The sushi that knocked me out with a vicious punch, and the perils of food blogging

Yesterday, I had some takeout sushi that was so terrible that I still shudder, more than 24 hours later, thinking about it.

No it didn't make me physically sick. I did not get food poisoning. But it was bloody awful. It was sold as 'fresh' sushi (and it certainly hadn't been frozen), but it had been refrigerated for some time, for who knows how long. (It had a 'sell-by date' but not a 'made-on date'. Sushi must, must, be eaten the same day it's made.) The rice was mealy, the grains hard. The neta (the fish) on the nigiri, salmon and tuna, was mushy and utterly tasteless. The rolls, filled with cucumber and some sort of tuna mix, were no better.

To add a crowning insult, even the soy sauce included in little plastic fish shaped bottles was inedible. It smelled like thinned out Maggi Würze* with an added slightly singed aroma.

The two packs we got - 5 pieces of nigiri with 4 roll pieces, and another pack of 6 roll pieces, came out to 40 CHF in total (about USD $32). 40 francs for something utterly inedible.

Now, this is sushi that's sold in one of the major supermarkets. (Lest you wonder why in the world we even bought such a thing in the first place, I was curious, ever optimistic and prepared to be surprised positively.) I did actually take pictures of the offending sushi, and thought about plastering it here with pithy skull and crossbones signs on them or something.

Instead, we called up the customer service department of said supermarket company - the first time I've ever been compelled to do such a thing, incidentally. The lady who took the call actually listened, to give her full credit, and promised that they would investigate the matter. She also said that we would be eligible for a full refund, though that wasn't the point of making that call. I was more upset by the fact that a nation like Switzerland, that may not be familiar with how sushi should taste, is subjected to such a horrible bastardization of a food that has come to represent the cuisine of my home country. We agreed to send her a detailed letter explaining what we found wrong with the product. We'll see if anything comes out of it. I would really prefer they stopped selling such abominations altogether if they can't figure out a distribution system that allows them to sell edible sushi.

What's stopped me fron ranting specifically about said sushi product with names and all here is that it's become more and more obvious to me that, for better or worse, a few people do rely on what I say about things. It's not only me, of course: it's all bloggers who have established a regular readership. I find it easy to be positive and recommend a product that I genuinely like. I also find it easier to not recommend something online, such as a store or a web service, that people and see and check out for themselves beforehand.

Negative reviews of things like products or restaurants are something else though. This is why there aren't that many restaurant reviews here, for example. The few times I do talk about specific restaurants, especially the 'destination' type very expensive places here, they are only of places where the experience was very positive, and they have lots of photographic evidence (yep I'm one of those annoying people taking pictures of everything, though I never ever use the flash). I've been to plenty of other restaurants that I haven't talked about publicly.

Having a blog about food for more than three years has certainly changed the way I approach eating in many ways, and this is one of them. Although I don't think I'm a journalist per se, and MSM journalists will probably continue to look down on the unwashed masses of 'amateur bloggers'**, I am more aware as time goes by of how people do rely on the things I write. Whether it's trying out my recipes, or visiting a restaurant based on something I wrote, there's a certain degree of responsibility to bear, that's not to be taken lightly. It's different from talking about it to a small, private circle of friends.

I may be over-cautious and not spontaneous enough, but I'd rather be that than try to rush to condemn something, as seems to be the thing to do sometimes on blogs and forums these days.

Oh yes, and if it weren't for the sense of duty I felt to be thorough, I'd have spit out that awful sushi after the first bite instead of sampling every damned piece.

*Maggi Würze is a brown sauce that is often seen in the condiments tray of lesser restaurants in Switzerland. It's so ubiquitous that it even has a nickname, _Machi_. It has Marmite - Bovril like characteristics, but not in a positive way. And it's definitely not soy sauce.

**I've been told to my face that my words do not, should not and never will carry as much weight (as the speaker) since I am not a professional journalist by training or resumé, but that's a story for another time.

Filed under:  sushi ethics

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"I’ve been told to my face that my words do not, should not and never will carry as much weight (as the speaker) since I am not a professional journalist by training or resumé, but that’s a story for another time."


For me your writing carries more influence than that of a professional journalist; the atmosphere of this site is well balanced and I like it: a nice personality behind a pleasing design.

thanks for your support stefan :) Though I think this sort of attitude will persist for some time (and I know other bloggers have faced it too).

