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Oct 19, 2008 10:43 PM

Is Sushi too overrated/ubiquitous?

My dad was a scientist who did a lot of work in Japan during the 70s. We lived in Denver and he found a little sushi place where he took the family every couple of weeks. It was rare, exotic and the owner was a master sushi chef from Japan, catering to ex pats. It was... an adventure.

Fast forward 20+ years. I recently lived in L.A., with loads of top places, but there might be even more o.k. places in Phoenix, where I now live. In fact, we've got 80+ distinct joints, a few local chains, and sushi bars are now showing up in non-Japanese restaurants, including counterside made-to-order service at some supermarkets. In fact, I saw an ad for a certain chain seafood eatery where they'd train you to be a sushi chef within a couple of weeks.

Meanwhile - I'm speaking to hounds - we all have friends with zero interest in food. But increasinlgy these friends are finding Sushi to be "hip." And we went to a hip place, ordered 18 rolls of the same thing, and it all tasted the same.

- I'm glad we're trying new things, but wonder if we're lowering the bar. PF Panda Blah.
- What about other great Japanese fare?
- We're talking raw fish. People should be LOUD about quality.
- This might be a whole other discussion, but there's only so much fish to go around.

Just wondering your thoughts?

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  1. Bad sushi - cold, gluey, congealed rice, not-so-fresh fish that's been ungainly cut into huge chunks or slabs by ungainly hands, soggy nori
    Or those monstrous rolls that combine four different kinds of fish, Krab sticks, avocado, Batter the whole darned thing and fry it, and top it with tuna (everybody LOVES tuna, right?) and squiggles of mayo and a BAM of technicolored tobiko.

    Yes, that kind of sushi is pretty overrated and ubiquitous.

    However, since good sushi is so hard to find yet so eye opening, it is neither overrated or ubiquitous.

    11 Replies
    1. re: fuuchan

      As far as I can tell so far, with three years of living here now under my belt, there are NO Japanese restaurants in this area. Japanese fusion, lots of. McNippon Sushi? Way too many. It isn't that I haven't tried. I just get burned out on Bisquick tempura and really bad teriyaki.

      But I was very very spoiled when I moved here. In El Paso, I frequently drove thirty miles across town to Riyoma, a little strip-mall Japanese restaurant with a fantastic chef owner. Everything was good. My favorite -- you either had to call in your order ahead of time or wait nearly an hour while he prepared it -- was chawanmushi (savory custard with surprises like shrimp, mushrooms, good stuff hidden in it) but instead of steaming it in the standard porcelain cup, he would steam it in an acorn squash. Delicious! His teriyaki was delicious, done with whole deboned chicken thighs. Around here you get overcooked minced chicken in bad, watery "teriyaki" sauce. And the sushi? Don't ask. Oh, and my new pet peeve is edamame on the starters menu beginning at $4.00 a pop and going skyward, depending on the restaurant. I'm used to edamame being comped. not that I care much for them. But it's like being charged for the bowl of pretzels at a beer bar. <sigh> (I'm such a curmudgeon!)

      But I still harbor hope. About a month ago I FINALLY found a decent Greek restaurant with pretty authentic food. At least they don't make their tzatziki with sour cream! So maybe I just have to keep looking for acceptable Japanese food?

      Please, Lord, let there be rainbows! '-)

      1. re: Caroline1

        good grief...what hell hole of a city town or village are you living in?

        i forget how spoiled we are about some things in Honolulu.

        1. re: KaimukiMan

          Plano, Texas, which is a 'burb of Dallas. But I should make clear that I'm no big fan of fusion, simply because once the fusion virus attacks any ethnic cuisine, it's not long before you cannot get the original, and there are damned few Morimotos in this world! I have found one Japanese Thai fusion restaurant that's "pretty good" when the right chef is cooking, but a huge variance when the wrong guy is there. But I don't eat sushi there.

          Yes! In Hawaii, you've got it made in the shade. Except I could never be a died in the wool Hawaiian... I'm too old and Spam is just too too too World War II for me! But hey, serve me up a bowl of long rice and I'm there! '-)

          1. re: Caroline1

            Really, you're not a fan of badly done fusion. Only reinforcing your chowhoundliness.

        2. re: Caroline1

          The only really accessible authentically Japanese place I have around me is 45 minutes drive away. The place was a revelation. Sushi wasn't even on the menu, even though you could order that a la carte if you really wanted to.

