Supermarket Sushi

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When I went to lunch with AJC food critic John Kessler the first time out, I took the opportunity to ask him a penetrating question. The question went like this: “So, Mr. Kessler, let’s let the cat out of the bag: what’s your secret junk food?”

“My secret junk food?”

“You know,” I continued, “what do you eat that’s not-so-gourmet? Like Twinkies? Or Hohos?”

“Oh I see,” he responded thoughtfully. “That’s easy. Supermarket sushi.”

What’s funny about that, I think, is that for many Americans supermarket sushi is the epitome of gourmet dining. In any case, it’s rather fascinating to think about the cultural journey sushi took from Japan, to hole-in-the-wall sushi joints in America, and finally to our supermarkets. I took this photograph tonight at Whole Foods and I think it says a lot about how the American machine takes something genuine and exotic and spins it into the ordinary and mundane. Now supermarket sushi is–in the eyes of John Kessler, and many others–just your average American junk food.

11 comments

  1. ooo yes… like the whole foods all natural hippie version with brown rice — completely against all purist japanese forms of cooking (and considered to verge on sacriligious in my parents house) … but somehow strangely compelling… mmm… supermarket sushi — youre overpriced your rice is stale and your fish oddly tinted, but somehow i desire you still … mmmm

  2. I’ve never seen so much supermarket sushi…. I’ve stolen your picture to use as a desktop background, m’kay?

    As far as my thoughts on supermarket sushi, though, well, it just seems wrong. Particularly because there’s a Sushi Shop (www.sushishop.com) across the street from my supermarket.

  3. Of course in Japan, sushi is neither “exotic” nor necessarily “genuine,” and is, in fact, “ordinary and mundane.”

    And they certainly do their share of cheap, junk-food sushi there, too. (Although I’m told grocery store sushi is a lot better there, unsurprisingly).

    See this link:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conveyor_belt_sushi

    In fact, I’m not sure the American machine can take credit for inventing junk food sushi — although lord knows we can take credit for further popularizing it. But let’s give the Japanese credit where credit is due. They have their own capitalist machine at work, you know.

    Speaking of credit, I personally take it for eating large quantities of bad (low-priced) sushi. Lots and lots of it. Mmmm.

  4. I was craving the supermarket sushi the other day, but the ginger had gone from baby bottom pink to casper white. I then ventured out on my own and made it myself! No more rationing the ginger either. Good times.

  5. Hah, I can really empathize with the supermarket sushi comment from Kessler. Although if you are going to indulge, Whole Foods is probably your best bet. Now if Soto would just open back up, I could get back to trading large sums of money for small bits of really good raw fish.

  6. I have fallen in love with your blog. You spend too much in homemade gourmet ice cream. I spend a fortune on yarn for a throw when I could buy one for $20.

  7. So, I’m curious… we have supermarket sushi up here too, but it’s prepared right in the store at a counter, and you can watch them do it and order special rolls and the like. Is that what you’re talking about? Or is this supermarket sushi made someplace else (out of sight) and then put in the cooler?

  8. Oh c’mon! Only would an American consider supermarket sushi to be ‘junk food.’ Such affordable and accessible sushi would be just a pipe dream in Japan. And how much healthier would average Americans be if their guilty pleasure ‘junk food’ were supermarket sushi?

  9. I travel quite a bit and Hissho sushi is by far the best grocery store sushi on the market today!! Enjoy

  10. I live in Richmond, VA. We have about a dozen Japanese restaurants in our city and I’ve been to almost all of them. I must say the quality of the fish and other ingredients does vary a little from place to place but I have yet to find one where the sushi was unpalatable. I have also tried all of the locally stocked brands of supermarket sushi. Surprisingly, the taste of some of these is indistinguishable from the taste of some of the stuff I’ve seen made right before my eyes. Does this mean that my palate is not very sensitive or (all other factors being equal) that the simplicity of the food doesn’t allow for a vast degree of variation in taste? Anyone have an opinion?

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