Supermarket Sushi

I love sushi. It’s such a fantastic way of serving fish and a pretty good way of serving other tasty things too. It’s bite size, so you can try lots of different things in a meal. And I could probably also argue that it’s fairly healthy too, as you’re eating small bites rather than big ones, thereby making it slightly less likely that you would eat too much.

Ten or fifteen years ago sushi really caught on in supermarkets. You started being able to get little packs of sushi of different flavours, with soy sauce, ginger and wasabi included, and the British public welcomed it. So it became a Thing.

I remember trying my first supermarket sushi. It was from Sainsbury’s, and it was awful. The rice was cold and hard, the toppings were flavourless, and the price was wrong. It was terrible, not just as sushi but as food, and I felt sad that people around the UK were going to taste supermarket sushi and think this was reasonable sushi.

There is one aspect of sushi which isn’t ever going to work in supermarket sushi – raw fish. A trip to a good sushi restaurant really must include some tuna, perhaps some squid, some roe and other fish, sliced carefully and served on rice. And I understand that you can’t do this in supermarket sushi. But there are other options – tamago (omelette); king prawn; and some ‘california roll’ types of sushi with fairly authentic Japanese flavours. And you can do vegetarian rolls (maki) as well.

So back whenever I first tried supermarket sushi, I concluded that this was an experiment that wasn’t going to work in Britain. I was surprised that it kept going as long as it did, but people seem to like eating cold, hard rice with cold, rubbery smoked salmon on it.

Today I was shopping for food and I needed something small to add to my lunch. And so a little tray of sushi turned out to be just right in terms of size, so I thought I’d try it, without really looking at what was in it. But here it is.

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Reading the label carefully I was a little suspicious: the types of sushi included were

  • Hoisin duck
  • Chilli and ginger
  • Red cabbage
  • Sweet chilli chicken
  • Smoked salmon

None of these are something you’d find in a sushi restaurant.

Studying the components of my tray of sushi made me realise another reason why you don’t get that much sushi in the UK: the flavours aren’t strong enough. This is probably a controversial topic and the subject for another post.

Anyway, settling down to try my sushi, I must say I was actually pleasantly surprised – which is not to say that it was good sushi. On the whole, I would still recommend that people avoid these packs, because the flavours are just not that great, and a sandwich would probably taste better (and be cheaper). But they are not as bad as they used to be.

The main thing I noticed was that the rice was no longer cold and hard. This could be because it had been bought about half an hour beforehand, but I suspect that actually it was just cooked better than previously; this in turn helped the flavour.

The hoisin duck was very much like a hoisin duck wrap in rice. It was pretty sweet, and tasted okay, but the combination was a bit odd.

The red cabbage and sweet chilli chicken were similar. It felt like the rice was a vessel to eat those things, which made it a bit strange to eat. The flavours were fairly standard – nothing special. The chilli and ginger roll was mostly ginger, and this was probably the strangest one – why put plain ginger with a bit of chilli into a piece of sushi? Why not go a little more traditional and put cucumber, red pepper or egg?

The smoked salmon sushi was probably the best one. They used to put wafer thin smoked salmon on sushi, but this was a proper chunk of salmon. It would have been even better were it raw, but smoked was a pretty good alternative, and the salmon was tender and pretty tasty.

The pickled ginger on the side was quite good too, full of flavour though a bit too wet.

So my conclusion? The sushi tray was surprisingly reasonable, but still not great. It was nothing like real sushi, and the flavours they put in were quite arbitrary; it felt like a bit of an asian hodge-podge, which is a real shame, because you’re missing out on so many potentially interesting flavours. So while there has been improvement, it hasn’t come to the stage yet where I feel I would deliberately choose it.

Your move, supermarkets.