          But why would you, when they had not one...but THREE menus of incredible, homey, seasonal and impeccably prepared Japanese fare. One menu was a kind of small plates, cold and warm appetizery things like chawanmushi (their version has chunks of whole king crab, shiitake, green onions, a little dab of fresh, real wasabi on top and a flake of gold leaf. SO. GOOD.) Another had mostly hot kitchen entrees.
          You could get a separate menu wit noodles on it.
          In addition, they had a huge board with a rotating selection of seasonal specials.

          One day it might be a basket of tiny salty crunchy river shrimp, another day it might be screaming fresh aji, alive just seconds before plating.

          The owner of the shop was this tiny, sweet obaasan, her staff and cooks all Japanese.

          I love the place, but its not practical to go whenever the whim strikes me (it strikes a lot).
          It seems they scaled back operations some, lately though. For one they no longer offer this little appetizer of barely grilled squid and uni, and the sheer number of menus has been scaled back. What is left is still incredibly good though.

          1. re: fuuchan

            If this was a video connection, you could see I look just like Kermit now. Green with envy! Where do you live?

            1. re: Caroline1

              North Jersey, about 45mins-hour from NYC.

              Yes, there is wonderful Japanese food in the city, but usually extremely pricey and not somewhere I'd go without a very special occasion. I don't necessarily count that as truly accessible. This place I'm talking about is in Central Jersey, near where I went to school. Its very down home, tucked into a corner of a strip mall.

            2. re: fuuchan


              Please divulge this gem of a restaurant you mention. Thanks in advance.

              1. re: fourunder

                Jo Sho Restaurant in Somerset, NJ
                120 Cedar Lane Grove

                I've been dying for a good Japanese meal but haven't been able to go down there in a while.

                1. re: fuuchan


                  Thanks for the information....hopefully I will finally be able to find some Chawanmushi.

                  1. re: fourunder

                    They certainly do have Chawanmushi on the menu and there's is a great one.
                    There's actually two versions on their menu.
                    I opt for the slightly more lux version with crab.

                    Tell me if the restaurant passes your muster!

        3. Although good sushi is good, the "problem" with sushi is:

          It distracts people from eating Japanese food, even including the pairing of good sashimi with hot gohan.

          Did your dad take you to eat Japanese food as well?

          4 Replies
          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

            >>there's only so much fish to go around.

            Very good point, tastyjon.

            I wonder what happens to the mediocre supermarket sushi -- I know I won't buy it from a supermarket -- that MUST get thrown out at night. Think of all those fish who give up their lives to be garbage on a daily basis.

            Is sushi too ubiquitous? You bet it is.
            Is sush too overrated? Not the wonderful stuff. But like everything else man touches, it became a gimmick and now is in the overkill stage.

            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

              Funny you should ask, as a picky kid I didn't want to try sushi and would order from everything else they served. Then I learned to like it and ordered everything else + sushi. He then stopped taking me. But yes, I also spent 12 years in LA with a number of Japanese friends and have tried a good variety of Japanese fare.

              1. re: tastyjon

                Good on you. I sometimes am uncomfortable with Americans finally taking up sushi without getting to know all the rest of Japanese food. But it would take as much energy and dedication that Eat Nopal applies to Mexican food for me to try to raise awareness of what is Japanese food.

              2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                This is my main problem- most "Japanese" restaurants are sushi restaurants or teppanyaki restaurants. When I lived in Japan, the only sushi places I frequented were the sushi conveyor places, and I think I went to one teppanyaki place to have Kobe beef with potatoes and carrots or something of that nature. Where's the other type of Japanese food? I can't say I am a huge fan of all Japanese food, but sushi and teppanyaki are far from all that Japan has to offer.

              3. My first impulse was that sushi has become far too ubiquitous, and that what is happening to the planet's fish stock as a result is really scary.

                But most of what passes for sushi these days is not really sushi, whether it's the quality of the fish and the rice, or the lack of skill behind the sushi bar, or the decor and ambience, or the end product itself, what with the dozens and dozens of ridiculously elaborate "maki rolls" (most of them containing little, if any, raw fish) that have so many ingredients that you can't taste the fish. Gross.

                I live near Athens, GA, which at last count had six sushi bars, or hibachi places that serve sushi, none of them any good, with at least two more sushi bars set to open, and in a town with a population around 135,000. That's just silly.

