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Are Sushi Overpriced?

No elaborate sauce, no marination, no cooking. Are they overpriced when you pay ~$3 for a piece of nigiri? Your opinions.

P.S.: I know technically sushi is the wrong term, but I figure it is a more commonly understood term.

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  1. Actually, there *is* sauce involved; the amalgam of condiments and lemon juice used to season the sushi rice. The chef, while he may not appear to be "cooking" anything, is a professional who is paid a fortune and trains for years. Real, sushi-grade fish that's been kept fresh is exorbitantly expensive. But to many $3 and even $10 a piece is worth it for the sushi experience.

    I'll tell you when sushi is overpriced (no matter what the menu says):

    - when they use frozen product (other than Hamachi, which must be frozen)
    - when it's sold pre-packed and chilled (as in the supermarket)
    - if ever there's the slightest odor of fish at the sushi bar.

    5 Replies
    1. re: shaogo

      :) I don't think sushi are really overpriced in the sense that sushi restaurants are not always highly profitable. Making one nigiri or one sashimi as on the order is labor intensive and very low output.

      On the other hand, the raw materials to finish products appear to have a huge price increase. Even if we are talking about the high quality sushi grade fish. I do realize there are sauce. I wrote there is no "elaborate sauce".

      By the way, aren't all sushi fishes are supposed to be frozen at one point or other to make them sushi grade?

      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

        Some health departments recommend that you freeze salmon and tuna to kill potentially illness-causing parasites. However, sourcing from a reputable purveyor enables one to avoid this process, which ruins the texture of the fish.

          1. re: shaogo

            I disagree with you on salmon! I learned to make sushi waaaaaaay back in the 50s and 60s when I was taught to candle my own fish for worms. Salmon is not a purely salt water fish, but is born and dies in fresh water. Fresh water fish are particularly susceptible to worms, and so is salmon, which is why in the "olden days' of my past, salmon was NEVER used for sushi OR sashimi. But the ROE of salmon is safe! And delicious. And expensive.

            When I was learning to make sushi back when Moses and I went to school together, the oceans were MUCH cleaner than they are today, but I was taught to candle every slice of fish I cut for sashimi or sushi! In today's world, the oceans are dirty and I don't trust anyone to check my fish for worms. So I don't eat much raw fish.

            I found this article on the web just now when I couldn't remember all of the different kinds of worms that raw fish can carry. And now that I found it, I don't have to! You can read for yourself!

            Oh. And if "SushiMan" shows up, I'm leaving. He told me I make sushi like a grandmother! Well, I *AM* a grandmother! '-)

            1. re: Caroline1

              In volume-production sushi bars, I assure you, enough slicing and dicing and observing of the salmon is done so as to make candling unnecessary. You must, however, eat fish prepared by a chef who's been properly trained not only in cutting but in food science, as well.

      2. Depends on what kind of sushi and where you're getting it. Remember a restaurants location lives up to the real estate law of "Location, location, location." So sushi from the back of a truck should be one hell of a lot cheaper than sushi on the 5oth floor of prime downton metropolitan "sushi bars."

        And then there is the contents. California roll? (blech) Shouldn't be that expensive any place you go. Go to a top ranked sushi chef who has bought best in the world fresh caught tuna (any kind) and it's gonna cost you some bucks. Even off the back of a truck, but I doubt they'd have it on board.

        But if you want really good sushi, go to some used bookstores and buy some OLD authoritative books on how to make sushi. You do not have to use raw fish to make sushi. But you do need to learn to treat your gohan properly, and for heaven's sake, TOAST YOUR NORI...! Watched a Good Eats episode a few days ago in which Alton Brown was making sushi. He didn't do too bad, until... He talked about how critical it was to buy really fresh nori sheets in small bags and use it right away. NOT TRUE! If it doesn't come with one of those little desecant tubes packed in the bag, put one in. Store in a cool dark dry plae, and then... TOAST IT! Never ever use a sheet of nori without toasting it first!

        The reason I don't go to sushi bars where I live is for one of two reasons: I cannot afford Nobu, OR Wolfgang Puck's fiftieth floor sushi menu here in Dallas, both of which I have to assume make excelent sushi. ORRRRR... All of the restaurants I've tried that make sushi do it so badly. So very VERY badly. So learn to make your own... And Enjoy the price break!!! '-)

        6 Replies
        1. re: Caroline1

          I'm SO with you on making your own. I'm very lucky indeed to have several diff Japanese grocers that sell sushi grade fishes of all sorts, and even sell some of it pre-sliced. I do, however, like to go to my favorite sushi bars once in a while, and just let the chef do his thing. Matter of fact, it's been quite a while since my last visit...

          1. re: Caroline1

            Do I really need to toast the nori? I thought they are toasted already. Even the package states "roasted/toasted".


            In addition, some sushi do not require nori, like nigiri:


            I made sushi once and I were so sick of it afterward. Once you make sushi from two pounds of fish, then you realize how many nigiri you can make. I mean a lot. I were like, "I cannot eat these any more."

            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

              Nori is like a sponge, so when it is exposed to moisture, it drinks in moisture! In time, it also looses it's nutiness from any factory toasting. Toast again, and only as you use it, then eat the sushi immediately! I cannot stand "black bubble gum." Which is a major part of my aversion to local sushi bars. I cannot bring myself to call them "sushi-yas."

              There is no hard fast rule about nigiri not requiring nori. Depends on the type of nigiri. For example, if you're topping it with roe or sea urchin, it is traditional to make a nori "dam" around the edge of the hand formed rice to help keep the topping in place. A narrow band of nori is also often used to hold a slice of tomago (sweet rolled omlette) in place on nigiri.

