Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Sushi in Taiwan: from the Ubiquitous to the Upscale

If you happen to be a foodie of great diversity like me, you might have a hard time choosing what to eat when in a city like Taipei.

The Solution: Eat Everything.

Well, not exactly everything. Obviously, only eat what entices you visually and aromatically. And if it tastes good, it’s a feast; if it tastes bland or foul, toss it out and move onto the next plate, and so on and so forth, so as to save space for more gorging. Because when you have a limited amount of time roaming from city to city in a peripatetic lifestyle, and you want the native food as well as the sushi there, it’s best to mentally prepare yourself to eat two or three times as much as you normally do. And in Taiwan, the food is fairly inexpensive…so there’s another reason to indulge with abandon.

Snatches of sushi seem to abound in Taipei, with a random deli by the bus stop here or inside the food court of a thriving shopping center there. FISHSUSHI is a ubiquitous chain, popping up at the corner of a night market or inside a subway station; Sushi Express, with its cutesy kawaii mascot, spins its conveyor belts of sushi plates inside Taipei’s Global Mall.

Passengers awaiting the next bus ride appear oblivious to the deluge of rain as they browse the racks of FISHSUSHI next to the bus stop, their umbrellas jostling one another as they peer at the see-through containers of sushi to go: NT $100 (about $3 U.S.) for a ready-made box with eight pieces of nigiri and gunkan maki—squid, octopus, shrimp, eel, silvery mackerel, baby shrimp doused in a mayonnaise-looking sauce with green speckles….

For those who have a little more time on their hands, empty containers wait to be filled—you get to pick each individually-wrapped piece of sushi, from imitation crab nigiri with a mini cheddar cheese slice on top to corn-filled gunkan maki, or slippery-looking baby squid sushi with chopped green onions—all for the bargain price of NT $10 to NT $15 per piece (that’s 32 cents to 48 cents each). Signs under stacks of boxes guide you: these hold one to five pieces, those can fit up to 12 pieces. Then take your sushi-packed container to the counter and pay—the clerk will wrap that obligatory rubber band around it, for the box is so simple and cheap that it doesn’t snap shut.

Considering that it sells grab-and-go sushi at a bargain, FISHSUSHI is not too bad, but don’t expect the rice quality to be very high. After sitting in the refrigerated display cases, the sushi rice is a bit chilled and firm, and it’s not exactly seasoned to perfection. FISHSUSHI’s appeal mostly lies in its convenience and fun “DIY” style, and in its rarity factor (some of these tasty servings of nameless fish are not seen in the States). 

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