So HK, I wanted to respond. You made couple of great points and I concur with them.
    1. Of course we generalize here; we all do. Just human nature. and when we generalize, it always comes with the inherent fact – there are always exceptions. So not all white fry the crap out of fish. Most, yes.
    2. We don’t mean to insult or offend whites or anyone when we do generalize. We are ‘BROADcasting’ opinions, facts, ideas here. Hey, I’m Asian and I don’t even really like seafood – very very UNAsian-like behavior – so I’m a huge exception.
    3. Americans (including myself) love deep fried food – we just do. Very unhealthy but damn good. Americans love fish n chips and so do I :) Americans love red meat, pork…more so than seafood…in general. It’s tied to the higher socio-economics of the masses here, who can enjoy cheap red meat. We’re lovin it!
    4. We, as Asians, do NOT intend to knock or rip or riducule or demean white people to make US look/feel better – that don’t work for me personally and I don’t ever do that. We just make observations and analyze them and report them and discuss about them. I don’t make fun of white people to make myself feel better, not at all. Asians do silly things and so do white people and so do blacks, etc.
    5. HK, do you live in Hong Kong?
    6. ‘culinary clutzes’ – I think what the writer meant by that was that the typical American food/diet is often fast food – processed, etc. Fast and easy and cheap. Not much artistry in that. Or, taking something exquisite in nature, say Halibut….a very fine tasty expensive fish…and typically, in most restaurants, they deep fry it to make Fish N Chips. Which takes out all the natural real taste of the fish and is drowned out by the breading, tartar sauce, malt vinegar, ketchup, etc. You walk into any restaurant, fast food or high-end…most of the stuff on the menu is red meat, pork, chicken, etc. seafood section is small. and they always have the same seafood items – fish n chips, calamari, etc. It’s limited. Americans love red meat. Shit, so do I! I hate seafood!

    So HK, I hope you read this and respond. I really value your perspective and opinion in general. you come across as being intelligent and articulate in your previous responses.

    I’m Asian, but I’m a very typical red blooded American – I love burgers, steak, and meat loaf. Yes, I love meatloaf. damn good. And I don’t like seafood. I like some fish but only a few – like halibut. But i do like sushi/sashimi.

  7. HK, and I have to admit….cuz I aint ashamed of it or think it’s weird…but I like to eat kimchi in almost every meal, as long as its possible! I just love kimchi. I like to bathe in it. exfoliate my skin with it. I seriously love kimchi with my steak and spaghetti. it’s so good together.

  8. CSam, good points. I guess it does all depend on your perspective and the people you’re around. Most of my friends and family will occasionally eat fast food (especially on trips) but we usually cook at home and have dinners for each other. I only know a couple of people that eat fast food really consistently, so I guess that would affect my outlook. Even steak, I usually only eat that once or twice a year.
    Yes, I’m in Hong Kong. :)
    And I love kimchi too! I don’t eat it for every meal or anything, but it’s good stuff.

  9. Much though I like the chopsticks theory, it has a certain logic to it, I think the US meat and fried/processed shit habits have more complex cultural roots, involving everything from immigration and assimilation patterns to food subsidies to industrial concentration.

    So-called “development”, in the adoption of the American diet, is deadly. Here in China people are eating more meat, more fast food, and more processed food, and particularly childhood obesity and diabetes levels are catching up to the US. The flip is that while it is the poor in the US who are the most obese, in China it is the upper and middle classes.

    I’m a pescavore-vegetarian, and unless I’m going to a buddhist or a sushi restaurant it gets ever harder to avoid having meat dumped into everything now in urban China. It sometimes starts to feel like the US, where you can’t get even a salad without meat in it.

    So, I don’t think the more fish rule really applies to China, though fish is more central to Japanese food. However, meat is still less central than in the US, in that it is usually a garnish, not the main dish.

    HK, the guys here like to mouth off, and part of that is to stereotype whites the same ways whites often stereotype Asians. They like to stir up the muck, don’t mind it but by all means give them some shit back. *grabs popcorn, watches show*

  10. I don’t agree with the chopsticks theory. But yes, almost every restaurant you go to, they only have “Fish n Chips”. Maybe Salmon sandwich. but that’s it. If you go to fine dining, then they may have more seafood varities or fish dishes. Or a seafood restaurant.

    Americans love meat, red meat, white meat, chicken.

    I ordered a SALAD last night at a restaurant – it COMES with chicken! Can’t I just get a natural salad without any meat?

  11. I agree with Meimi. It’s interesting about the poor in America getting fat by eating alot of meat – processed, fast food, etc. But in China, it’s the middle/upper class eating alot of meat. This is true.
    Historically, in rising/developing nations, as more people gain status and attain wealth and prosperous lives, they start to eat more meat – because they can afford it. It’s happening now in China and has happened and still happens in Korea and other east Asian countries. But…for rich wealthy countries like U.S., it’s past beyond this point and it’s dominated by fast food industries, who sell meat, but it’s all processed. Which greatly contributes to obesity and horrible health. And this is also happening to east Asian countries as more and more fast food places pop up in those places. But in the olden days (colonial period, for example), MEAT was a sign of wealth and well-to-do and the privileged (PRE-fast food industry).

