Aquarium uses prawns to address menu scandal

Kyodo

Amid the scandals over menu misrepresentations in the food service industry, the Susami Crustacean Aquarium in Wakayama Prefecture is stirring the pot with an exhibition to help consumers recognize fraudulent practices of this kind.

The aquarium, located in the town of Susami, has been holding the exhibition since mid-November to teach visitors how to distinguish between different types of prawns.

A tank with two different kinds of prawns has a notice that reads: “Can you see the difference? The fraud on prawns.”

The two types, one called “kurumaebi” and the other “kumaebi,” are both about 20 cm in length. They belong to the penaeidae family and look remarkably similar, with dark brown and white stripes across their backs. They can be distinguished by the color of their tail, as kurumaebi prawns have a rich blue marking at the tip.

“When they are cooked with chili sauce and served as ‘ebi-chiri,’ you can’t distinguish between them in taste or in appearance,” aquarium staff member Atsushi Hirai, 30, said with a wry smile.

The small aquarium is rare in that it features crustaceans. It exhibits about 50 species of shrimp, crab and lobster. The exhibits are displayed in a room about the size of a school classroom.

Since restaurants and hotels came under fire for lying about items on their menus, the aquarium has been deluged with queries from puzzled consumers who wanted to know how to distinguish one prawn from another, or how they differ in taste. This led the aquarium to decide on holding the exhibition and provide visitors a chance to compare the types with their own eyes.

However, despite many inquiries regarding falsely touted black tiger prawns and “vannamei” shrimp, the aquarium said it unfortunately would not display those species. Officials explained that most of them are imported from Southeast Asia, where they are cultivated and frozen before shipping, and the availability of live specimens is limited.

Meanwhile, the government said it intends to clamp down on menu mislabeling.