              Oh, and if you ever make sushi again and have so much of one type of fish you get sick of it, remember! You can always save some and cook sushi grade fish later. '-)

              1. re: Caroline1

                :) Thanks. Yes, I agree with the roe and sea urchin nagiri statements.

                1. re: Caroline1

                  Making a smell vessel out of nori on top of the rice for ikura, uni, natto, negitoro, etc. is called "gunkan" maki, which means "battleship roll". Not very traditional. It was invented by chefs at Kyubei in the 30's.

                  1. re: Silverjay

                    And there are variants, like this one using cucumber instead of seaweed


                    or this parent and child combo that's probably better for home use


            2. No.

              Sushi requires _very_ good fish (and rice), and that can cost some money; and preparation is done (well, at least is should be) on order and that takes good training and mastering of the techniques.

              1. No.

                Part of the reason I go out for sushi is (1) for the quality of the fish and seafood and (2) to sit at the bar and banter with the chef.

                It's (2) that really holds a significant part of the charm of eating sushi for me. Sure, I can always source a nice piece of tuna and cut it up at home, but I much more enjoy the banter and rapport I develop with the chef sitting at the bar.

                And when I sit at the bar, it's not just the fish that's being served, it's the sequence, size and manner in how the food is presented. All of that -- call it ambiance, if you will -- is what makes sushi more than just a piece of fish.

                Think about it this way, Chemicalkinetics, ever buy a drink at a bar? If you want to talk about something being grossly overpriced ... but a person does it anyway, in part because of the atmosphere.

                Just my 0.02.

                4 Replies
                1. re: ipsedixit

                  :) I know I know. I am not against eating sushi. Just try to start a conversation :)

                  Beer is different. Beer is manly. How much would you pay to be more manly? Huh? A lot, I will.

                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                    Well, it's usually single malt scotch for me ... Neat, never on the rocks.

                    1. re: ipsedixit

                      Ok, that is too manly. I cannot do that yet. Oh crap.

                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                        Opps. I take that back. Beer is still manly.

                2. This blogger clearly agrees with you:


                  The YouTube video he includes is hilarious!

                  The solution is stick with AYCE places :-)

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: TexSquared

                    That youtube video in your link is hilarious. :)

                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                      Scroll down to the comments on that site, I'm sure you can guess which one was me....

                      1. re: TexSquared

                        Were you the one who wrote "are you kidding me? I don't care much about the quality, I just go to an all-you-can eat sushi bar for 12 bucks and eat as much as i want. "


                        What I really find interesting is this comment:

                        "Sushi is my favorite food, partially because it's part of my heritage... I do agree it is overpriced in the U.S., but the interesting thing is, sushi is quite cheap in Japan, while burgers and stuff are pretty expensive, so it's more or less the inverse of the U.S."

                        I do know for facts that restaurant hamburgers are sold at a higher price in many parts of Asia. I never thought of this from this angle.

                        By the way, I am not against eating sushi in restaurants. I understand that part of the high price is actually not the fish, but the atomsphere and the "make to order" low throughtput

                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                          No, mine starts off with "Agree with you 110% my man."

                          I can see why burgers would be higher in Japan... for the simple reason that beef is more expensive there.

                          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                            That youtube link has been rolled out a dozen or so times here. Ironic that the blogger posted it when the intent of it is to take the piss out of people like him. Anyway, hamburgers and beef in general aren't particularly expensive in Japan. Hamburgers in the U.S. aren't a very apt analog to sushi in Japan. It's tough to come up with one actually.

                      2. re: TexSquared

                        An alternative solution is not to eat crap, whether it's AYCE or not...

                      3. I learned something reading this post even though I don't like sushi. I learned sushi is plural. I'd have never guessed. Maybe in conversation sometime I wont say, "the sushi here is supposed to be good".

                        19 Replies
                        1. re: camper

                          Sushi = Fish

                          (double-entendre intended)

                          1. re: ipsedixit

                            Sushi ≠ Fish

                            Su = VInegar
                            Shi = Rice

                            Sushi rice has vinegar, sugar and salt, nothing else. It's knowing how much of each that makes it great. Many Itamae masters continue to make their own rather than assign this task to an apprentice.

                            Sushi includes many non-fish items, including eggs and raw beef. What makes it sushi, is the rice.

                            1. re: applehome

                              Actually, I've researched this pretty well and although it's a common statement even among Japanese that "sushi" means like "su" and "meshi", "vinegar" and "rice", this is incorrect. The term and the kanji for sushi both pre-date the use of vinegar in sushi, which was introduced toward the mid to late Edo Era. "Su" very likely comes from the adjective "suppai" for sour or vinegary, which is how the fermented rice tasted way back when. They don't know where the "shi" part came from. It might be from Chinese.

                              1. re: Silverjay

                                Very interesting - I didn't know that. I'll quit spreading the su-meshi version. But regardless, it doesn't mean fish. Nor does it mean makizushi as it is used in a lot of non-Japanese Asian places - as in this is Nigiri, and this is Sushi.

                                1. re: Silverjay

                                  Using google translate from English to Japanese, the results for "sushi" come out:

                                  -寿司 (sao see in Cantonese, shiou sih in Mandarin interestingly), literally su-shi.
                                  The first character is actually written as 壽 in traditional Chinese form, meaning "life" (sometimes paired with other words to wishing someone a long healthy happy life).