  12. Shanghai Meimi! So good to hear from you. Hope all is well.

    Interesting point about how the wealthy Chinese who eat meat/processed food are fat, whereas the poor are fat in the States. I think historically, that former was the case, but nowadays it’s starting to shift due to the crazy way the American govt favors and subsidizes companies that make corn and wheat. I’ve recently removed all sweet snacks from my diet, and in two weeks, I feel great. I have a more stable energy level, and honest to god my allergy symptoms are barely noticeable. My wife says I don’t snore at night either. Food is so important.

  13. I like fish but I don’t like eating a fish with its head or skin on it. I am not used to eating baked fish, I was raised eating fried fish so eating a baked or grilled fish just doesn’t taste the same. I guess it has a lot to do with how you are raised and what you ate as a kid. I think Asians do eat healthier and we Americans could learn some from their eating habits. Not all Americans eat unhealthy but a lot of us do because that was how we were raised and trained. Lets blame our parents:)

  14. Seriously, chopsticks!?
    I lived in Japan for years not knowing how to use chopsticks, still ate a TON of fish (I’m Filipino, and we eat with are hands, were islanders get over it haha). I think “white” people don’t as much seafood as Asians because of geographical history, and family culture. Japan and many Asian countries, like Japan are island countires, meaning surrounded by fish, the United States, lots a farmland = meat, and wheat. As a kid your eat what your parents eat, so some people might not have been exposed to seafood until later in life or are biased based on little exposure.

    Also about the cod, salmon, halibut, and tuna bit; Cod and Salmon can farm raised, which is what white people do, not to mention these fish are in the United States Area. I’m sure if the Samma fish, was more abundant in the “white” people’s territory, alot more people would eat it. They just haven’t been exposed to it, because its not local.

    I do agree though that many people are too lazy to eat seafood. I personally cannot stand the smell a fish getting cleaned. Whenever my mom does it in the house, I sit outside or in the car, but I do love it when its cooked.

  15. Because we have easy access to seafood, and we do not like red meat. Red meat is hard to cultivate. You have to have a ranch and alot of land to grow red meat. it is the most expensive form of food. Asian eat fish, because its cheap and easy to get. Red meat is very expensive to produce only european and americans eat red meat. That is why they control most of the money for now.

  16. “You could argue it’s a matter of taste. Americans say they don’t like that ‘fishy’ smell, but usually fishy means it’s spoiled. Fresh fish is almost odorless.”

    From personal experience, this is false. Yes, fresh RAW fish is almost odorless. But all fish, no matter how fresh, reeks to high heaven once you cook it. And it tastes just as bad, to me at least. I’ve tried tuna, mackerel, halibut, catfish, salmon, shrimp, lobster, crab, and even seaweed and they all smell and taste exactly the same: fishy–like rotted meat that’s been sitting in the trash can for two days.

    As for fish being more healthful for you, that’s also false. Fish in moderation can be healthy, as can beef, pork, and chicken. When it becomes the focus of your diet, it becomes unhealthful. Ever wonder why so many Japanese men have stomach cancer? Fact is, vegetables, fruits, and nuts are supposed to make the majority of your diet, with meat and seafood being a small percentage (think less than 25%).

    What I don’t understand is why Asians are so obsessed with seafood that they have to put it in EVERYTHING, including snacks and as garnishes for meat dishes. In the US, the only beef snacks that I’m aware of is jerky. Everything else is usually cracker based. And the only time we ever mix seafood with meat is those “surf and turf” dishes at restaurants. But in Korea and Japan, it’s seafood everything. The basis of Japanese cuisine is dashi, and it’s used in almost everything. Fortunately, when I get beef or chicken udon, or some other meat dish, I can’t taste the fishiness in the dashi, but in Korean cuisine I’m not so lucky. I order kalbi-tang, expecting a nice beef soup, only to receive a beef soup smothered in seaweed. Which then makes the entire soup taste like fish. Doesn’t make sense to me.

    (and yes, I do have mad chopstick skills)

  17. You haven’t eaten lots of asian food then Jinro. I’m Chinese and I can tell you our snacks don’t have fish in it. I think the only one I know of is the fish jerky. Most of the snacks are usually fruit based or like you said crackers, grain based. Keep in mind sushi isn’t always a snack and most of the snack sushis are vegetable kinds. Korean bbq and lots of their spicy dishes are not seafood. I love their beef hot pots! Same goes for lots of Japanese meals. Fish is way more popular in asia sure but it really isn’t everything. I’d say it’s about the same as the beef and pork in the west. If you have company you’re gonna serve them a burger or have a barbecue in the west and i the east you’re most likely gonna give them a fish.

