Fishy Follies

The real bargain sushi in Minnesota isn't in grocery stores; it's hiding in plain sight

Dear Dara,

I need sushi help, but not with picking the best sushi restaurant. As you may know, a sushi habit can get expensive. So my boyfriend and I occasionally buy grocery-store sushi. I've noticed recently that the fish is sliced thinner at my local Lunds, and, well, that refrigerator taste is stronger than I remember. Which got me to thinking, where can I go for the best grocery-store sushi?

--Jessica and Barry

More nigiri for your dollar: Nami's sushi platter
Kathy Easthagen
More nigiri for your dollar: Nami's sushi platter

Location Info


United Noodles

2015 E. 24th St.
Minneapolis, MN 55404

Category: Restaurant > Noodle Shop

Region: Uptown/ Eat Street


Dear Jessica and Barry,

Ooh, grocery-store sushi. The slipperiest of all modern phenomena. One day it's good, the next day it's hard and weird. One day it's good, the next day it's squashy and weird. Unfortunately, I can't possibly tell you who has got the best grocery-store sushi. It would be like trying to find out which street corner in the Twin Cities has the best weather: There are too many candidates, and conditions change too fast. The answer would be irrelevant as soon as you found it. On the other hand, grocery-store sushi provides the perfect entry point to one of the biggest issues of The Now: Why is it that the only people who have to pay for anything anymore are the only people who can't afford to?

George Bush, he gets whatever he wants and doesn't have to pay for it: a war, tax cuts for the wealthy, tax breaks so energy corporations can generate their greenhouse gases more profitably, and then pay-outs for the hurricane victims they create. Open the pages of any celebrity magazine and you see the gift bags full of perfume, shoes, and jewelry that go to various high-paid glamour ladies, which is to say nothing of the high-end doodads they get sent hourly. I'd bet that neither Madonna nor Britney nor Gwynyth has bought a purse since there was a federal budget surplus. Which is to say nothing of babies, house pets, and basement furnaces, all of which further oppress the middle classes. Is this any way to run a universe?

Obviously, the only solution is to seize the means of production.

Yes, I am advocating exactly what you think I am advocating. Something even Karl Marx himself was incapable of. I am talking about making your own sushi.

First, you must go to United Noodles. Now, United Noodles is the biggest and most comprehensive Asian grocery store in Minnesota, and, in addition to its vast selection of Chinese, Vietnamese, Malaysian, and various other groceries, it has the biggest local selection of Japanese specialty goods--from crazy baby-aspirin-and-Midori flavored sodas to super-fancy individually wrapped rice crackers designed for the high-powered executive to everything. Everything everything everything. Sushi rice. Sushi seaweed for rolling up sushi rolls. Chili oil for making your own dynamite rolls. Surimi (those pink-on-the-outside "sea legs") for making your own California rolls. A produce area with shiso leaves, scallions, avocados, cucumbers, and all the classic sushi vegetables. A refrigerator cooler filled with oshinko (the various sushi pickles).

And dozens of varieties of miso paste, including my favorite, live miso pre-blended with concentrated dashi, the broth made of dried tuna flakes and such, which you need to turn miso paste into bona fide miso soup. If you take a spoonful of this paste-and-broth combo (it usually has a label saying something like "with bonito," referring to the dried tuna flakes that go into the dashi) and add it to hot water, you get a miso soup that's indistinguishable from most Japanese restaurant miso soups. Add little tofu squares and a pea pod or two and you will feel like you have conquered one small corner of quick budget cooking; expect to spend about $6 on a square of miso soup concentrate that will last you through a couple of hundred cups of soup. But you're not there for your budget!

Oh, wait, you are. Well, try to forget that as you confront the rather expensive freezer case full of frozen packages of sea urchin, big pre-cut sushi shrimp, flying fish eggs, pre-cut mackerel slices, squares of top-grade tuna, and big fillets of unagi, those pre-sauced eel fillets ready for your toaster oven. In short, all of the exact same ingredients that they're probably putting in your grocery-store sushi. Before you leave, be sure to stock up on to-go containers of seaweed salad, marinated octopus salad, and tubs of pink gari, that lovely, thin-sliced, pickled sushi ginger.

Oh, and don't forget the frozen packages of gyoza and shumai, those various dumplings which, once steamed, stand a good chance of being the exact same ones you buy at your local Japanese restaurant. (Many, if not most, restaurants don't make their own gyoza and shumai these days but just buy the frozen imported ones, too. They cost less than $4 a package.) Did you get enough wasabi peas? Adequate frozen mochi, those adorable rice-dough-wrapped ice-cream nubbins? Finally, you can check out. What? You're spending way, way more than you would going out to sushi? Hey, do you think it was so easy for Thomas Malthus to confront the iron law of wages? What does that mean? It means we're moving on to the next paragraph.

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