                                  -鮨 - I remember cgfan said the right side meant "delicious" (and represents the umai aspect), left side of course is "fish" or sakana for those who can read kanji/Chinese)

                                  -鮓 - The right side seems to suggest some sort of marinating/fermenting/or "cooking" action, but I'm sure I'm wrong on this. This one seems the least commonly seen/used, but still has historical significance..

                                  1. re: K K

                                    鮨 and 鮓 can both be understood in Chinese, but they have different meanings than Japanese. In Chinese, 肉謂之羹,魚謂之鮨. So the meaning is simple, but it makes little sense in projecting to today Japanese sushi.

                                    1. re: K K

                                      -寿司- First character alone is pronounced "kotobuki". Means happiness, joy, or something like bliss. Second character alone is usually pronounced "Tsukasa". I capitalize because it is a proper noun. It's a first name. I have a friend named Tsukasa actually with just this character for his first name on his meishi and everything. This representation of sushi is the most recent- used during the late Edo Era. Probably because of marketing appeal (Bliss for sale?) and similarities in pronunciation with older representations. Using the "Tsukasa" kanji may be for purely pictographic reasons, but this is only a personal theory.

                                      鮨- Most common and very old representation. Yes, first radical is fish and second is delicious. This is a perfect example of why claiming that sushi is all about rice is absurd. It's always been about fish. Rice was only a vehicle for fermentation until mid to late Edo. Early pronunciation pegs this as "su-sa".

                                      鮓- This is more commonly used in Kansai. I have only "academic" experience with this. Left is fish and right is sour, or more precisely, "vinegary". But again, this kanji predates the use of vinegar in sushi. The speculation is that the word "sushi" is purely a means of describing the taste rather than the actually food itself.

                                      1. re: Silverjay

                                        I looked around some more, this is really interesting.

                                        鮨 the word originated in China circa 3 to 4 BC

                                        鮓 came about 500 years after. 「鮓滓也,以鹽米釀之加葅,熟而食之也。」鮓滓 refers to using salt and rice as an agent to marinate the fish for fermenting. Hence the speculation of "vinegar" but more in a marinating/fermenting way, perhaps a la aged carp stuffed with fermented rice. Then the fish is minced for consumption after the fact.

                                        Then about 100 years after that, supposedly kanji was spread to Japan (along with 鮓 and 鮨), and the use of salt and rice to ferment fish slowly faded away from Chinese cuisine, and virtually disappeared by the Ming Dynasty.

                                        鮨 has an early entry in Yōrōritsuryō / 養老律令 circa 718, but as to what it refers to is not sure.

                                        "鮨- This is a perfect example of why claiming that sushi is all about rice is absurd." - HAHAHA! This is great.

                                        1. re: K K

                                          Yes. I was going to do a huge post on the origin of sushi at one point, but decided to lay off because in the end, it won't help anyone eat better and most people here are, anyway, huckleberries eating avocadoshitmabob tempura rolls. But yeah, you read what I have read- probably through the Chinese sources. The Japanese sources I read through had used some Chinese sources as the primary sources..."鮓" probably refers to something like "sour fish" and is irrespective of vinegar.

                                          In the end, sushi has transformed from inedible lactic acid (fermented rice), which preserves fish but is nearly inedible in form, to acidic acid (vinegar) enriched rice, which nominally preserves fish but tastes good.

                                          1. re: Silverjay

                                            Small correct, but important:

                                            acidic acid -> acetic acid.

                                    2. re: Silverjay

                                      Fascinating discussion (although those of us who are ignorant of East Asian languages are kind of left in the dust). Taking you guys at your word, it appears that the etymology of the word "sushi" actually has something to do with fish.

                                      But from a modern culinary perspective, isn't it true that fish simply is not a necessary component of sushi? My experience is limited to the US, but I tend to assume from the name that inarizushi has a legitimate claim to being sushi despite the absence of seafood. Vegetable hosomaki can be found at every sushi-ya I've ever been in (even the ones that don't focus on Californication rolls). And nigirizushi made with tamago is similarly ubiquitous.

                                      Seasoned rice, on the other hand, has been a component of every sushi dish I've eaten. And aside from misuse of the term to refer to sashimi, I've never heard of a sushi dish without rice.

                                      So while fish may be an etymological component of the word, seafood isn't any more of a requirement for sushi - as the term is currently used - than hashish is a requirement for assassination. Su-shi - "vinegar rice" - may be a retronym, but it seems to be an accurate one.

                                      1. re: alanbarnes

                                        Yes, sushi today in any language (well both Japanese and English at least) refers to a broad category of vinegared rice dishes including inarizushi, nigiri, chirashi, maki, futomaki, etc. This is a dictionary or cookbook definition. It should be taken the same way in English we say “automobile”, which could be a truck, bus, jeep, etc., but most people take to mean a passenger car. Sushi colloquially is usually referring to nigirizushi- which is apropos considering its’ origins. People can jack off on the internet about how sushi is also tofu skin pockets stuffed with vinegared rice or vegetables and fried shit rolled up in nori all they want, but no one’s paying a premium for that crap. It’s all about raw fish. Go through the regional boards, Tabelog, ASKU, wherever and see what people are looking for.

                                        1. re: Silverjay

                                          Not to disagree with your definition, but I remember paying quiet a bit to go out with a friend to a vegetarian sushi bar in Berkeley. I cannot be sure if it was this one, but I think it was:


                                          I also don't remember exactly how much I paid, but it was a lot for a graduate student. I remember vouching to myself to never to go back.

                                          1. re: Silverjay

                                            I'm not sure that I agree that it's all about raw fish. Sure, there's an unhealthy fascination with toro, but that should be a limited part of the any meal. Even within the seafood world, aji's "cooked" in vinegar and unagi is always grilled; some places definitely charge a premium for those.

