Based in Toronto and New York City

, Nancy Matsumoto is a writer and editor who covers sustainable agriculture, food, sake, arts and culture.

Archival posts from my former blog, Walking and Talking

In Spain, an Ancient Japanese Fish Processing Technique


In America we know it as the imitation crab stick of the California roll. In Japan it commonly appears as kamaboko (fish cake), and in China as fish balls. I'm talking about surimi, a resourceful product that makes use of fish protein that would otherwise go to waste. It came as a surprise, though, to find surimi being hawked in Madrid's Mercado de San Miguel.


There, I came across a food cart run by Ale Vin Cocina Creativa, selling surimi in the form of gulas, short for angulas. These are the tiny, two-inch-long elver eels that they resemble, which are much loved by Basques but in dwindling supply.  It all made more sense after reading this 1994 New York Times article  by Mark Kurlansky. Back then, Basques looked upon these imitation gulas with suspicion, checking to see if the worm-like creatures had faces on them before partaking. Funny, since many Americans would have the opposite problem, finding it hard to each something that small with a face.

Gulas are traditionally served with olive oil, garlic and peppers;
these are garlic flavored. 

Gula tapas.
Twenty years after Kurlanskly wrote this article, though, these surimi gulas are now taken for granted as a necessity and a form of sustainable fishing and eating. This article describes a new partnership to create gulas from Norwegian salmon. As the explanatory placard at Ale Vin's cart describes, making these faux gulas harnesses "an ancient technique from Japan." White meat from five Alaska pollock become a kilogram of gula surimi through that addition of color and flavor, and after, I assume, the paste is extruded into gula look-alike shapes. The result: "Pure fish protein with high nutritional value."




In Andalusia, On the Hunt for Salmorejo

Victory and Defeat on the Latte Art Championship 2014 Stage