On the outside, it seems like Miami has all the necessary ingredients for fantastic sushi: a seaside location, an international culture, and a love of food.
It turns out that's not enough. We're seriously lacking in the sushi department. Here are five reasons Miami sushi isn't up to snuff.
1. We don't have fresh fish
We don't have many fishmongers, and our markets are few and far between, existing within the space of a shop or a truck. According to an employee at Hiro's Sushi Express, when Miami restaurants need salmon, they usually purchase outside the country. Why? Check the prices on wild Alaskan salmon — about $20 a pound — and it makes sense.
The same thing goes for shrimp. Sure, Key West is just three hours away. But the rise of cheap, imported, farm-raised shrimp makes the local variety seem expensive.
Conclusion: Miami has grouper and dolphin, but at the end of the day, most fish used in sushi is actually several days old.
2. We cover everything in crap
In Miami, we love to stuff our rolls with cream cheese and smother them in tempura flakes and mayo. Freedom of food expression? Ok, but when you can't tell whether you're eating salmon or, say, chicken, something is wrong.
Add to that our tendency to add dollops of so-called wasabi — which is usually a mix of water and powder or the lovely horseradish/mustard/food-coloring paste — and it's a recipe for disaster.
3. We're sellouts
"Being a quick-service restaurant, I can't have a changing menu," says a Hiro's representative who preferred to remain anonymous. "Every time a customer walks in, they expect the same thing. I sell [the rolls] inexpensive, and then we get more customers."
It seems sushi joints here have become like McDonald's. A note to the wise: If you're paying $7 for lobster, it's probably not lobster.
4. We don't care about craft
"If you go to Japan, the whole thing is different," says Joe Suenaga, a chef at Sushi Rock in Sunnyland. "Here it's more commercialized. If you were to eat sushi in Japan, you'd say and feel, 'Wow.'"
One of the hardest reservations to snag in Japan is a seat at the sushi counter of Jiro Ono's, the restaurant featured in the critically acclaimed documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi. Located in Tokyo's Ginza metro station, the three-Michelin-star restaurant serves meals that cost 30,000 yen (about $300), according to the New Yorker.
Apprentices train for years under Chef Ono. They buy fish daily. Octopus is massaged for tenderness. Sushi rice is not just boiled; it's fanned, sweetened with rice vinegar, and served at warm temperatures. Among serious chefs, sushi is thought of as an extension of oneself. And like oneself, it can always be improved.
5. We're cheap
At the end of the day, Miamians don't like to spend a lot of green on sushi. But if we knew what it really tasted like — melt-in-your-mouth, complex yet simple, fresh, and delicate — would we buy it? It's difficult to tell.
As with everything, there are exceptions to the rule. Miami isn't a complete sushi desert: Zuma uses real Alaskan crab in its California rolls, Makoto serves fresh grated wasabi, and Naoe overnights fish from Japan.
But the general issue remains the same: Restaurants should provide higher-quality food, and consumers should be willing to experiment and pay a little more.