                                            Then there's the personal experience aspect. Most of my Japanese-American friends who grew up eating the stuff at home insist that sushi with raw fish was the exception rather than the rule.

                                            When your mom is making sushi for lunch, the question of who's "paying a premium for that crap" really doesn't enter into the equation. But it's certainly a good data point when trying to figure out what "sushi" means today.

                                            1. re: alanbarnes

                                              More often than not, you look at some reviews out there for sushi restaurants, and skipping the sucka MC remix rolls, and the average person will praise how fresh the fish is, and/or that they think they're eating at a friend's home, because the chef strokes their ego so much, or the chef advertises "100% of our fish is flown in from Japan" (when in fact the fish goes through at JFK or LAX from Narita before finally arriving at your sushi bar from a delivery truck days later), and nobody is paying attention to nigiri molding technique, sushi rice receipe, nigiri fish to ratio balance, etc etc.

                                              I have a feeling the snobs, bloggers, Bourdain's are saying "sushi is firstly about the rice" to counter all that 100% FRESH FISH FROM JAPAN gimmick talk and buy-in.

                                            2. re: Silverjay

                                              "People can jack off on the internet about how sushi is also tofu skin pockets stuffed with vinegared rice or vegetables and fried shit rolled up in nori all they want, but no one’s paying a premium for that crap. It’s all about raw fish.".....Silverjay

                                              LOL! I agree with you, EXCEPT.... I know you're well aware of this, but just for the sake of other readers, sushi isn't about raw fish, but came about as a way to preserve raw fish by packing it in rice and letting it ferment, thereby cooking and preserving the fish all in one fell swoop. Something akin to but not exactly like ceviche, but without citrus. And from there it went to "street food." I don't like today's "Emperor's New Clothes" sushi. But then I never did like food seasoned with too much bull shit. '-)

                                              1. re: Caroline1

                                                Yes, this is how it originated and why the traditional definition, the very old kanji, means “preserved fish” and why the word “sushi” refers to the taste and not to ingredients.

                                                Clearly we all agree on the broad category definition of sushi. My point is that the colloquial use of the term is rather aptly, most often used for nigirizushi with raw fish and yeah, pickled and cooked stuff too. Sushi shops are based on the merit of many things, but the premium you are paying is for the sourcing, handling, and preparation of high quality raw ingredients. And that’s why it is to many, prohibitively expensive. Or at least potentially expensive. But I am merely trying to tie this common colloquial usage of the word back to the origins of the word itself- which I admit- is purely academic.

                                                1. re: Silverjay

                                                  Don't be so hard on yourself ... philology has driven many appetites ...
                                                  though, unlikely, toward funazushi.

                                  2. Let's start with your premise that there's no sauce, no marination, and no cooking. You're incorrect on all counts. A good sushi chef uses a variety of sauces, several marinades, and a number of cooked ingredients. But that's neither here nor there.

                                    Some (most?) sushi is definitely overpriced. When you're being served barely-edible pellets of indifferently-prepared rice topped with low-quality fish, or scraps that passed their sell-by date days ago camouflaged with sriracha and mayonnaise and rolled in rubbery nori, you're overpaying regardless of the price. A plate of shit doesn't become a bargain simply because second helpings are free.

                                    For some folks, any meal that costs more than a certain amount is overpriced. The amount is an individual determination; there are those who believe it's wrong to incur a per-person dinner tab that would feed a family in a developing country for a year. And there are some Philistines (including some who are posting to this thread) who can't or won't appreciate the quality of the ingredients used or the skill required to prepare and present them. They're overpaying if they get anything more expensive than the most expensive entree at the Cheesecake Factory.

                                    But the simple fact is that sushi requires tremendous skill to prepare well, and top-quality ingredients are prohibitively expensive. The assistant chef at my local place talks about the first time the itamae asked him to break down a whole fish, when it dawned on him that he could flush several hundred dollars down the toilet with a single poorly-considered stroke of his knife.

                                    Bad sushi is overpriced simply because there's no reason to pay good money for crappy food. Decent to good sushi is often overpriced, too. But there are plenty of places where a talented chef will serve you great sushi for a reasonable price. They're worth the time and effort to find.

                                    1. $3 for a single piece of nigiri sushi that involved pre-sliced mediocre quality old, or overly marinated rubbery fish (e.g. week old cheap shimesaba) over vinegarless, textureless, and flavorless, perhaps even robot made rectangular pad sushi rice is overpriced.

                                      Either way, even premium imported fish prices have gone up over the years with no end in sight. Even in Taiwan where sushi is cheaper (and more authentic), local bluefin caught off Southern Taiwan has skyrocketed in price this year.
                                      $3 a piece of nigiri at an above average sushi joint might even be considered reasonable.

                                      But you know what's even more overpriced? Big ass stupid name inside out multi ingredient "sushi" rolls. $10 to $15 for a dragon roll that's mostly rice, seaweed, some cucumber, a piece or two of fried shrimp (cost is probably in the coins each), a few small slices of unagi (frozen packet whole preBBQ'd eel from China in supermarket retails for $4 to $8, less for wholesale)?

                                      1. If sushi is overpriced, sashimi must be killing you. Imagine paying even more than sushi for someone to slice a piece of fish for you. No cooking, no flavoring (generally) - just slicing.