Even in Japan supermarket sushi isn't that great, and the stuff I've tried in England and Australia was pretty much inedible. I think it's just one of those things that needs to be eaten fresh. I can't believe you got Maggi (or similar) instead of soy sauce though! I love that stuff with eggs, but on sushi? Ecchh.

As for your mainstream media friend, someone's feeling a little insecure . I'm a 'trained journalist', though not a food one, and all that really gives you is a grasp of what good writing is and an overview of media ethics and practices. People can learn these things for themselves, and MSM publish plenty of writers without training in journalism, particularly experts in their field (like celebrity chefs). The main difference is that MSM acts as a filter for good and bad food writing. No one is going to pay you to write trash, but anyone can publish a blog. Just because some food blogs are bad doesn't mean some aren't incredibly good though, and I count yours in the latter category. It's sad that professional food writers seem to see food blogs as a threat or insult to their work sometimes.

(Just out of curiosity, is English or Japanese your native language?)

The MSM person in question seemed to doubt all blogs as a legitimate source of information...actually, I've met other 'professional journalists' who look down on blogs as a whole, with various reasons ranging from poor writing to unaccountability. Though these days, the line is getting blurred...and some MSM sources may be in trouble, at least in part because of the proliferation of blogs.

My first language is Japanese :) Tho it's getting a tad rusty due to disuse...

The worst sushi I've ever had has been without a doubt in American supermarkets and university cafeterias. This stuff gets shipped in with all kinds of weird flavoring in the rice to make it last longer (this is my cynicism speaking here) and it's always much older than anyone would stand for in a Japanese supermarket. I think they keep an eye on the sashimi, but if the cooked or vegetable filling isn't going to go bad, people assume it's still edible... No, no no. Lol. I know sushi in the supermarket in Japan isn't gourmet or anything- and it may not be lovingly patted into place by a grandmother or masterfully created by a master chef- but it's always much fresher, with tastier, fresher rice, than it is in your local American supermarket. I'd trade American supermarket sushi for Japanese supermarket sushi in a heartbeat. sigh And I bet the "sushi" you had was similar to some of the BAD stuff I've had here...

Best wishes and pooh on the naysayers,

I rather like the sushi in Japanese supermarkets, at least in my neighborhood (a Tokyo suburb). It's generally pretty fresh. I stick with nigiri. The fast food sushi chains near stations and inside some supermarkets are also pretty good, especially if you skip the pre-made sets and order something special that they have to make for you. For instance, I'll order a tray of aji and a tray of some sort of fish fin cartilage stuff that's popular these days, and the housewife arubaito's have to make up it fresh.

On the other hand, kaiten-zushi shops gross me out.

my boyfriend also bought a sushi set once from a major supermarket in zurich. unfortunately he couldnt eat any of it as the fish was definitely off. he sent a complaint email to the company, saying they could have gotten into trouble for using lousy fish. in apology, they sent him an entire dining table's worth of sushi! there was so much to eat that he had to give it away to all the neighbours, within the same evening of course. i found sushi platters at suan long and marinello at the zurich HB but never dared buy them. guess i'll stick to yooji's!
ps: there is also a new sushi bar (a small one) in the niederdorf. it took over my favourite bagel store :( have you tried it yet? it looks so quiet there that i'm not sure how they can have fresh fish every day if they're not selling much. do let me know if you've tried their food!

I wouldn't discount ALL American supermarket sushi - one of the upscale supermarkets in my town (specifically, the largest one of the four or five in that chain in my town) has added, in addition to their fresh pizza, sandwiches, and pasta a sushi section. It comes prepackaged, but you can watch them make more when it runs low, and I believe you can ask for specific combinations to be made. I tend to do my shopping late at night, and I almost never see very many packages at the end of the day - either it sells really well or (more likely) they toss leftovers that have been in the refrigerated case too long. Given that we're way inland and nowhere near any sort of Japantown (even our Japanese restaurants are usually manned by Koreans), I'm impressed by the quality.

I love your articles and have been reading through each one and even the comments following it, but it was a little disappointing to read one comment that labelled Australian sushi as "inedible". I will be the first to say that it's definitely not up to Japanese standards, and I haven't tried Japan's sushi yet, but to say that Australia's sushi is inedible is a bit of a sweeping generalisation. Just like with most countries, some of it's good and some of it's bad. There's a sushi place near where I live that makes awesome sushi, and they always use nice fresh fish.

Everyone says that our sushi is nothing compared to Japan's sushi, and I hope to try it one day!