How many ways can we ruin sushi? And why it matters
In the aggressively hip neighborhood in Brooklyn where I live, there is a sushi place that I walk by every single day on my way home from work. There is some sparse indoor and outdoor seating, which is nearly always full, regardless of the time of day, and their delivery man is constantly zooming in and out.
Whenever I tell people where I live, their response is almost always “Oh, by that sushi place? We love that place, we go there all the time!” By all accounts and measures, this restaurant is a success. I have eaten there exactly once, and their service and quality of ingredients seem to confirm the restaurant’s overwhelming popularity. The fish was fresh and the price was in line with what one would expect. There is, however, a reason I have not returned after my first visit, and why I will likely never return.
It is a reason to me that is so clear and plain and universal that I spend several minutes a day, every day, dumbfounded that so many people, some of whom are very normal, well-adjusted humans, could enjoy such a ridiculous place. They serve their sushi in a fucking cup.
And it’s not sushi rolls that are cut into pieces and just put in the cup for easy transport. That’s not a horrible idea. And It’s not like they took everything from your favorite sushi roll and then mixed it all up. That’s a more horrible idea, but at least makes a weird sort of sense. Instead, it’s just rice and fish and some light sauce, layered in a cup. If it was layered side by side, where you could have access to fish and rice in similar proportions at the same time, and you could appropriately monitor the amount of each you were consuming with relative ease, I would at least see some logic behind it.
But nay, these monsters fill a paper coffee cup with a heaping scoop of rice, followed by a layer of fish on top, followed by various sauces and garnishes. The cup makes it less convenient to eat than regular sushi, it costs just as much as regular sushi, and because the proportions of fish to rice and sauce are not being issued by a master chef who trained tirelessly in his craft, but instead by me, an unskilled kid, it absolutely is not as good as regular sushi.
So why would they do this, and why in god’s name is it so popular?
I would like to take a moment to point out that I have intentionally not included the name of this restaurant (although I’m sure a very quick google search would tell you exactly what I’m talking about and where it is. You should go, I’ve heard great things!) because my intention is not to bash this specific business. They do not exist alone in a vacuum.
Before sushi in a cup, there was the “sushirrito”, which answers the age-old question: What if instead of getting little bites of lots of different flavors and manageable proportions, I could just push a fucking log of one flavor down my uncultured gullet?
Making the internet rounds recently was a video showing how to make “donut sushi”, which is exactly what it sounds like, and is further evidence that at some point as a society we decided that we would eat a bunch of tinfoil someone fished out of the garbage as long as it was stuffed with Nutella and strawberries. Sushi pizza. Breakfast sushi.
The list of ways people have ruined a thing that ideally has only three ingredients goes on and on and on forever. I suspect that this thing where we haphazardly attempt to transform already great foods into something greater, without much thought, is the result of two cultural phenomena that have been happening parallel to one another for the past decade or so finally meeting, and having a very ugly shotgun wedding.
On one hand, there is the resurgence and normalization of foodie culture. It is no longer considered taboo or elitist to be a food snob; in fact, it’s kind of cool now. People feel emboldened and sophisticated by the power (irresponsibly) bestowed upon them by services like Yelp, where every bozo with a smartphone can give their two cents on literally anything and everything.
On the other hand, everyone today (see: not just “Millennials”) are obsessed with the idea of breathing new life into something old.
If you’ve been to a wedding in the past five years and noticed an obscene amount of mason jars, vinyl records, reclaimed wood, and exposed Edison bulbs, then you have experienced this first hand.
The initial collision between these two worlds spawned the quick-hits social media recipe videos from sources like Tasty, which feature “innovations” like “Bread Bowl Pizza”, “Buffalo Mac ‘N’ Cheese Muffins”, and “Chocolate Molten Cake microwaved in a dusty Mug that has been in the back of your cupboard for years”. If you are friends on Facebook with any of your relatives who are over the age of 35, you have undoubtedly seen one of these videos get passed around.
A restaurant that serves sushi in a cup is the natural evolution of this newly minted hell we have found ourselves in.
These sideshow acts have taken to the streets and permeated the mainstream. The sushi in a cup place isn’t just a gimmick with a line of tourists out the door, or some video your aunt shared on your wall, it’s cool. It’s a place to take a date or catch up with friends. It’s a place that, for the life of me, I can’t figure out.
Obviously, there is nothing wrong with fusion food or culinary innovation, but it needs to make some sort of sense. It all starts with some horseshit like sushi corn dogs, and then before you know it society has descended into utter chaos. These type of food experiments are still valuable, essential even, but they have to abide by some type of law and order. The Choco Taco comes to mind when thinking about how to properly pioneer a new spin on an old classic; the tasty elements of an ice cream cone with none of the mess, and more evenly distributed proportions. Simple, but practical and undeniably delicious.
This is how the world is supposed to work: measured risk with a clear and reasonable understanding of the potential gain. Anything else is anarchy. You wouldn’t wear two left shoes because you think it might be a “fresh take on footwear” for the same reason that you shouldn’t put sushi in a goddamn cup.