                                        Obviously, we're talking here about Americanized sushi - the stuff that's served in Chinese restaurants and similar places. Some may claim to even be Japanese restaurants. It's too bad that this has become the face of sushi here in the US. It's no more real than the Americanized Chinese restaurants that serve pu-pu platters are real Chinese. One could ask whether egg rolls cost too much for their meager ingredients. Well, at least they're fried.

                                        It's a matter of choice how seriously one decides to tackle any particular cuisine. There's no rule that says you always have to eat the best and the most "authentic". But the most basic deliciousness rules that we Chowhounds follow would probably lead one to avoid inferior foods, prepared so you wouldn't even have a chance of understanding what makes it so wonderful.

                                        I do think it's culturally insensitive to paint the entire genre of sushi as being too expensive because the lowest rung doesn't seem to merit value. When Tony Bourdain talks about his $600 sushi meal, he must come off as a complete idiot for falling for that crap. Obviously, Tony didn't pay $600 for what you ate at the local sushi bar run by slanted eyed people of indeterminate ethnicity (who speak Japanese and understand Japanese culture and food about as well as some of the posters to this thread). The real question is, as a Chowhound, why are *you* not paying $600 for a sushi meal - or rather, as in my case, wishing to be able to pay $600 for that experience?

                                        21 Replies
                                        1. re: applehome

                                          Let's look at some parallel examples. What you and Alan are saying is:

                                          Those who are not able or willing to pay for Kobe beef should not bother eating beef of any kind since it's all "crap".

                                          Those who are not able or willing to pay for Caspian Sea sturgeon caviar should not bother eating any other kind of caviar since it's all "crap".

                                          Those who are not able or willing to pay for premier cru Bordeaux should not bother drinking any other kind of wine since it's all "crap".

                                          I could go on but you see my point. What's wrong with looking for value?

                                          1. re: TexSquared

                                            Bourdain's meal at Sukiyabashi Jiro lunch experience in Ginza Tokyo (you have to go with Japanese speaking natives for that specific location though) costs closer to somewhere between $200 to $250 per person (my guess) for that 15 individual pieces of sushi in 20 minutes or something like that (with the exception of the kuruma ebi cut in half). Big eaters might wolf down 22 pieces easily, which will ring closer to $350 maybe.

                                            Or in Food Porn 2 he ate at Sushi Yasuda in Manhattan, a purist favorite amongst CH folks even from West Coast, and that meal is probably $80 to $150+ depending on what you eat or he ate.

                                            It's easy to spend $80 to $150 on dinner at some sushi bar these days, even if the sushi costs $3 to $6 for a single nigiri piece. but you want to know what your money can really buy you, even if in another city, state. If you're landlocked somewhere in an area that offers what others deem mediocrity or a product without soul, craftsmanship etc, then it's hard to make that reference and parallel.

                                            1. re: TexSquared

                                              No, what I'm saying (I won't presume to speak for applehome) is that value is more than just price divided by quantity. Quality's part of the equation, too.

                                              Chateau Petrus makes wonderful wine, but a good Zinfandel from the foothills of the Sierra is also a real pleasure. Depending on your palate and your priorities, either bottle can be a good value. But only a spendthrift would pay hundreds of dollars for a bottle of Madrona, and only a fool would claim that they're the same thing.

                                              So as far as I'm concerned it's no bargain to pay $20 for a pound of over-compressed rice and a couple of bucks' worth of mediocre fish squeezed together by an untrained minimum-wage worker in an assembly-line kitchen. You like it? No skin off my nose. Knock yourself out. But anybody with a functioning palate and half a lick of sense knows that the stuff simply isn't comparable to good sushi carefully made from quality ingredients by a talented chef.

                                              Does that mean that one should only eat sushi at Masa, Urasawa, or other similarly-revered temples of Japanese cuisine? Of course not. There are plenty of places that serve quality sushi at reasonable prices. You're not going to see food porn shots of their nigiri on the Travel Channel, but they're around. And in my book, "looking for value" is more about getting out there and finding them than about settling for inexpensive stuff of dubious quality.

                                              1. re: alanbarnes

                                                So again, what you're saying is if I to go a steakhouse and order a U.S. Prime ribeye for $50, that is poor value because I should be getting the Kobe version at a different steakhouse for $400?

                                                Using your words but substituting steak, what you're saying to me is:
                                                "So far as I'm concerned it's no bargain to pay $50 for 14 ounces of mediocre American beef broiled by some untrained line cook. You like it? No skin off my nose. Knock yourself out. But anybody with a functioning palate and half a lick of sense knows that the stuff simply isn't comparable to Kobe beef from Japan skillfully cut by a Japanese butcher."

                                                That may be true but you will have a tough time trying to convince me to spend 8 times the money.... Now if you can find me a place that will serve me Kobe beef for the U.S. Prime price... THAT would be value. But that would also be impossible, I'm realistic about it. So I will gladly enjoy my U.S. Prime steak and the extra $350 in my wallet.

                                                1. re: TexSquared

                                                  No, that's not what I'm saying at all. If you'd actually read what I wrote, it's quite the opposite. Here, let me try it again - I'll use really small words this time.

                                                  Let's imagine four steakhouses, two of which you proposed:

                                                  The first serves a ribeye for $15. The steak is USDA Choice, but it has a decent amount of marbling and is cooked properly.

                                                  The second charges $50 for a USDA Prime steak. It's a delicious piece of meat, cooked perfectly.

                                                  The third serves an imported Kobe A10 ribeye for $400. It's the closest thing to a religious experience you'll ever find on a plate, according to those who claim to be in the know.