    Talking about chopsticks for west and east eating fish thing I kinda think it makes more sense if you mean its hard as hell to eat asian cooked fish with a fork. First it’ll fall apart if you stab at the meat and second you’ll choke on all the bones you’ll end up picking up. Chopsticks are more versatile because you can actually pick things up. I mean its like picking it up with your hands you have a better grip on it and then you have wiggle room to get the bones out and to pick up a big chunk of meat with the skin and all the good stuff still on it. But white people food with the fish on a stick or breaded and fileted that’s fine for them. I’ve tried both and I’d try it again. White people imho just don’t want to just eat fish on a stick and fish and chips exclusively. They don’t have all the options mostly cuz they don’t put much thought into cooking fish. They put lots more into cooking beef.

    I don’t agree about geography. If you talk about ancient times then everybody started off near the water. That’s how agriculture started. And if you go with Japan versus inland Kansas in the US then that’s ridiculous. What about Tibet in China versus Ireland?

    And to what HK said saying whites are total culinary clutzes is not the same as saying Asians all eat kimchi. Kimchi is Korean. Asia =/= Korea but Koreans mostly do if not all eat kimchi. Right now the subject is that white people don’t eat much fish and that’s true and the OP is just saying it could be because they suck at cooking. The idea’s wrong but he was talking about the same subject. It woulda been a better example to say asians can’t use ovens or can’t cook pastries.

    imho anybody who says fish smells cooked or not cooked isn’t doing something right. Fish don’t smell. But if you let it spoil it will smell. If you leave ANYTHING fresh sitting out it will smell. If you cook it right anything should smell good. If you didn’t nothing else you can do to it will make it smell any better. The reason for me why white people don’t eat fish is because somehow they screwed up their first fish or somebody screwed up their first fish and they forsake all fish from then on. From what I’ve seen white people love generalizing stuff they don’t like the first time. One of my friends who said all seafood tasted horrible told me he tried tuna one time and just didn’t like it. When I asked about it I found out the tuna he got was sitting out on his counter for half a day and then he made a soggy sandwich out of it because he didn’t know he had to drain the can. What he really didnt like was the soggy bread and the funny smell of the probably spoiled tuna. For me this is also why they don’t like jellyfish, frog, lamb, snail, etc. I’ve got pals that swear by lamb meat and pals that think you’ve gotta be nuts to even go near it. I’ve got pals that suck up snails and those that wonder how you can eat “snot.” The guys that hate the lamb ate some seriously growing green shit spoiled as crap lamb meat and the guys that hate snail have never even tried it. They just freak out that people would eat the stuff they tortured with salt when they were kids. Some of the morons even talk about snails like slugs.

    Really when it comes to trying new things from my experience white people take first impressions really seriously. If it sucks the first time that’s it for them. I think Asians are usually different. I know some friends that say they hate catfish but that’s because no matter what restaurant or how it gets cooked or how it gets seasoned they just don’t like it. I get that. Not everything is for everybody but I give props to them for trying it out so many times before giving up on it.

  18. Great breakdown, Mee. Very good point about the first impression. Many people are given bad fish the first time, and then they forever say ‘I hate fish’. But, recently, there are more and more Americans who love fish, especially sushi. And, that is because they had the good stuff early on. The quality of fish has gone up in the United States due to the large amount of Asians who have come over. To Americans: You’re Welcome.

    I still believe fish is a very delicate and difficult food to heat, especially the smaller fish, unless you know how to use chopsticks. Like I said, go to an American fish department, and you will only see large fish that are easy to eat: salmon, halibut, tuna, cod. Go to an Asian market, and you will see mackerel, herring, and so many more smaller fish.

  19. @Mee:

    “You haven’t eaten lots of asian food then Jinro. I’m Chinese and I can tell you our snacks don’t have fish in it.”

    You’re assuming that because I haven’t had Chinese food that I haven’t eaten lots of Asian food. Just because China doesn’t have fish snacks doesn’t mean that Japan and Korea don’t. They do. I’ve seen them, smelled them, and tasted them myself. I’ve lived in Japan for a short period of time, and I eat Korean food at least once or twice a week. There is always some form of seafood mixed in with it. Korean ddeokgeuk, (chicken and rice-cake soup) is typically served with seaweed. Those beef hotpots, and other meat stews like kimchi-jjigae and sun-dubu, have a broth that’s made from boild anchovies. I’ve seen real kimchi being made, and they dump tons of fish sauce on it. In Japan, as I said, everything has a base in dashi. The least fishy of which is made from letting konbu kelp sit in water for a few hours. The most fishy of which is made from anchovies, bonito, or a combination of both plus konbu. Udon soups have fishy broths, seaweed, and strips of fish cake. Miso soup has wakame seaweed, and is sometimes smothered in nori seaweed. They even have the gall to put a slice of nori seaweed or fishcake in ramen! That being said, maguro nigiri sans wasabi is absolutely delicious.

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