                18 Replies
                1. re: uptown jimmy

                  As I grew up, our nori maki rarely had sashimi; and we didn't make nigiri. You may have encountered what to me is "authentic" nori maki (which can contain things like egg, shiitake, cucumber, carrot, konnyaku, kamaboko; but not avocado). We generally ate small amounts of sashimi of different types with lots of hot gohan.

                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                    I love several sorts of nori maki, especially futo maki. And I do love some of the non-traditional nori maki as well, and can occasionally be spotted eating a California roll when forced into a merely-decent sushi joint due to social obligations. I'm certainly no snob.

                    I was referring to the monstrous concoctions with 3 and 4 and 5 kinds of fish, some raw and some fried, but mostly fried, extra "crunchies" on top, various and multiple sauces on each roll, gloppy orange mayo slathered liberally, etc., each bite waaay too big for one mouthful. "Rainbow Roll" is a common name for one of the more extravagant examples. Those kinds of maki rolls just taste like one big mushy blur of weirdness to me. It gives my brain repetitive-motion stress just reading the menu in those kinds of places, the various 10-ingredient rolls just blurring together and my eyes going cross-eyed and dizzy on me.

                    I like the little kampyo rolls and shitake rolls and such you mentioned. But nigiri is my fave.

                    Did your family seldom eat sashimi because of money issues? Or has that sort of thing become the rage recently for other reasons? Are you from Japan? I know times were a little lean there for many years after WWII. But my sushi history knowledge is lacking. Sure do love it, though.

                    1. re: uptown jimmy

                      What you describe sounds so disgusting to almost be hilarious... almost.

                      I was born in Fresno, California, after WWII. We Japanese had the "fishman" from Central Fish come around in his truck every week with great fish. We ate sashimi often, but in small quantities with large quantities of rice. We had the same approach to eating meat. We didn't have much money; but I'm not sure that if we had had more that we would have eaten differently. Food for most Japanese was a lot of vegetables, soups, fish, and some meat; but with small portions served with ample rice. We preferred our sushi to be: inarizushi (vinagared rice with finely chopped vegetables in aburage), the multiple ingredient futo maki, and musubi (non-vinagared rice balls wrapped with nori); and our chilled sashimi to be eaten with hot gohan.

                      But what we really ate was daily o-kazu (endless combinations of vegetables with a bit of meat cooked quickly in shoyu, bit of water, touch of oil, ginger, touch of sugar), miso shiru, donburis (rice and stuff in a bowl), sukiyaki or shabu shabu, teriyakis, and pickles. Niku jyaga - simmered sliced beef & vegetables - can be made as many ways as there are cooks, but is perhaps emblematic of "real" Japanese food.

                      I've got to stop or else I'll become like Nopal -san in the defense of our food backgrounds.

                      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                        Sam, I heard recently on an NPR show that sushi is actually a post-WWII invention. Before the war, there were very few refrigerators in Japan. Refrigeration was introduced by the Americans during the occupation. It wasn't until fish could be kept cold that sushi evolved. So it makes sense, to me anyway, that you did not grow up with sushi.

                        I think so many of the sushi restaurants in the US are owned and operated by Koreans, and they have their own way of doing sushi. It's my observation that they never season the rice -- and that's what sushi means in Japan -- seasoned rice.

                        1. re: MartinDC

                          MartinDC, exactly: "su" = vinagar and "shi" = rice.

                          I did grow up with sushi, but our sushi normally did not have sashimi! And when we ate sashimi, it was with hot rice. Part of the joy is the combining in the same bite of the pure flavor and hot of the hot rice with the pure and chilled flavor of the sashimi.

                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                            It's always pleasant to read your posts Sam.

                            1. re: steinpilz

                              Thank you, and I must tell you: your list of comfort foods makes me grin!

                              1. re: steinpilz

                                And I like one of your favorite restaurants, "L'Auberge Chez Francois." I grew up just down the road.

                              2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                Sam, is the rice made in the same way as the rice I see in most places that serve sushi? That is, is the only difference in the rice itself the temperature at which its served? I'd like to try this as home. Thanks!

                                1. re: ccbweb

                                  No. We just eat plain freshly cooked Japanese rice that is not vinegared with the sashimi. Along with some cold Japanese pickles and a bit of shoyu - wasabi dip. Try it!

                              3. re: MartinDC

                                Refrigeration and freezing entered Japan in the late 1800's. Regardless, sushi has enjoyed a longer history than that, but it was thanks to freezing and refrigeration that sushi proliferated so widely and expanded to so many different types of seafood. If you have a link to the NPR story, I would be interested to hear it.