                                                  The fourth charges $10 for a steak and provides unlimited seconds. But the meat comes from played out dairy cows. It has no discernable intramuscular fat, it's unseasoned, and it's full of gristle. Best of all, the inside is grey from being held for hours in near-boiling water and the outside is burned beyond all recognition.

                                                  Now which of these places is a good deal? For me, the first place definitely makes the list, the second may, and the third probably doesn't - too rich for my blood (your mileage may vary). We can have all kinds of interesting discussions about whether the first place or the second is a better value. And we can argue long into the night about whether a steak is ever worth $400.

                                                  But as far as I'm concerned, if you claim that the last place is a better deal than the others, you're an idiot. QPV is always a consideration, but when quality equals zero, it doesn't matter how much food you get or how low the price is - the place will never be a bargain.

                                                  1. re: alanbarnes

                                                    Now we're on the same page...

                                                    When it comes to steak I mostly would be dining at #1 or #2 since, as we'd agree, both represent value. You're going to pay more for a prime vs a choice steak, but not 8 times more. No argument from me there. The most popular steakhouses in most cities would probably be the #1 range just because it is affordable to more people but is still good food. #2 for me is a treat for special occasions.

                                                    You'd never catch me at #3 unless you first saw me in the news as the latest Lotto winner, and definitely never at #4 (which I assume would be the "Ponderosa" or "Ryan's" type places).

                                                    But I honestly do not believe it is correct to paint all AYCE or reasonably priced sushi places as the equivalent of steakhouse #4. To me, that would be a sushi place that served rotten fish and is about to get shut down by the health department, or has nothing but shrimp tempura rolls that came frozen off a SYSCO truck and gets defrosted for consumption out on the buffet. I definitely don't eat at those. That's why I used the U.S. Prime steakhouse as my example, and probably should have used the Choice one instead.

                                                    1. re: TexSquared

                                                      The only place I've had AYCE sushi served food that was horrible. As in a step down from the prepackaged stuff from the supermarket. And funny you should mention it, but the place did in fact get shut down by the health department shortly after my visit.

                                                      That's not to say that every AYCE place sucks. But I've never heard of one that was really great, either. The place I've been was definitely the equivalent of steakhouse #4 above, but I have no trouble believing that some of them might have quality that's the equivalent of steahouse #1.

                                                      Problem is, simple economics require the owner to charge me a premium for the right to eat more than I ought to, whether I'm overstaying my welcome at the caviar station at the Top of the Mark or gorging on goat curry from the buffet table at my favorite Pakistani place. So it's my experience that places offering unlimited quantities of steakhouse #1 quality tend to have prices that creep up toward the steakhouse #2 range.

                                                      As a ravenous teenager or 20-something, that might have been a good deal to me. But I'm well past the age when getting enough to eat is an issue. Rather the opposite, actually. So I'm better off going around the corner to a place that serves a reasonable quantity of much better food for about the same money. Which leads me back to my original point: a sushi-ya serving high-quality food for reasonable prices is really the ultimate in value.

                                                      1. re: alanbarnes

                                                        There's a mini-chain in the Northeast - 5 locations from Philly up to Boston called Minado that's an AYCE Japanese food place run by non-Japanese Asians. I've been there a few times, usually by coercion. They serve sushi, AYCE, but they serve a lot of other things including Korean Kalbi NY style, lots of salads (jellyfish, wakame, edamame, etc) and other dishes like teriyaki and tempura as well as other agemono. They even have a crepe station and green tea ice cream in a self-service soft-serve machine for dessert.

                                                        It costs $28 for a dinner seating. The nigiri is robot - someone in the back is slicing fish while the upfronts just keep loading up the rectangular rice with pieces of fish and plating them. Periodically, they'll serve a dish of butsu-giri fish - the ends of their fish cut into cubes or funky pieces - obviously, they're not very good at slicing, as they usually have tons of this stuff - ahi, hamachi, albacore... I usually just get a hot bowlful of rice and a plateful of the butsugiri - a little yoda mud bath on the side, and I'm happy. It's what I grew up with (except my mother's butsugiri wasn't nearly as butsu...). Eat some kalbi, some crab legs... I get my money's worth and never even have to deal with their robotozushi. (I admit I do eat a few pieces of uni guntan, maybe some ikura - enough to tell me they have no clue as to how to season sushi rice.) The sad thing is that while they have misoshiru, they have no tsukemono, no umeboshi, no fresh made natto, no roasted nori on the side - all the little things that make a family meal what it is in Japan. What's a home cooked meal without some nukazuke?

                                                        When you think about it, $28 is a lot for an AYCE buffet dinner but it's not a lot for AYCE sushi, if that sushi were any good. Thank goodness that some of the items are decent. Oh well - it's a value to somebody , as it's always full and the sushi lines are always longest.

                                              2. re: TexSquared

                                                I may be wrong but I didn't interpret this thread as seeking value, but rather as stating that sushi isn't worth the price. Beef isn't worth the price. Caviar isn't worth the price. Wine isn't worth the price. I could go on...

                                                The $600 Bourdain quote comes from his one and only talk show in which he tried to discuss this very issue - he had just had a $600 sushi meal. He asked, a) is anything worth $600? b) is it moral for anybody to pay $600 for a meal? He answered yes to both, and tried to stimulate some conversation, but his guests seemed to all agree with him, so the round-table discussion flopped and the show was immediately canceled - he apologized profusely on his blog.

