Having just devoured Stasiland, Anna Funder’s compulsively readable (knocked it over in four hours) investigation into life behind the Berlin Wall, the Prick is hoping the cult film Sushi in Suhl makes it to a local arthouse cinema somewhere nearby:
Having spent a lifetime slaving over meals of sausage, potato dumplings and beef roulade, Rolf Anschütz itched to turn his hand to something more exotic.
But living in 1960s communist East Germany, with the many restrictions imposed by its centrally planned economy, when the chef decided to try Japanese cuisine he found his options were limited. So he experimented with the few ingredients available to him.
Tinned rice pudding was transformed into sushi rice, local carp was dyed to resemble salmon, a local variant of Worcestershire sauce was used instead of soy sauce, and Hungarian tokaj wine was mixed with German corn schnapps and heated, to fool diners into thinking they were drinking sake. Even may bugs fried in batter were brought into play as Anschütz started conjuring Japanese fare in the heart of East Germany.
Before long his East German-style Japanese menu had gained cult status, and his restaurant in Suhl, Thuringia, began attracting diners from not only across the communist state, but also from West Germany and even Japan.
His story has now been turned into a film, which has been attracting large audiences across the country. Sushi in Suhl charts the rise of Anschütz’s success, his battles with the authorities, who accused him of “culinary capitalism”, the friendships he made with Japanese admirers who supplied him with foodstuffs, and his eventual invitation to visit Japan, where he was decorated by the royal family.
Sounds like an excellent tribute to the power of the human spirit – and palate – to conquer the drab evils of communism. Anschütz’s attempts to recreate Japanese food are also reminiscent of the futuristic “Friends of Plonk” invented by Kingsley Amis, noted elsewhere in these pages.