                                1. re: Silverjay

                                  I actually found it on! It was Talk of the Nation on Friday, Nov. 5.

                                  The discussion of the recency of sushi start at around 24 minues 40 seconds into the segment.


                                  1. re: MartinDC

                                    I listened to it and also managed to read his article on tuna in Scientific American. No idea where he's getting that from as there are plenty of English and Japanese sources that detail the history of sushi. There are 150 year-old wood block prints depicting sushi! And the consumption of sashimi goes back hundreds of years. (The Japanese soy sauce industry was basically created in order to provide a condiment for sashimi.) And late Meiji Era refrigeration and freezing are specifically mentioned as an enabler in the rise in popularity of sushi shops. This is around 1900. Perhaps household freezers were not common until after the war, but presumably, a culture that managed to put together a modern navy with aircraft carriers and battleships, not too mention a legacy of complex engineering projects throughout Asia, could somehow muster up the brain power to freeze fish. Perhaps he's exaggerating for effect. Certainly freezing and transporting huge tuna is a more recent phenomenon, both technologically and in terms of Japanese tastes for it.

                                    1. re: Silverjay

                                      To add to Silverjay's mention of 150 year old wood block prints, there are 150 year old documentation of the marination process in sushi (sake kasu process) in this very interesting youtube video (although I wish I could understand the whole thing, but some parts can be figured out if you can read kanji)


                                      Before the days of refrigeration, fish would be preserved using salt, and there were other preps for sushi (including vinegar/marination, and of course cooking in general)

                                      1. re: K K

                                        Actually, the video details the production of rice vinegar made from sake lees, not the marination process of fish. 155 year-old documents found in an attic in Aichi Prefecture this past May detail the process. The vinegar (described as rather sweet) was produced here and then exported to Edo for use in nigiri-zushi sold by street vendors as commoner food. I've read that the vendors often procured the vinegared rice from other sources, so there was most likely a cottage industry for sushi back then. By the way, besides preservation methods, fresh fish (for use as sashimi or sushi) was also stored in cool dug out pits or cellars, obviously the universal method of refrigeration before chemical or mechanical ways.....Thanks for the video link K K.

                                    2. re: MartinDC

                                      Thanks for the link, Martin. Some interesting things -- I especially like the "gaijin-sushi" discriptor for any sushi with cream cheese, etc. in it. But when it comes to sushi, Mr. Ellis is a font of misinformation. But in this day and age, that's not all that unusual. <sigh>

                                      1. re: MartinDC

                                        I'm not sure if it might be the same segment, I didn't listen to that Talk of the Nation piece, but Leonard Lopate also did an interview recently with Richard Ellis about his book and there was also a discussion of refrigeration as it related to sushi. I listened to it as a podcast.

                                    3. re: MartinDC

                                      yes martin, I agree, there are big differences between japanese and korean preparations. Korean's make kimbap (kim is the seaweed Japanese call nori, and bap is Korean for cooked rice - Japanese gohan). To an untrained western palate they would taste virtually identical, but there are a lot of subtle, or not so subtle differences in preparation, ingredients, seasoning. I happen to like both Japanese and Korean versions.

                                      It would be like saying that beef bourguignon and hungarian goulash are the same because they are both really just beef stew.

                            2. The original comment has been removed
                              1. I first moved to Japan in 1981 and fell in love with all foods Japanese, especially sushi and sashimi. When I moved back to the US in 1986, I really wasn't in a financial position to be able to eat at the relatively few good places available to me. I moved back to Japan in 1991 and lived there for another 5 years. When I returned this time, sushi was everywhere and we found a few places we enjoyed eating at.

                                Fast forward to this year when we went back for a visit. My wfe and I promised we wouldn't eat suchi there because "we can get good sushi in the States". Were we ever wrong. I couldn't believe the quality of even the most moderately priced sushi in Japan. It's actually possible to eat much better quality there for half of what you pay in the US.

                                I know there are places in the States with sushi (and Japanese foods in general) that are on par with restaurants in Japan, but not within hundreds of mile from where I live. Plus, I'd probably have to sell a kidney to pay for it.

                                So I'll just be content eating as much as I can when I visit Japan and forgo all the nasty fake crab, cream cheese, mayo-hazelnut praline, superduper spicy mickey mouse rolls that seem to be so popular.