                                                Value is clearly what you perceive it to be. If one sees no value in sushi at all, then they shouldn't eat it. Ditto Kobe beef. But that would be very unchowhoundish, imho. Why would a person who values deliciousness draw a line to say - this level is of value, but the next isn't? We can't all afford or don't all have access to the best all the time - so we do, in fact, settle for a particular level that satisfies us. And yet, we recognize that better products exist and are of value to someone who can indeed afford it. Should we practice a little shadenfreude here and make fun of those that can afford it and can perceive its value? Or rather, should we wish that we may indeed be able to afford it at some time because even if we can't afford it now, we understand its value.

                                                1. re: applehome

                                                  I were asking people for their own personal opinions and their own personal values. Noticed that I were asking a question in the title and in the original post. Value is essentially "Quality"/"Price". So individuals can determine that and share their opinions. Is a $400 iPhone worth the price? Is a >$4000 honyaki yanagiba overpriced? Many will say yes and many will say no. Moreover, many who say yes for one will say no for the other one. Personal value.

                                                  I did not say sushi isn't worth the price. I have stated that I am not against eating sushi in restaurants to both ipsedixit and TexSquared. I have also written to Shaogo: "I don't think sushi are really overpriced "

                                                  I certainly did not make fun of others for able to afford sushi, and I don't think anyone here did.

                                                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                    Living in a veritable Sushi Heaven my experience is quite different from many of the posters here.

                                                    No Sushi here isn't over priced at all but a person has to know where to eat and how.

                                                    PS-some of the nonsense posted here about how fish is/isn't processed for Sushi will keep me/my Sushi eating internet friends in stitches all night!

                                                    1. re: Sam Salmon


                                                      Want to share your knowledge on processed for sushi fish? So you don't think the fish needed to be frozen or you think it has to be frozen?

                                                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                        I certainly don't think it 'has to be' frozen but often it is that's the modern world.

                                                        Occasionally we make Sushi when out (sport) Salmon fishing-the fish is good but not exceptional.

                                                        I think sitting on ice for a few hours might help the flesh relax a bit-but buying it on the open market (fishmonger or Sushi Bar) means dealing with a frozen product.

                                                        In Vancouver Yellowfin (Ahi) is almost always flown in fresh from Hawaii and since it's a half day old I think it's prime, Albacore (Tombo) OTOH is always frozen since it's taken out at sea on boats that don't return to harbour for weeks.

                                                        Note there's no legal requirement here that fish to be served raw be pre-frozen like some more nanny state jurisdictions.

                                                        1. re: Sam Salmon

                                                          Extremely fresh isn't necessarily a good thing. I've talked about it here before, but it bears repeating - the flavor and texture of tuna are really at their best 3 to 5 days after the fish is caught. Ask any sushi chef or tuna fisherman.

                                                          Of course, you can always catch a tuna one day and eat it the next. But a wise old skipper once told me that if you're going to do that, it's best to (gasp!) pop it in the freezer overnight.

                                                    2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                      Thanks for the clarification and correction - you did indeed ask a question. I don't think you were making fun of those that could afford a higher price, but I was suggesting an aspect of shadenfreude to the entire discussion.

                                                      If, as Silverjay suggests, the "it's about the rice" movement is countering the "100% from Tsukiji" movement, then apparently there is a lashback to rich, expensive sushi out there. To some extent, even the "make it at home" commentary (here and otherwise - remembering Sam's comments) is part of such a lashback.

                                                      In any case - this is a great thread. I've learned a lot.

                                                      1. re: applehome


                                                        I think you brought up an interesting point. I read there is indeed a stronger anti-luxury atomsphere in America right now, in large part due to the economics recession. This has noticeably impact in high ends stores like Williams Sonoma. As for the "only about the rice" argument, it started as early as I can remember it. I think you are correct that it counters the "it is all about high quality fish from Tsukiji" movement.

                                                        Partially, it may be due to anti-elite and anti-excessive emotion, but I think it is also about "sushi chef's skill". Restaurant owners tend to like "it is all about high quality ingredients". Why are you paying twice as much in my restaurant? Well, my ingredients are simply better and more expensive and you simply cannot get the same quality of food in cheaper places. Many chefs argue the other way. It is about their ability to transform simple ingredients to the final products. Therefore, many sushi chefs argue it is about the rice. How it is cooked and how it is molden and tighten in the their hands. Compacted enough so the rice ball does not crumble when you pick the sushi up (especially with chopsticks), but loosen enough that it comes apart effortlessly inside our mouth. I am sure you had bad sushi where the rice ball just falls completely apart as you dip it in soy sauce and wasabi, or the rice ball is so compacted and dried that it feel like little stones in your mouth. Of course, successful sushi is a combination of everything, but a hired sushi chef will likely to argue the more critical aspect is transforming simple ingredients into final products. Self-justification, maybe.

                                                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                          It sounds to me that you simply don't understand the difference between various grades of sushi and what to look for. These differences can be subtle to one who is not versed in sushi. Perhaps these differences are not worth it to you but they clearly are to others. Worth it ends up being a purely subjective term. I am neither rich nor poor but I will gladly spend a lot of money to have a truly transcendent sushi experience. I have been eating it for some time and know a decent amount about it. To me it is one of my favorite dining experiences. So to me it is worth it.

                                                          I take it from the comments above that you have some but not extensive experience with sushi. A good itamae will apply a light coating of sauce and the appropriate amount of wasabi to the fish so you will not need to dip it in a soy/wasabi slurry. If you do choose to dip or you are at a place that does not presauce the nigiri you should dip it fish side down. The reason is not pretentious but rather quite practical, the soy sauce breaks up the rice.

                                                          1. re: MVNYC

                                                            Yes, you are correct. I do usually apply a light coating of sauce on top of the fish, but I have much to learn.

                                                            1. re: MVNYC

                                                              This is spot and I always appreciate when the sushi and sauce are applied so I can just enjoy. It is also painful when I am at just such an establishment and have told a dining companion this and they persist on littering their soy sauce with wasabi. It's humiliating, and in my opinion, obscures the taste and texture of the fish.

                                                            2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                                              The other counterpoint to the "100% of our fresh fish shipped direct from Japan" movement is that there are restaurants out there who rely on that aspect to market themselves, but yet do not further the experience enough amongst some, but yet those who are fans of the fresh fish movement are eating it up, even if the rice is not done right, or if the nigiri isn't done properly (but so long as the pieces are huge, the fish is delicious, it masks any other weaknesses).

                                                              I think the rice part, or at least nailing that down along with knife work and molding, pretty much all falls under "chef's skill" category.

                                                              Also it's not entirely about the quality of the fish, but also the variety and seaonality. Generally a more expensive place that has a good reputation, will specialize in something and/or know what to get that is popular, interesting, and in season. I'm not going to sushi bar A because they have better hamachi, hirame, or maguro than restaurant X, but because I know that I will get a well balanced variety in addition from white fleshed fish, clams, cooked side dishes (something beyond hamachi kama) or fish organs in soup, red fish (different parts of tuna), shellfish, etc.

                                                              I'm sure you can at least relate with dim sum... surely you can benchmark every restaurant's ha gow, siu mai, but when you go to some really interesting high end place, you want to see what else the kitchen can do. (That's also why chowhound dim sum discussions go all over the map, as you have different camps of people, I see a parallel here with the different camps of sushi eaters, although I have yet to see really horrendous Americanized dim sum).

                                                              Of course there are those of the blue fin and toro camp of eaters, and those folks won't change in their thoughts(even then you're paying different prices for different kinds of toro). Then there are Hong Kongers in HK who think salmon sashimi is the defacto standard when ordering raw fish at a Japanese restaurant in Hong Kong (yet completely flies over their head when they are told that salmon is not even in the top 94 fish used in sushi in Japan, with very rare exceptions).

                                                              There is a balance out there between the high end and the low end crap to semi rip-off's. You just have to search them out. A really good skilled and classically trained chef (or his dedicated apprentice) can make slightly above average ingredients shine (without resorting to flavor masking), that charges maybe $50 to $60 for a let the chef sock it to me baby style lunch, versus a place that relies on 100% high end fish from Japan and little to no skill in comparison, costing $80 to $100. If you ask me, that's the balance.

                                                              1. re: K K

                                                                I forgot about mentioning the knife skill, you are correct. Actually, I do remember the knife, but I felt if I mention knife again, people will tell me to shut the heck up. :)

                                                                The knife skill to use one and to maintain one, not to mention the initial cost to get one.

                                                                The fresh fish movement, I think, you are correct. There may be many reasons behind this. It sounds like you know a lot about Chinese cuisine, and I am sure there are many camps on how to judge Chinese cuisine. Is the sauce the most important? Is it the knife work? Is it high temperature of the wok? Or is it simply the freshness and quality of the ingredients. Obviously, they are all are important, but people usually have a rank order.

                                                                Hey come to think of it, people also rank our characters, right? Some people rank honesty above loyalty. Others go reverse. It isn't like they think one is important and the other one is useless.

                                                                I am sure the fresh fish movement in sushi does not deny the importance of other aspects, they just rank them lower. Vice versa for the rice camp (chef's skill).

                                                  2. Bear with me, this is a generalization, but in my experience:

                                                    The average price of fish that a good sushi bar uses costs $15-$20 a pound. (Obviously this varies depending on the fish and the quality.) At least 20% of that is bones, skin, etc., so the price of the filet is 120% of the price of fish, which is $18-$24 a pound. Normal sized sushi is made with about one ounce of fish per piece, so $18-$24 a pound divided by 16 pieces per pound is $1.12-$1.50 per piece. That gets marked up about three times for your $3 or $4 piece of sushi. This is about food cost as most other types of good quality food prepared in nice restaurants. Sushi doesn't cost any more than other foods unless you are overpaying for cheap fish or thin cuts of fish, which can easily drop the restaurant's costs by half. FYI the food cost at Nobu is only 22%. For more fairly priced restaurants; the price reflects a 30% food cost, 30% labor cost, 30% cost of doing business, and 10% profit (if you're lucky). If you can do it for better for cheaper, you can probably make a lot of money!

                                                      1. Yes, are theY!
                                                        most uncommonly overstood.

                                                        1. no, sushi is not overpriced.
                                                          best rice + best fish + impeccable technic = $$$
                                                          but if you felt like it is not worth, just do not go there.

                                                          oh about the comment on sushi is all about rice...
                                                          you have to remember rice is a huge part of japan first of all. and before even becoming a sushi chef you should be able to differentiate the taste of rices. also in most cases, it takes years just to learn how to cook sushi rice. and only after that you are allow to learn how to do the rest of the preparations, which takes another years. it might be harsh to say but i honestly think if you do not notice the differences of rices in the sushi restaurants, why bother going there?
                                                          i am sometimes annoyed by those who say sushi is just a snob thing ignoring the fact that the chef put so much dedication for the meal. it is not snob at all. it is just one happy meal you know.

                                                          1. Yes!

                                                            Pricing can be subjective. MrOCAnn and I usually pay $20-35/person, depending on whether we have alcohol, what and how much we eat. I've posted this before, but once, four of us ate very well (including alcohol) for $85. No rolls. The itamae can use his discretion to charge less or not at all for a dish.